The leadership wrangles that have rocked the University of Nairobi for weeks now are fuelled by the battle to control the institution’s prestige and billions of shillings in assets, revenue and grants.
Last week, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha dissolved the university’s council and revoked the appointment of Prof Stephen Kiama as vice-chancellor.
This came after it emerged that Prof Kiama’s promotion, from deputy VC in charge of human resources and administration, was unprocedural.
Prof Magoha, a former VC at the university, immediately reinstated Prof Isaac Mbeche, the deputy VC in charge of finance, planning and development, as the university’s boss is an acting capacity, pending appointment of a substantive VC.
A few hours later, however, Prof Kiama announced that he was the “lawfully and validly appointed” VC.
Soon after, Prof Mbeche informed staff and students that all communication from the university would come from his office, making clear the leadership wrangle.
This begs the question what exactly makes the VC’s job lucrative at Kenya’s oldest and largest university.
Established as an independent university in 1970, the UoN has defined Kenya’s academic scene for decades, and is the alma mater of the majority of Kenya’s political, economic and thought leaders.
As at 2011, the university had 61,912 students, 49,488 of whom were pursuing undergraduate degrees.
By 2016, the number had grown to more than 68,000.
The university has six colleges — architecture and engineering, health sciences, human and social sciences, agriculture and veterinary sciences, education and external studies, and biological sciences — all headed by strong principals.
The university boasts 540 academic programmes, more than any other in the country.
It also has the highest number of professors — 450 — and its academic staff with PhDs number at least 2,200.
With more than 5,500 administrative and technical staff, the UoN is the largest employer university, the VC being at the apex.
In terms of popularity, it ranks highly in the region and continent, hence the prestige it carries.
In 2019, the UoN was ranked the best institution of higher learning in East Africa by the Webometrics, beating Uganda’s Makerere University.
In Africa, it came ninth, two places ahead of Makerere.
Among the 1,000 best universities globally, UoN was ranked 990th in a list that featured Harvard, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
But it is the outlay that the office of the UoN VC controls that is at the centre of the leadership fight.
In 2016, a report by the Auditor-General showed the institution had a total asset value of Sh100.7 billion.
At the time, the institution had an annual revenue of Sh13.3 billion.
Furthermore, the university received research grants worth about Sh2.5 billion and a development capitation grant worth Sh30 million from the National Treasury.
It also collected Sh604 million in school fees.
These figures make the university one of the richest institutions in Kenya and the region.