Re-Imagining Students Movement

According to Batliwala, "a movement is an organised set of constituents pursuing a common political agenda through collective action”. Characteristics of movements are; an organised set of constituents meaning that a movement must have people. Movements must also have a political agenda for change. This means there should be an innate driving force propelling the constituents towards the envisioned change. Examples of political agenda for change can be system change to allow for workers’ rights to be respected and to have improved working conditions, having voices of people considered marginalised being listened to, their views respected and taken up by relevant authorities, land redistribution to ensure everyone has access for instance in where a large group of citizens are squatters. Collective action is also an integral part of a movement. This is where a variety of strategies are adopted in order to achieve the movement's political agenda. Example of strategies include advocacy, direct action and civil resistance. It is also important to note that movements lead to creation of collective power. This is made possible through mobilising and organising communities.

Various examples of movements exist each with distinct agenda .For example the Rastafarian movement was born out of feelings of injustice  such as unemployment among Jamaicans towards the then British colony.[1]Many liberation movements sprouted in Africa to fight for independence , examples being Mau Mau Movement in Kenya, The National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA,)União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola) , Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola(MPLA) and Tanganyika’s Maji Maji[2] rebellion against German occupation. Movements are of great importance because they can result into change in the way things are done, they can contribute towards removal of draconian legislations was the case of Kenya’s repeal of Section 2A[3] which changed Kenya from a one party state to a multi-party democracy.

Prior to 1970as noted by Mwangi J. Macharia, student activism in Kenya not as vibrant, this was because back then students were guaranteed positions in the ranks of the emerging bourgeoisie upon graduation and at the same time, all their basic necessities were assured.

The Wave of Second Liberation running across Africa led to demands for a shift from one party state to multi -democracy across many countries in Africa. This was in part because under single party state system, the levels of oppression were very high characterised by enforced disappearances, curtailed freedom of speech and trumped up charges. In Kenya, during this period, students joined civil society, Kenya became ungovernable due to riots and protests led by students. The opposition was incomplete without student’s activism[4]. During this time many student leaders were arrested and jailed, some were murdered[5] while others ended up being tortured at the Nyayo House Chambers[6] , and those lucky enough ended up seeking asylum in other countries such as Onyango Oloo[7] which was in itself was a psychological turmoil.

The 1980s and 1990s crop of student leaders in Kenya’s universities were indeed forces to reckon with, they went and became vibrant national leaders such as Lawyer James Orengo and Dr. Willy Mutunga, Kenya’s former Chief Justice. It is worth noting that student activism in Kenya has over the years waned. This calls for a galvanized student movement anchored on all the principles of movement building, with a clear envisioned change.

The situation in Universities continue to get worse, with student grievances rising day after day from police brutality[8] to extrajudicial killings[9]  ,deaths under mysterious circumstances[10] to mass unemployment upon graduation[11]. At the same time the gap between the rich and the poor continue to widen meaning that life has become even more challenging for students to navigate ordinary living. As has been appropriately captured by Oxfam Extreme inequality is out of control in Kenya, with millions of Kenyans still poor despite the country recording improved economic growth since 2005.Furthermore, a minority of super-rich Kenyans are accumulating wealth and income and this is not trickling down to the poorest[12] , who still have to struggle to make ends meet. Time and again, Kenyan graduates have stood with placards in traffic seeking jobs and year after year, thousands of new graduates are being released into a dwindling job market.

It is time to shift student activism to a body capable of demanding system change more so in the availability, control and redistribution of resources. Student movements need to be nurtured in both public and private universities because after campus, the realities of unemployment, widespread nepotism, resource inequality affect millions of while still students and as graduates. Student bodies such as the National Students Caucus is coming up but needs to be done to reclaim the past glory of the student community in bringing about the envisioned change.

There is indeed a lot of power in student comradeship.


Cover Photo Credit-National Students Caucus(Kenya)




[4]Journal of Student A airs in Africa | Volume 3(1) 2015, 19-34 | 2307-6267 | DOI: 10.14426/jsaa.v3i1.90










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