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University Of Nairobi’s Restructuring Likely To Stir Controversy

Fee increment is totally unjustifiable unless there’s evidence of quality enhancement. It is not lost on observers that since his appointment, the current VC has been locked in turf wars with some of his senior managers whom he perceives to have ganged up with the former Acting VC, Prof Isaac Meroka Mbeche, and Education Cabinet Secretary, Prof Magoha, also a former VC, to deny him ascendancy to the apex of the University leadership.

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By VINCENT ONGORE

The strategic move by the university of Nairobi to reduce management layers is quite a bold one. If the main objective of the proposed restructuring is to enhance value proposition through improved efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery, flattening of managerial hierarchies, and making it less bureaucratic, then the move is well advised.

Ideally, a university should not be the epitome of procrastination and human resource wastage, where senior scholars waste away as administrators and paper pushers instead of engaging in teaching and research. Several world universities are managed by trained managers and administrators who are not necessarily professors.

The key considerations in appointing university Rectors, Provosts or Vice Chancellors should be their proven ability to allocate human and other resources to optimal uses, networking and collaborations with local and international partners, projecting the university’s value proposition to the world, fundraising acumen and eclecticism.

Other than Dr Josephat Karanja who was plucked from diplomatic service to become the first CEO of the university, all the others earned their positions by virtue of professorial status. Professors Maina Mungai, Philip Mbithi, Francis Gichaga, Crispus Kiamba, George Magoha, and Mbithi all rose through the ranks to become VC. The current one, Prof Kiama, too rose through academic ranks to the corner office at the University of Nairobi Towers. Therein lies the problem. Academic work by its very nature is too consuming to allow scholars to think of anything else.

In the West, universities have programs for industrial attachment where scholars horne their managerial and technical skills and knowledge through practical exposure to real work environment.

In Kenya, however, there’s no tradition of affording scholars opportunities to experience real work environment. So, most of them have limited understanding of the practical application of the theories that they grapple with in research. It’s disastrous to elevate such people to run institutions. For that simple reason of lack of exposure, the successive VCs of the University of Nairobi have been conspicuously lacking in dynamic management practices.

There has been evident lethargy to place the university up there, where it belongs with its peers around the world. Consequently, the university has projected itself largely as an inward-looking Kenyan institution offering traditional courses, and caring less about market trends. In the modern world, universities must compete with their peers in the market place for research funds, top-notch scholars and students. That’s the basis upon which their status and prestige are determined.

Universities that are able to remain visible globally tend to enjoy the tag of ‘world-class’ while the rest remain national universities. The global labor market is influenced more by perceptions about universities rather than the actual ability of their graduates to successfully undertake tasks. That’s why universities spend colossal amounts of money to try to remain visible to current and potential stakeholders. Visibility is an important consideration in ranking of universities.

In turn, ranking influences the direction of flow of tuition fees and research funds across the globe. For as long as a university continues to feature up there in world ranking, it will be able to attract top students from around the world and charge them competitive tuition fees in exchange for a promise to prepare them for the global market place of ideas.

Universities in Europe and USA, for instance, have excelled in attracting international students through sustained product positioning. From my interactions with universities in Kenya and abroad, I do know that the perception out there is that African universities and other tertiary institutions are not good enough.

The reality, however, is that whenever Kenyan students have been placed in the same environment as those trained in European and American universities, say, for graduate studies, they have not failed to demonstrate their academic mettle. What Kenyan universities, including the University of Nairobi, lack are modern facilities that can expose their learners to contemporary ways of doing things in the market place. Their curricula have tended to remain static for several decades despite the reality of market dynamism, thus creating a gap between the knowledge and skills that graduates possess and market requirements. The proposed restructuring is therefore, a most welcome move.

The university needs to urgently spruce up its training facilities to be able to favorably compete with its peers in the global arena for production of innovative goods and services.

It has been argued that the university’s ambition of rising to the world stage cannot be achieved with moribund facilities and dysfunctional professors and lecturers. For about two decades since the introduction of ‘Parallel Programs’ in Kenyan public universities in 1997, the University of Nairobi relied almost exclusively on fees paid by self-sponsored students to supplement government capitation. The programs were nipped in the bud abruptly by government policy change that allowed most students with aggregate grade of C+ to join public universities as government-sponsored students, essentially drying up the pool from which the universities drew their students for Module II programs. University casflows were drastically affected. The ambitious expansion programs came to an abrupt stop.

Once again, all the public universities started relying on the exchequer for staffers salaries and capital expenditure. In the absence of innovative ways to shore up their finances, public universities have resorted to increasing tuition fees for new students.

Unwittingly, however, by increasing tuition fees by more than double for module 2 students, the university appears to be perpetuating and deepening the divide between the haves and the have-nots.

There are reasons most Kenyan students prefer the University of Nairobi to any other local institution of higher learning. First, UoN is oldest and most established university in the country, and one of the pioneer institutions in the Eastern African region. Second, the University has an admirable brand name. Third, over the years, the University of Nairobi has maintained a reasonably strong global presence.

By and large, university of Nairobi, despite its numerous shortcomings, remains a university of choice for most Kenyan students. But not all students who qualify can join the courses of their choice due to limited spaces. University of Nairobi is a public institution sustained by Kenyan taxpayers through regular capitation by the National Treasury. It cannot punish qualified self-sponsored students because of its own capacity challenges.

By charging high tuition fees, it’s essentially closing the door to Kenyan children whose parents and guardians cannot afford the fees. The effect is creation of unequal society where the children of the rich access good courses and get advantage in the labor market over children of poor citizens. The university sees fee increment as a low-hanging fruit instead of invigorating research, and creation of a robust endowment fund and alumni association to shore up its finances.

Private schools like Strathmore are justified in charging high fees due to commensurate quality education that they offer: state-of-the-art facilities, international faculty, current teaching material, and global benchmarking. Without research funding, the University of Nairobi relies on outdated teaching material, archaic facilities, and traditional inward-looking teaching approaches. Fee increment is totally unjustifiable unless there’s evidence of quality enhancement.

It is not lost on observers that since his appointment, the current VC has been locked in turf wars with some of his senior managers whom he perceives to have ganged up with the former Acting VC, Prof Isaac Meroka Mbeche, and Education Cabinet Secretary, Prof Magoha, also a former VC, to try to deny him ascendancy to the apex of the University leadership. Pundits opine that the radical restructuring at the university presents the VC a golden opportunity to remove senior administrators who have been thorns in his flesh.

At the same time, UoN might inadvertently, be wading into the hustler versus dynasty political debate that’s raging in the country. The move to increase tuition fees will be fodder for the hustler side which will definitely present it as evidence of insensitivity towards low income earners on the part of the ‘dynasty’. The ‘hustler’ group is likely to promise a better deal to poor parents and their children once they take over the country’s top leadership. Of course, politicians make promises, some of which they don’t even believe in, so that they can win elections.

Once reality sets in, then practical decisions can be made based on facts and figures at their disposal. The university must allow Kenyans an opportunity to participate in such major decisions before they are implemented.

In any case, the University of Nairobi, being a public institution, belongs to Kenyans. The people of Kenya need to agree on the direction it takes, but certainly, no transformation of the magnitude they are proposing should take place in an election year.

Thank you.

Vincent Ongore, PhD. The Author is a tenured scholar of corporate governance and taxation at the Technical University of Kenya

 

 

 

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Education

Egerton University Celebrates Inaugural Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Richard Musangi

Under the leadership of Prof. Musangi, Egerton College experienced tremendous development in the 1980s.

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.Prof. Musangi, who was born in 1934 in Bungoma County, Western Kenya, was the Principal of Egerton College between 1981 and 1987.

The Egerton University community mourns the passing of Prof. Richard S. Musangi and celebrates the University’s connection to this distinguished scholar, educator, and academic administrator.

Prof. Musangi, who was born in 1934 in Bungoma County, Western Kenya, was the Principal of Egerton College between 1981 and 1987.

Upon the elevation of the College to a University in the latter year, he became the inaugural Vice-Chancellor of Egerton University, serving in that capacity until 1992.

Prof. Musangi fondly remembered that his association with Egerton College started in 1961, when, as a final-year Agriculture student at Makerere College, he and his classmates stayed for two nights at the College while touring neighbouring farms. His next encounter with the College was in 1965, when, as a lecturer in Animal Science at Makerere, along with other colleagues, he came to Egerton to examine students for the East African Diploma in Agriculture, which was conducted from Makerere. In 1972, Musangi, as a lecturer in Animal Science at the University of Nairobi, was appointed an external examiner for Egerton College. At about the same time, Musangi joined the Egerton College Board of Governors (BoG) by virtue of being the Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Nairobi. Prof. Musangi became the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi in 1979, and it is from that position that he came to Egerton College.      

Under the leadership of Prof. Musangi, Egerton College experienced tremendous development in the 1980s. Prof. Musangi steered the institution through a major United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Government of Kenya-sponsored expansion programme. The actual implementation of the programme was a joint venture between the Egerton authorities and the South East Consortium for International Development (SECID), USA. The programme entailed the development of various forms of infrastructure, counterpart training for Egerton staff, and acquisition of equipment. Promoting research, teaching, and community service, the programme constituted a big leap forward for Egerton. The SECID impact on infrastructure and staff development not only increased the student population from 860 in 1982 to 1526 in the 1986/1987 academic year but also solidified the chances for the eventual upgrading of the College to a fully-fledged University.

Another development at Egerton specifically attributable to Prof. Musangi was the Institutional Development for Agricultural Training (IDAT) programme. The purpose of IDAT was to strengthen and consolidate the activities under the previous expansion programme, which had ended in July 1984. IDAT resulted in additional training opportunities for Egerton staff.

Two new diploma programmes were initiated at Egerton in the 1980s in addition to the fourteen already established. These were Diploma in Food Marketing and Diploma in Forestry. The launching of these programmes demonstrated Egerton’s flexibility and capacity to respond to national and broader needs. By 1980, agricultural marketing had been identified as a hindrance to agricultural development in Kenya. Similarly, the Diploma in Forestry was in line with a new Government approach focussing on rural afforestation for national development.

An expert builder of intricate academic and development networks, internationally respected and connected to numerous donors, Prof. Musangi stimulated unprecedented vibrancy in research, outreach, and related activities at his institution. In particular, Prof. Musangi spearheaded the intensification of Egerton’s outreach programme, which led to the setting up of the Agricultural Resources Centre (ARC). Similarly, under him, Egerton’s collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), which had started in 1975, deepened. This collaboration resulted in joint work in a variety of projects as well as in the establishment of the Crop Management Research and Training Centre (CMRT). Both ARC and CMRT continue to thrive as facilities for training of agricultural professionals at the University.

The establishment of linkages between Egerton College and other institutions owed a great deal to Prof. Musangi’s personal initiative. Besides the institutional linkages between Egerton and the SECID universities, collaborative activities developed between the College and other institutions – especially in research and extension. The linkages expanded as Egerton College became a University.

Concerned about the state of farms around the College, in 1984 Prof. Musangi established an extension project whose aim was to disseminate the knowledge generated at his learning institution to the benefit of farmers in the neighbourhood.

The increased demand for academic staff at the growing institution led to aggressive recruitment in the 1980s. Prof. Musangi travelled overseas to personally meet identified bright postgraduate students to persuade them to join Egerton upon the completion of their studies, and he successfully recruited a number of such staff. By the end of 1985, Egerton College had a faculty of 134 full-time members, 13 of whom had Ph.D. degrees, and 50 had M.Sc. degrees.

Aided by his administration, Prof. Musangi also took significant steps to promote the welfare of staff through such projects as a tenant service scheme, extramural studies, recreation and the Catholic chaplaincy. With foresight and decisiveness, Prof. Musangi abolished the institutional credit system which had made many Egerton employees perpetual debtors. Working closely with the BoG, Prof. Musangi also brought about the development of Kilimo Primary School and Egerton Primary School.

Prof. Musangi was the driving force behind the College’s renewed effort in the early 1980s for its elevation to the status of a University. The push for the introduction of degree programmes at Egerton persuaded the Government to set up the Egerton College Upgrading Committee (the Ayany Committee) in December 1983 to look into the issue. The Ayany Committee submitted its report on 30 April 1984. The Committee was fully satisfied that the College was ready, in terms of both availability of land, and physical and academic infrastructure, to start degree courses.

Subsequently, the Government decided to first upgrade Egerton College to a Constituent College of the University of Nairobi in 1986. It was, therefore, the University of Nairobi Senate which approved the degree programmes for Egerton University College in the following five areas: Animal Production, Agricultural Engineering, Agricultural Education, Agriculture and Home Economics, and Horticulture.

At the same time, the Senate approved the following four faculties and fifteen departments for the new Egerton University College: Faculty of Agriculture – comprising the Departments of Horticulture, Agronomy (incorporating Crop and Soil Science), Natural Resources (Wildlife, Range Management, and Forestry), Animal Science, Animal Health, Agricultural Engineering, as well as Dairy and Food Science and Technology; Faculty of Agricultural Education and Human Resources – consisting of the Departments of Agricultural Education, Agricultural Extension, as well as Agriculture and Home Economics; Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences – having the Departments of Economics, Geography, and Anthropology; and Faculty of Science – comprising the Departments of Biological Sciences (Zoology and Botany) and Physical Sciences (Mathematics, Computer Science, Chemistry, and Physics).

Only a year later, in 1987, Egerton University was established as an independent institution through an Act of Parliament, becoming Kenya’s fourth public university (alongside University of Nairobi, Moi University, and Kenyatta University).

A vibrant and focused Vice-Chancellor, at the end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s, Prof. Musangi laid a solid foundation for the growth of Egerton as a University, paying equal attention to academics, research, and community service. This was a difficult period for university education in Kenya, when a worsening economic situation in the country and the consequent decline in financial resources allocated by the Government to public universities, coupled with two double intakes of students (in the 1987/1988 and the 1990/1991 academic year), made the functioning of the newly established University challenging.

Prof. Musangi faced the difficulties and ensured growth and stability through an admirable balancing capability. With students, he was a strict disciplinarian, and at the same time he was their best advisor, an inspirer, and an undisputable role model. Sociable and approachable, he gave the impression of working with effortless ease, yet accomplishing all that he set out to do.

Prof. Musangi published widely in the area of Animal Science and Agricultural Education. On leaving Egerton University, he worked as a Consultant to several international organisations and development institutions.

In 2013, President Mwai Kibaki appointed him as the Chancellor of Kabianga University. In his retirement, he spent most of his time within Nakuru County, meeting and socialising with his former students, peers and friends, as well as enjoying the game of golf. Friends enjoyed his generosity and infectious laughter.

Throughout his work at Egerton College and Egerton University, Prof. Musangi exhibited impeccable managerial competence, imaginative initiative, clear vision, strictness, fairness, and unwavering dedication to service.

To the Egerton University Community, Prof. Richard S. Musangi, who died on 27 August 2021, will forever remain a beacon of light.

Writer,  PROF. ISAAC O. KIBWAGE, PhD, HSC AG. VICE-CHANCELLOR

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Opinion

Why Corporates Hardly Invite African Politicians To Their Boards

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By Vincent Ongore

It’s a common practice in Europe and North America (including Canada) that once politicians conclude their tour of duty in active politics, corporations and top academic institutions compete to appoint them as premium board members, high ranking executives and experts. As people who have sat at the apex of society, retired politicians bring to the organization unique perspectives and expertise on legislation and policy making, in addition to networking capability that create enhanced corporate visibility and confidence. Thereafter, they write bestsellers, and make lots of money from them. This trajectory comes with huge responsibilities. First, people go into politics with the intention to serve society in a special way. They compete on the basis of their individual plans that are cascaded from party manifestos. Second, once they get an opportunity to serve, they dedicate their time and intellect to deliver to the electorate based on the promises made to them. Politicians observe very strict code of conduct, and stay clear of entanglements that might create conflicts of interest. In many cases, they resign from or become dormant directors of companies if it’s determined that their continued activity poses the risk of conflict of interest, or might compromise their judgment. In other words, for the duration of service as active politicians, they hardly make much money. They lead normal lifestyle, surrounded mainly by research assistants who strengthen their legislative and policy making capability. On the contrary, in Africa, people go into elective politics to make money. In almost all jurisdictions across Africa, except Rwanda and one or two other countries where leadership codes are being enforced, there’s no strict requirement for disclosure of information that has potential for creating conflict of interest in the work of legislators. This lacuna allows African politicians the latitude to use their offices in furtherance of personal business interests. Although there’s provision for employment of research assistants to support their legislative work, this is seldom prioritized. Legislators hardly attend parliamentary sessions beyond the threshold that guarantees their salary, except when there are matters of great interest to them. In fact, many are the times when parliamentary business is postponed due to lack of quorum in the house. The joyrider attitude of the vast majority of politicians makes it difficult for them to gain any useful legislative or policy making capability that might be transferred to the corporate world once they exit active politics. At the same time, politicians exalt themselves to the apex of society from which position they consider everyone else inferior to them. Their governments reinforce such perception by showering them with mind-boggling perquisites and privileges. They become demi-gods, and easily forget that they hold their positions on behalf of the electorate. They are literally deitified by the electorate. Compared to developed countries, Africa spoils her politicians. In the US, for instance, legislators are simply referred to as Congressmen. In Africa, the emphasis is placed on ‘honorable.’ So, when an African politician fails to re-capture his or her seat, the world literally comes tumbling down. The society has a negative perception of them as people who have stolen from the poor. More often than not, they leave Parliament without much useful knowledge that corporations can tap into to shore up their reputation and profits. Besides, their networks are not reliable as they spend their time in Parliament as corporate marcenaries, intimidating and blackmailing businesses on behalf of competitors. To make it worse, the perception of politicians as lords instead of servants of the people follows them into retirement, thus scaring potential employers. Without the people’s mandate to take them back to Parliament, and in a hostile labor market, ex-politicians face huge frustrations. Unable to lay their hands on any meaningful economic activity, they spend the rest of their active time trying to go back to Parliament. Those who try business often fail miserably because of trying to maintain the opulent lifestyle they were used to as parliamentarians, and also due to the excess baggage of hangers-on who keep urging them to give politics one more shot. Yet, many African politicians are highly qualified professionals whose knowledge and skills are direly needed in public and corporate sectors. I think the society needs to treat ex-politicians better than it currently does. At the center of public management problems in Africa lies the reality that most politicians face a bleak future in retirement. Naturally, they tend to engage in all manner of malfeasance while in office in order to cushion themselves against poverty and frustration in their twilight years. The situation gets so desperate when young professionals get into politics before they establish themselves economically, and within one or two terms, are kicked out by the electorate. They have young families to take care of, and ambitions to pursue, yet no corporates want to touch them even with a ten-foot wooden rod. Perhaps, that explains why African politics is so competitive, and often murky. Political assassinations are common. Politicians want to survive by all means. It has been argued that the not-too-clear future that awaits retired African Presidents is the main reason they tend to manipulate the constitution and electorate so they can extend their welcome at state house. What can the society do to rectify this painful anomaly? I think, the starting point should be to demistify politics and politicians. This can be achieved by embedding proper leadership values in the constitution so that when politicians present themselves for election, they fully understand what the society expects of them. Second, the criteria of remuneration must be made absolutely clear. Third, there must be established a way through which the electorate can evaluate performance of their parliamentary representatives, and provide for a recall clause and mechanism to deal with non-performers. Fourth, there should be developed a pension scheme that deducts a huge chunk of the politicians’ current pay as member contributions to better cushion them against poverty in retirement. That way, they will not struggle to try to go back to Parliament even when the odds against them are obviously insurmountable. Corporates and universities will also have value for them. The society will be much safer as the cases of rent-seeking will significantly go down. Thank you.

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Opinion

Courts Should Support The Global Fight Against Covid-19 Pandemic

Law is subservient to science, and it will remain as such. When scientists give an advisory for the sake of humanity, especially in a pandemic situation, we must all respect it, for science is what rules the contemporary civilized world; it is evidence based.

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By Vincent Ongore

The High Court of Kenya ruling that declared aspects of government’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic unconstitutional may have been very well thought out by the learned judges, but there’s still need to be cautious in its interpretation and interpretation.

Otherwise, it might prove to be dangerous and undesirable in a country that’s struggling to control the pandemic.

A pandemic is an Intangible war. Covid-19 pandemic is a world war. It must be fought in all fronts through concerted effort by all humanity. All countries must see the fight against the pandemic as a civic duty of global proportions.

We can’t afford, for one second, to loose sight of the ball, the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s devastating the entire globe. Literally every corner of the world is in a panic mode, threatened by the pandemic.

In Kenya, there’s a debate that pits those who want the economy to be fully opened up so Kenyans can pursue means of livelihood, and those who fear that such an action would lead to a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Then, there are judges who read and interpret the law as written, ignoring the higher issues of scientific evidence and economics that have become so obvious to everyone who cares to think about and through them.

In recent times, the law has been used in this country as a tool of revenge; to fight little battles of partisan nature.

The judges of the High Court of Kenya have sometimes made rulings that depicted them as a group of professionals with a bone to pick with President Uhuru Kenyatta, and we know why.

Unfortunately, such rulings spill over to society as a whole, and not just the Presidency. That’s an irresponsible behavior by public servants.

Law is subservient to science, and it will remain as such. When scientists give an advisory for the sake of humanity, especially in a pandemic situation, we must all respect it, for science is what rules the contemporary civilized world; it is evidence based.

The USA, for example, which is the richest country with the best medical research facilities in the world, is proposing a third jab to boost immunity of those who have been fully vaccinated.

Just for emphasis, this is a country with the best medical facilities in the world, with a top-notch medical university, John Hopkins.

Despite its huge advantages, USA still believes that no arsenal should be spared in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Then, in Kenya, a third world country with next to zero resources to fight the pandemic, we cannot afford to make rulings and judgments that try to bastardize the global effort to curb the spread of Corona virus and Covid-19 pandemic. The country doesn’t have the wherewithal to conduct mass vaccinations.

With a begging bowl in hand, Kenya, like most of Africa, awaits free vaccines from well wishers, especially USA so that it can actualize mass vaccinations of her citizens. A beggar cannot make too much demands.

The entire globe is worried that, so far, only 3 percent or less of the entire African population in the continent has been vaccinated. This confirms at least two facts.

First, there exists Covid-19 Apartheid between the rich and poor nation of the world. Second, Africa and the rest of the developing world remain potential super spreaders of Corona virus to the rest of the world.

We must fight Covid-19 with all the resources at our disposal. Let’s continue to sanitize, musk up, wash our hands, keep social distance, avoid public gatherings, and above all vaccinate our populations.

A surge in Covid-19 cases in Kenya will definitely stigmatize the country, and punish citizens who have reason to travel abroad.

At the same time, travel advisories against Kenya will curtail flow of foreign exchange into the country as tourists review their travel plans.

I don’t know whether our Law Schools have strategic thinking as a common unit at undergraduate level. If they don’t, it’s something they should consider in order to boost appreciation of learners to a systems approach to decision making.

Let it be on record that I don’t doubt the capability of our learned judges to make progressive judgments. No, I don’t. But judges are human beings. When you put them under excessive pressure as the executive has done in the recent past, they are bound to fight back, and when they do, we all suffer.

My concern therefore, is that in making the subject ruling, the judges may have stuck to the letter and not spirit of the law to guide them. In the process, they may not have considered the bigger, larger picture of global ramifications of their judgment. Judicial activism in precarious times such as these can be injurious to the country, her neighbors and the world.

It’s understandable when judges raise issues about overzealous security and enforcement agencies that harass citizens and needlessly kill scores of them. That’s a matter that can and must be dealt with using the due process.

Kenyans of goodwill must demand that our policemen and administrators involved in enforcement of Covid-19 protocols respect human rights of citizens. There are no two ways about it.

The judges were right in raising the issue of human rights violations by security agencies under the guise of enforcing Covid-19 rules.

However, the progressive aspects of the fight against Covid-19 pandemic must be protected for to do otherwise is to throw out the ‘baby with the bath water.’

Let the government speed up mass vaccination exercise to protect the people of Kenya, and those they get into contact with from the Corona virus, and in a small way, help in the fight against the devastating Covid-19 pandemic. Thank you.

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