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Kenya: University students riot over delayed loans

University students led by Kenya Universities Students Association chairman Owino Babu (in grey jacket) march along University Way protesting the failure by Helb to release funds.

Business in Nairobi and Mombasa was disrupted for the better part of Friday as university students protested over the delay in disbursing Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) funds.

Protesting students from the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM) on Friday engaged police in cat-and-mouse chases after they attempted to march to the offices of the governor and the county commissioner.

It took the efforts of the General Service Unit (GSU), regular police officers, Administration Police officers and Mombasa County askaris to contain the unruly students.

The students, who said they had planned to hold a peaceful procession to the administration offices, complained that they were tired of waiting for the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) funds. They also cited poor management of the institution and its accreditation by the Engineering Board of Kenya.

TRAFFIC DISRUPTED

Anti-riot police lobbed tear gas canisters at the students and descended on them with batons as they sought to limit the demonstrators to the area around the institution.

The students barricaded the Buxton Junction Road, disrupting traffic as others attempted to get to the central business district.

At least eight students were arrested along the Nyali Bridge after they were cornered by an AP truck as they took off.

The officers said they had a hard time ensuring that the students did not jump over the bridge.

More than 50 students were arrested as the officers went door to door through the roadside shacks and through students’ hostels in the Tudor area, loading them in waiting police trucks.

The officers removed boulders placed on the road by students as they sought to clear the surging traffic towards Nyali Bridge from Sabasaba.

‘POLICE WAYLAID US’

“This demonstration was supposed to be peaceful until the police waylaid us. They hurled tear gas at us, yet from the beginning our mission was to make our grievances known,” said Benmark Ng’ang’a, the president of TUM’s student union.

Students expressed discontent about the delay in disbursing Helb loans, saying they had already started a new semester and lack of funds was inconveniencing them.

They vowed not to attend classes until they received the money and demanded an increase in allocations from Sh60,000 to Sh120,000.

The government had released Sh1.2 billion for student loans on Wednesday to avert a strike that had been organized by student leaders in Nairobi last week.

The university’s vice-chancellor, Josephat Mwatela, could not be reached for comment as he was held up in a senate meeting.

STORMED HELB OFFICES

In Nairobi, traffic flow within the central business district came to a standstill for the better part of Friday after Technical University of Kenya (TUK) students stormed Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) offices at Anniversary Towers, protesting delays in disbursing the loans.

The rowdy students blocked University Way, pelting motorists with stones and engaging the police in running battles for hours.

Central Police Station officers, who were the first to be dispatched to the scene, managed to contain the students by 1.30 pm.

They pushed back the protesting students, who had taken over the Uhuru Highway roundabout, to open up the road for motorists.

“We are going to continue striking until we receive our money,” said CJ Karuri of Technical University of Kenya.

Although University of Nairobi students did not join in the riots that broke out just outside their institution, the president of the university’s student union, Babu Owino, pledged his support for the strike.

HELB CEO BLAMED

Mr Owino called for the resignation of Helb CEO Charles Ringera, whom he blamed for the latest crisis in universities.

Helb had rushed to release Sh1.8 billion on Thursday to avert the strike declared by the Kenya University Students Organisation (Kuso) over the delayed funds.

Although Mr Ringera stated that continuing students would be able to access the funds by Friday, the students insisted the money had not reflected in their accounts.

Helb, however, announced that it would delay disbursing money for the more than 56,938 government-sponsored first-year students, who will now have to wait until November to get the funds.

The Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service scaled up admissions by 7.4 per cent this year.

Helb plans to give loans to more than 60,000 first-year university students and 1,500 students admitted to technical, vocational and training institutions.

Credit: Daily Nation