NAIROBI (TrustLaw) – When I was a student at a Kenyan university, one of my professors told us that “all homosexuals should be thrown in the sea” because they are “un-African”.
There was a bit of embarrassed giggling but no one spoke up.
He was quite a tyrant – making students stand up and apologise if their mobile phone rang during his class, marking latecomers as absent and being mean with his grades – so no one wanted to get on his bad side.
He also infuriated me by allowing students to speak according to their nationality – Kenyans first, other Africans second and others last. Our contributions in class were graded and by the time we ‘wazungu’ (foreigners) got a turn, everything had already been said.
Another lecturer was famous for never turning up to class.
Instead, he got his assistants in the government ministry where he worked to deliver his lectures for him, as well as mark essays and exam scripts. Apparently the university kept him on because he used his government contacts to get work placements for students.
We never said anything.
One time a student complained about teaching standards and the department coordinator came into one of our lessons. He asked the class to raise their hands if they agreed with the complainant. No one did. So he dismissed her complaint as groundless.
Hardly a fair hearing.
ALCOHOL, MONEY, SEX
So I was pleased to learn about a new website set up to expose bribery, sexual harassment and other malpractices in Kenyan and Ugandan universities.
Through the Kenyan chapter of notinmycountry.org, students can anonymously report corruption and rank the performance of university staff.
“Did [name of professor] abuse you, ask you for alcohol, money, sex, or other things?” the website asks visitors.
The homepage features the three best and worst performing individuals, although the top ranking ones have only received a dozen or so votes so far.
“Our work targets universities because university students are the future leaders of this country,” the website says.
“If students learn at university that they must buy their grades with cash and bypass bureaucracy by selling their bodies, their resulting cynicism will persist into their future careers.”
‘Sex for grades’ is a long-standing problem in Kenyan universities, where female students are asked for sexual favours in exchange for good marks.
As with many crowd-sourced websites, the challenge will lie in verifying the reports.
“Who will verify the authenticity of the postings? Can the same be used for malicious reasons?” asks one internet user.
The website says it is capable of authenticating reports, without giving details. It says it may even publicise the report or file a lawsuit if the complainant is willing to do so.
“We will try to help you get redress for the wrong that was inflicted upon you,” it promises.
Several other websites track corruption in net-savvy Kenya, such as ipaidabribe.com which allows people to report demands for bribes and share their experiences. It also invites users to vote for their favourite idea for stemming corruption, with the most popular ones being recommended to the relevant government departments.