New vice-chancellor Stephen Kiama and the University of Nairobi (UoN) are like siamese twins that share a past, present and, now, a future.
Prof Kiama first stepped into the UoN as a government-sponsored 22-year-old student in 1986 to study veterinary medicine and has never left since.
Upon his graduation in 1990, the university hired him as an assistant lecturer — ushering in a series of Kiama-led endeavours to better infrastructure as well as develop Kenya’s human resource by assisting students to obtain sponsorships for their master’s and PhD studies.
In his 34-year sojourn at the 50-year-old institution, Prof Kiama has collaboratively raised Sh1.018 billion from well-wishers, donors and sponsors towards various programmes, including the Wangari Maathai Institute where he served as founding director.
“I have demonstrable experience in networking, fundraising and resource mobilisation. Between 1994 and 1995, I was in a team that acquired the first veterinary computer complete with a Zeiss light microscope together with a camera, a computer with an image analyser programme, high resolution monitor and two computer printers,” he writes in his resume.
“In 2003, with support of my mentor Prof Peter Gehr who the Institute of Anatomy director at Switzerland’s University of Bern, we obtained 30 light microscopes for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine laboratory.”
Under the ‘Stabilising Kenya by Solving Forest-related Conflicts’ research project, he managed to get full scholarships for 16 post-doctorate, PhD and MSc students.
The VC’s appointment made last Tuesday brought to an end a ten-month search for Peter Mbithi’s replacement during which Isaac Mbeche held the position on an interim basis.
Last Tuesday’s letter to university stakeholders by Council chair Julia Ojiambo read: “On behalf of the Council, I take this opportunity to thank the Public Service Commission, council colleagues, the Ministry of Education, the entire university fraternity and particularly the Chancellor for according the recruitment process and respective facilitative instruments and agencies a chance.”
Prof Kiama who was UoN’s deputy vice chancellor in charge of human resource and administration, began his five-year term as VC last Monday.
Prior to his appointment, he chaired the University Executive Board committee on record management that oversaw digitisation of student records and launch of a biometric student platform.
He has supervised 12 PhD and 14 master’s students who completed their studies at Makerere University, Rhodes University and the University of Nairobi. He is now supervising three.
On the academic front where he rose from assistant lecturer to being the College of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences principal, the VC chaired and sat in many committees that reviewed as well as developed curriculums for various diploma, degree and master’s degree courses.
To enhance UoN’s global appeal, Prof Kiama was part of a team that formulated and negotiated several memorandum of understanding pacts with foreign universities, global institutions and foundations.
He was also part of the funding for design and construction project committee for the Sh1.4 billion Wangari Maathai Institute and the 22-floor UoN Tower worth Sh2.3 billion.
In his new role, the 56-year-old veterinary surgeon is expected to redefine UoN’s relationship with staff by mobilising funds to enhance the university’s global appeal as a career development and must-go-for knowledge hub that offers industry-oriented programmes.
He has co-authored more than 140 journal and conference publications and serves as the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) chairman, a body that draws its membership from deans and principals of universities across East Africa.
As an insider, Prof Kiama’s life as a student, employee and eventually as a leader of Kenya’s foremost university will inform his relationships for a flawless working relationship with staff and students to reduce the managerial misfortune witnessed in the past that gave the university a bad name.
While the university nurtured Prof Kiama to become what he is today, it is upon him to return the favour by moulding UoN into a self-sustaining institution that trains job-creators and not job-seekers.
Prof Kiama will be expected to clear an atmosphere of acrimony at the university that has been dogged by leadership wrangles in recent years.
The exit of his predecessor Prof Mbithi was fraught with controversy which left staff and students a divided lot.
Prof Mbithi had sought a second five-year term at the helm of the university but the institution’s Council rejected the request, citing the amendment of the Universities Act which restricts the powers of this top organ.
The miscellaneous amendments in the 2012 Act came into force on January 18, 2019.
The amendment of the Act moved the powers of appointing vice chancellors and other senior administrators in institutions of higher learning to the Public Service Commission, the employer of pulic servants.