One truth that remains unarguably constant and alive in the mind of every MMUSTian, even after six month following the end of his first term as Vice Chancellor of MMUST, is the undeniable fact that Prof Fredrick Alfred Ochieng Otieno did a lot for MMUST during his term in office. Another undeniable fact is that, six months down the line, Prof Otieno still remains immensely popular amongst majority of staff and students.
We have patiently been observing the situation now for six months since the term of Prof Otieno as VC expired and the Acting Prof Joseph Bosire took over. We have also had the opportunity to sample out and interviewed a randomly sampled cross section of staff – including union officials – and students on their feelings on the continued absence of Prof Otieno, and today we are glad to share with you our interesting findings.
Our careful investigation showed that only a handful of disillusioned union officials and their friends of whom majorly were responsible for the ills in the university before the arrival of Prof Otieno are the ones not happy with his leadership. He dismantled the corrupt cartels and brought order and sanity at the university. Some staff even feel, this man ought to be recognized with a managerial and astute leadership award from the highest office in Kenya. Indeed, from our finding, we are the least surprised by the kind of behavior and mean attitude towards the mention of the name of, and believers in, the leadership of Prof Otieno, from the union officials, those whose corruption cartel he dismantled – and who have been irregularly, against court orders, brought back to office by the current acting VC, prof Bosire and the ousted chairman of council, Dr Jeremy Bundi. For these, it’s a war of vindictivism.
For starter and for the point of strong emphasis, Prof Otieno remains immensely popular among the majority of staff and students – we can safely say, over 90%. Reports from our respondents, clearly point to the fact that they are unequivocal that Prof Otieno picked up the university from the doldrums in Dec, 2013 to position it among the top 8 universities in Kenya. Under his reign he developed a well thought out 5 year Strategic Plan which has served the university, indeed, very well. For information sake, MMUST was a university which among others was characterized by the following:-
This had fallen to rock bottom, prior to Dec, 2013. No meaningful teaching and learning was taking place. Exam cheating was the order of the day. Degrees from MMUST were not respected by the majority of employers in and out of Kenya. Degrees were not accredited by professional bodies. Otieno on his arrival to MMUST, set out immediately to addressing this serious crisis and he largely succeeded. The fruit was witnessed in the improved webometric ranking of the university amongst global league of universities. Of course this definitely did not go down well with his enemies as taking out MMUST from the doldrum of a failed academic system took instituting and implementing strict disciplinary measures, including closing up all loopholes for corruption and bad, unproductive, work ethics which was the milking cow of his detractors. Sadly, this is where MMUST is almost sliding back into, with the unfortunate return of the same unscrupulous characters back at the helm of office and strongly backed by Prof Bosire.
When Prof Otieno arrived in MMUST, the unarguable truth remains that he found the university technically insolvent. Clearly, it was bankrupt. The limited fees collected was embezzled, theft was the order of the day, statutory remittances like (PAYE, NSSF, PENSION, NHIF, NITA etc) were not being honored; suppliers were never paid and when this was done they had to bribe staff before they were paid, not minding after they have waited for years – suppliers and services providers were practically on the run, at a mention of MMUST; part time lecturers were never paid; and above all salaries for full time staff were paid after the 15th of the following month – leaving staff incurring huge penalties from financial houses and the likes. We also need to mention at this juncture, that with the advent of Prof Otieno to MMUST, the economy of Kakamega town and indeed to an extent, Kakamega County, whose economy was largely driven by MMUST amongst others, flourished. Prior to the arrival of Prof Otieno in Dec, 2013, MMUST owed over 1.5 Billion shillings and everything around the university really looked bleak. As soon as Otieno studied the situation and started addressing these, things improved to the extent that he had by end of 2017 cleared all the debts and under his leadership MMUST was probably among only three universities in Kenya in such a position, including leaving behind in excess reserve savings of over 500 million shillings for the University – a hard earned savings which now, unfortunately, his enemies now in acting authorities are squandering with abandoned disregards and uncouth bloated spending.
Worse still, due to greed, avarice and massive (indeed, and in many occasion, avoidable) expenditure and the inability – or do we say, unwillingness – of the Finance Officer, Mr Jared Rading, to control expenditure coupled with his own appetite to embezzle funds, MMUST as at the end of April 2019 has swiftly drifted back into bankruptcy. An extremely sad and pitiable situation slowly but surely sliding the university back into a failed state it came from prior to Dec, 2013.
Work ethics and service delivery to students, staff and other stakeholders
Prior to December, 2018, MMUST has strategically positioned itself as a ‘student-centered’ university. Before Prof Otieno and his team of managers took over leadership in December, 2013, there was hardly any proper work ethics in place at MMUST, while service delivery to its clients being the students and the larger community, was at its lowest.
The Prof Otieno-led administration immediately, on arrival bumped into action to addressing these two key areas of her strategic plan. During his reign in office, there was a sound and high work ethics and service delivery instituted. High work morale and productivity was at their best. Prior to Prof Otieno’s arrival, most academic staff used to come and run a 14-week teaching period in only two weeks, at the most – the rest the invested, moonlighting around every other universities and academic institutions, willing to take them. For non-teaching staff, many had their businesses in town, so they simply just report in for a few hours or so, and then sneak out of the university, unchecked, back to run their private businesses – leaving students and their other responsibilities unattended to. Worse still, some were even busy running their private business at their work spaces, using university time and resources, while other connived with students to defraud the university. It is no new story of how a good number students went through MMUST and graduated without paying a dime in fees to the university accounts, but rather paying fractions of same to private accounts of university staff. It took the Prof Otieno-led administration, quite some effort and courage to be able to address these rots and set the university on the right path as working, stable and functional university in just five years. From our finding, all students and staff interviewed, appreciated this and indeed expressed how sad they feel seeing the university rapidly drifting back into a failed system, in just a few months.
Internationalization of the university
Indeed, in Dec 2013 the arrival of Prof Otieno as VC at MMUST ushered in a blessing of internationalization – him being an international astute scholar by all rights, himself. This is not to say that MMUST had no stint of international experience prior to his arrival, however, prior to Prof Otieno’s appointment as VC, MMUST was barely operating no better than an average high school in Kenya – we all passed through the system as alumni and this is no news to anyone of us. In the subsequent period that followed, under Otieno’s leadership, he prioritized internationalization of the university through partnerships and exchange programmes with a number of leading international universities. The benefits of these in terms of staff and student development and exchange are visible and appreciated by all. These have lifted the image of the university both nationally and internationally, of which climaxed with University hosting of a world class pan-African international research congress, the first of its kind in the academic history of Kenya, in 2018.
Prior to Dec, 2013, the university, infrastructurally, was in a sorry state – no better than a village secondary school – with most of its administration structures being a bunch of ‘mabathi’ or red brick structures, put in place by the them original WECO founders. Within the five years under the leadership of Prof Otieno, so much changed, infrastructurally, the evidence of which are very visible. But for the sake of emphasis, we would highlight some of these positive infrastructural changes;
Completion of the stalled 1000-bed capacity female hostel (popularly called, Hall 4, at Milimani).
Completion of the multi-purpose hall (MPH building next to the main gate) which has enabled MMUST to host a number of national events in the past four years. Keep in mind that this project was initially abandoned by the initial contractor.
Construction from start to finish of the Mech Engineering Lecture complex (MED building) which enabled the university to heavily cut-down on renting premises in town
Construction from start to finish of the Anatomy Laboratory, which has enabled MMUST to start the School of Medicine and admit her first students in September 2018
Construction from start to finish of the high-rise administration complex (popularly referred to as Orange house), which now have enable the university to centralize all her administration activities, thus bringing about better efficiencies in the university
Construction from start to now over 80% to finish a second lecture complex that will completely make MMUST self-sufficient in terms of lecture space to her increasing student population.
Expanding and accreditation of programmes at MMUST
Prior to Dec, 2013 most professional programmes at MMUST were not accredited. This has since changed and all such programmes are now all accredited. Under the Prof Otieno-led management, the university also introduced some strategic programmes among these being medicine, high level nursing, to mention a few. This also included, in effort to ensuring better academic efficiency and better students services’ experience, creating of more schools with plans to instituting a college system at the university.
Excellence in Sports and Talent Scholarships
In the five years of Prof Otieno’s leadership, the university introduced and set up a talent scholarship which has seen the university achieve excellence in most sports in Kenya. MMUST is now the second ranked overall university in sports in Kenya. MMUST are now national champions in men and women soccer, women netball, women handball, men rugby, among others and second in Men handball, men netball, women chess, women scrabble, men scrabble among other national and regional successes that has significantly raised the status of the university amongst global league of universities.
Academic scholarship for staff and work experience for MMUST graduates
With the arrival of Prof Otieno to MMUST, academic staff have been aggressively encouraged and indeed supported to compete favorably amongst national, regional and global peers, in grantsmanship and academic publications. The number of MMUST staff who started and completed their PhDs skyrocketed. With completion rate of post-graduate education in MMUST significantly improved, not to mention increased post graduate enrolment at MMUST. Prof Otieno-led administration also introduced towards the end of his term a postgraduate plan that would enabled bright scholars from disadvantage communities to be able to apply and receive scholarships to engage in post graduate education. To crown it all, MMUST graduates had an opportunity to gain work experience through an internship scheme, which was well embraced and largely successful. However, in the last six months, the acting leadership at MMUST is now twisting negatively this scheme as a means of giving unprocedural employment to their relatives.
Freedom of expression in MMUST and free interaction with staff
This was the hallmark of Prof FAO’s leadership style, even in social media platforms, something that prof Bosire and Dr Bundi have pursued with vehemence to gag, to the unfortunate extent of openly proposing private Whatsapp walls and blogging platforms to be brought down and the administrators of same, haunted and threatened with litigation. One begins to wonder, why the scare. If what are being discussed or presented in these platforms are false, why not counter them with a rejoinder, rather than haunt after the administrators? Only profs Sakwa, Shiundu, Bosire and Dr Bundi have answers to these questions.
To the best of our investigation, we can confirm that Prof FAO Otieno came to this university with a theme of creating a student centered university, which to the best of our knowledge we are convinced he succeeded in doing. His love for serving the students in the best possible manner he can, is unmatched perhaps amongst all Kenyan universities. This may well justify why he is such a darling of the students body. He is loved by students across the board. In this regard, he for example worked tirelessly to stop students carrying chairs across rooms and campuses by providing enough chairs, he completed the female students hostel, started and run the students talent scholarship, strongly supported student activities like sports and ensured all professional programmes were accredited especially the problematic engineering programmes.
In conclusion, it is impossible to present the many laudable achievements of the Prof FAO Otieno led administration in one single blog. This was just presented here as a rider for MMUSTians and indeed the larger Kakamega community, stakeholders and Kakamega leadership to reflect upon, on one of the best experience to have come to Kakamega County, being fast eroded on the floor of inefficiency, ineptitude and what’s more, mediocrity from people irregularly giving authority, when indeed management of an academic institution of the magnitude Prof Fredrick Alfred Ochieng Otieno rose MMUST to, in all honesty, beclouds them.