It was all merry for students yesterday Thursday as they littered posters of their preferred candidates as a way of preparing to elect University of Nairobi Students Association (UNSA) officials in an election running along today Friday.
Various aspirants were dishing money out to “wise men” as are known a group of highly influential students who commandeer politics on campus.
The “wise men” group is made up of both current and former influential students and some of the most feared hooligans who in the past created tension, havoc and fear during student union campaigns.
The individuals who rarely contest for the posts are moneyed and enjoy a huge social media presence that influences thousands of student followers both on and off the campus.
“You have to be as sly as a fox, brave and of fetching intellect so as to be a wise man. Your past heroics in organising successful student protests and standing to the arm-twisting tactics of the administration should also precede you,” said University of Nairobi (UoN) student politician Brian Orina, alias Malema, who has declared himself the ‘Comrades’ President’ after the university failed to clear him to vie for a seat.
According to findings by a local media, most aspirants have literally broken the bank in efforts to hire the influencers and sway voters their way.
“You have to buy them food and drinks, take them out for shopping, hire and fuel their cars to use during the campaign period, pay for their air tickets and ensure that their boyfriends and girlfriends are comfortable when they are busy out there lobbying for you,” Mr. Orina said.
The influential students also protect a candidate’s posters and banners from vandals.
“We charge at least Sh3,000 per night to protect posters and banners from being destroyed. It’s more expensive to protect posters and banners than to print them,” said Mr. Isaac Kweyu, alias Komrade Isaka, one of the university’s most popular students.
With more than 200 aspirants, Mr. Kweyu and fellow influencers said they were making a small fortune out of the campaigns.
Other than hiring influencers, aspirants were also spending a fortune to maintain their presence in social media through propaganda spread by contracted bloggers, who shower them with praises as they deride opponents.
Mr. Ndege Serikal, the main administrator of the popular New Comrades Forum, the largest online platform for university students in the country, said that bloggers were making between Sh1,000 to Sh5,000 daily from online campaigns.
“I estimate that aspirants spend about Sh200,000 daily in online campaigns. Student kamkunjis are slowly dying and being replaced by online campaigns,” Mr. Serkali said.
Bachelor of Arts student Samwel Ayoma, running under the banner Team Ayoma, and third-year Law student Anne Mvurya, running under the banner Team Twaweza, are contesting the coveted students’ chairperson seat.
Mr. Ayoma, the outgoing UoN Main Campus Chairman, has positioned himself as a defender of students’ rights, having been at the forefront in taking the administration head-on over issues ranging from accommodation, arbitrary suspension of students to freedom of speech and association within campus corridors.
“We have been victims of a bad regime. Intellectualism has died and students can no longer speak freely on various issues. We have to fight for our space not just within the confines of the university but also when it comes to national issues,” Mr. Ayoma said.
He has a campaign budget of Sh4 million, which he believes is adequate to deliver him victory against Ms. Mvurya, a newcomer who is banking on more well-oiled campaign machinery that has seen her take flights to Mombasa and Kisumu campuses to the campaign.
“This year’s election offers an opportunity for genuine students to get a chance at leadership. It offers us a chance to start afresh and bring forth innovative and impactful student leadership,” she said.
Mr. Orina warned: “I encourage comrades to take the cash that is being dished out but vote with their minds. We should not sell comradeship for coins.”
Whoever wins the contest will take over from Mr. Machui Manyara, the chairman whose swearing-in on 15th April last year was met with widespread student protests.
They claimed he was the administration’s puppet, and that no election was held to put him in office. Mr. Manyara will not defend his seat. He won the seat unopposed after having most of his competitors disqualified on Technicalities.