- Human Rights and Academic Freedom in Kenya’s Public Universities: The Case of the Universities Academic Staff Union *
The wind of change that has been sweeping the African Continent since the end of the Cold War has rekindled and catalyzed demands for respect for human rights and the establishment of viable and durable democratic institutions. These demands are, of course, not new or alien to the millions of oppressed people of Africa. The main differences, however, are that the lone voices that have consistently challenged the autocratic, oppressive, and one-party regimes in Africa since independence are now being joined [End Page 179] by a large number of groups advocating for human rights, democracy, and multiparty state systems. During the Cold War, more than 90 percent of the independent sovereign states in Africa were ruled by autocratic civilian and military regimes. 1 However, even with the absence of the Cold War, most of the African countries have still not laid the foundation for democratic rule.
A second reason that makes the current demands for change different is that the Western donor countries, which originally supported the oppressive and dictatorial one-party regimes in Africa during the Cold War period (and in the process sanctioned and legitimized the suppression of human rights), are now pushing for democratic change based on multiparty state systems. 2
During his testimony before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in 1963, G. Mennen Williams, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, argued that
[i]n the transitional period the two-party system might be too sophisticated for the Africans at this time. . . . We ourselves had no political elections, that is, two-party elections, until after George Washington. . . . The single-party systems in Africa have a great deal of movement within them and are unlike the Russian and Nazi monolithic party so that there is some degree of democracy in them. 3
Williams was comparing the Africa of the 1960s with the United States of the 1700s. This trend of thinking dominated the minds of foreign policymakers in the United States and the West in general during the Cold War era. However, the end of the Cold War has paved the way for a different style of articulation, perception, and application of human rights issues in Africa by the West.
In his contribution on the issue of human rights and democracy after the end of the Cold War, the US advisor to the UN Commission for Human Rights, Marc Northern, stated that the “division in the world today is not between East and West. . . . The real division in the world today is between those committed to democracy and liberty and those against.” 4 Similarly, the US Ambassador to Kenya during the Bush Administration, Smith Hempstone, publicly stated that the United States would give assistance to countries in Africa that “nourished democratic institutions, defend human [End Page 180] rights and practised multi-party politics.” 5 At this time, Kenyans had joined hands in the call for respect for human rights and advocated for the repeal of section 2(A) of Kenya’s Constitution, 6 which legally sanctioned the de jure one-party state system in the country since 1982. 7
As a result of the internal and international pressure culminating in the withholding of funds by the donor countries, President Moi allowed the repeal of section 2(A) in December 1991. 8 Thereafter a number of political parties were registered and participated in the 1992 multiparty elections. 9 The academics in Kenya’s public universities also participated in this wind of change. They seized the opportunity to articulate the need for respect for human rights and academic freedom in the universities. This, in their view, would be conducive for meaningful dissemination of academic knowledge. 10 The Kenyan academics formed the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) in 1992 to advocate for academic freedom, the depoliticization of the academic institutions, the promotion of academic standards and development, and the advancement of the general welfare of its members. 11
This article focuses on human rights and academic freedom as they relate to the UASU since its...