Money, social media influencers drive UoN leadership campaign
Crowds of drunken students littered posters on Thursday as they prepared to vote Friday to elect University of Nairobi Students Association officials.
Various aspirants were dishing out money to “wise men”, a group of highly influential students who commandeer politics.
The “wise men” are 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.
A typical “wise man” is a moneyed individual with a social media presence that influences thousands of student followers.
“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.
The Nation established that aspirants for the various seats were literally breaking the bank in efforts to hire the influencers.
“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 over 200 aspirants competing for various seats, 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 on social media through hiring bloggers, who shower them with praises as they deride opponents.
Mr Ndege Serikali, 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 Serikali 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 his campaign as a defender of students’ rights, having been at the forefront of taking the university administration head-on over issues of accommodation, arbitrary suspensions and freedom of speech and association in 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.
SH4M CAMPAIGN BUDGET
Mr Ayoma has a campaign budget of Sh4 million, which he believes is adequate to deliver him victory against Ms Mvurya, a newcomer in student politics who is banking on a more well-oiled campaign machinery that has seen her take flights to the Mombasa and Kisumu campuses to 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.
“I encourage comrades to take the cash that is being dished out but vote with their minds. We should not sell comradeship for coins,” Mr Orina warned.
Whoever wins the contest will take over from Mr Machui Manyara, the chairman whose swearing into office last year was met with widespread student protests.
They claimed that he was a puppet of the university administration and that no election was held to put him in office. Mr Manyara will not defend his seat.