Scholars seeking an understanding of how leadership has inhibited academic freedom

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Trails in Academic and Administrative Leadership in Kenya: A Memoir

by Ratemo Waya Michieka

CODESRIA, Dakar, Senegal, 2016, 320pp  

Scholars seeking an understanding of how leadership has inhibited academic freedom and hindered the effectiveness of higher learning institutions in Africa have shown interest in how these institutions are run.

The absence of material documenting the experiences of those who have served as university leaders has created a major gap. This has raised many questions that still remain unanswered particularly on how leaders of higher education institutions are identified, how they are prepared, the personal predispositions they bring to such positions and personal experiences on what energizes or inhibits their performance.

Trails in Academic and Administrative Leadership in Kenya: A Memoir, a book written by a former vice-chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Ratemo Waya Michieka, tries to answer some of these questions through a skilful weaving of stories of his childhood in rural Kenya to his experience as head of a top public university.

Prof. Michieka details his experiences and struggles within the university system —during the time when Kenya experienced a shift from a government that sought to rigidly control academic standards to one that tried to give them autonomy. The author shares his experience in trying to steer clear from politics while avoiding crises such as declining academic standards and the relevance of curricula that continue to plague universities in Kenya and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. He also talks about student protests, which many lecturers were arrested for, as they were thought to have prompted rebellious thinking through their teachings.  

The author is critical of how heads of higher learning institutions were appointed during the time of former President Daniel arap Moi, noting that although most of them were highly respected scholars, they often lacked leadership and administrative skills and were not given terms of reference. Hence the book’s concentration on administration and management of higher learning facilities, as well as transforming such facilities from mediocrity to academically outstanding.

Published by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), the memoir is arranged into 19 chapters. It gives important insights into the extensive changes that were fought for and are now evident in Kenya’s academic system, which seeks to find a balance between political pressures and long-standing institutional conventions.

— Pavithra Rao

Africa Renew