Prof Stephen Gitahi Kiama is the new University of Nairobi (UoN) vice-chancellor and is set to serve a five-year term, effective January 5, 2020.
Prof Kiama, who has been serving the university as deputy vice-chancellor in charge of human resource and administration since February 2019, will be taking over from Prof Peter Mbithi, whose five-year term officially ended on Saturday.
But it was Prof Isaac Mbeche who has been serving as UoN’s vice-chancellor on an acting capacity since July 2019, when Prof Mbithi was sent on compulsory leave.
Prof Kiama, holds a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Masters of Veterinary Anatomy from UoNa and Doctor of Philosophy in Structural Biology from University of Bern, Switzerland.
UoN Council Chairperson Prof Julia Ojiambo announced the appointment, saying that Prof Kiama was appointed following the conclusion of respective processes at Public Service Commission (PSC), before the University Council and subsequent consultation as provided in law.
“In concluding this elaborate process, the Council of UoN has appointed Prof Kiama as the vice-chancellor for a five-year term effective January 6, 2020,” said Prof Ojiambo.
Adding: “On behalf of the Council, I take this opportunity to thank PSC, Ministry of Education, the entire university fraternity and particularly the Chancellor for according recruitment process and respective facilitative instruments and agencies a chance.”
She also thanked Prof Mbithi and Prof Mbeche for discharging duties of the office of VC in substantive and acting capacities respectively, even as she congratulated Prof Kiama on his appointment.
Prof Kiama becomes the eighth UoN’s vice-chancellor.
“We appeal to the good conscience of the university fraternity and all our stakeholders for support in the coming days in progressing the mandate of UoN,” she said.
In December, PSC shortlisted eight applicants for the position out of 14 who were interviewed.
Other than Prof Kiama, others shortlisted were Prof Mbeche, Prof Madara Ogot, Prof Patricia Kameri Mbote, Prof Eng Benard Njoroge, Prof Solomon Igosangwa Shibairo, Prof Ruth Wanjiru Nduati, and Prof Elijah Omwenga.
Prof Mbithi, a veterinary surgeon, took office in January 5, 2015, becoming the seventh Vice Chancellor since University of Nairobi’s inception in 1970 and has not been short of controversies.
Prior to his appointment, Prof Mbithi was the immediate deputy vice-chancellor, (Administration and Finance), in charge of university’s performance contract. He also steered the University ISO certification in 2011 and re-certification in 2014.
And just over an year into his tenure, Mbithi fought bare-knuckled duels with colleagues, including the controversy over termination of service for deputy vice-chancellor (Administration and Finance), Prof Bernard Njoroge.
UoN Council sent Mbithi on compulsory leave on June 6 and wrote to all banks informing them of change in signatories Prof Mbeche.
“At its special meeting dated July 26, the Council of UoN) referred the (re)appointment of its Vice Chancellor to PSC. Consequently, the current Vice Chancellor, Mbithi proceeds on leave on July 6 to allow this process to take place,” Ojiambo wrote.
Before being sent on leave, Mbithi had written to the Council expressing interest for a second term in office, outlining his achievements over the last four and a half years.
“The University has registered commendable gains under my leadership. This bears testament to the resilience and innovation of the university and by default, its management,” Mbithi wrote, in a 7-page letter.
“If re-appointed, I will continue to work closely with the Council to catapult the university onto a higher trajectory to scholarly excellence,” he added.
Section 39(3) of the Universities Act 2012 provides that the Vice Chancellor of a public universities hold office for a term of five years and is eligible for reappointment for a further five years and its is against this statute Mbithi was seeking another term.
The Council’s failure to approve Mbithi for second term came as a relief to Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU), UoN Chapter who had issued him with a three-month ultimatum to step aside.
Led by the UoN Chapter Secretary George Omondi, the members said failure to him vacating office, they will mobilize reclaiming of the institution using constitutional means, including and not limited to forceful eviction.
They accused Mbithi of massive corruption, incompetence, dictator, gross abuse of office and running down UoN.
But Mbithi dismissed claims of being a dictator, describing himself as ‘accommodative and democratic’ as opposed to running the university as ‘a one-man show’.
He termed the accusations as malicious saying it is unfair for an employee of the university to trade falsehoods with the aim of sabotaging the institution.