SPEECH BY RT. HON RAILA ODINGA AT THE KENYA METHODIST UNIVERSITY GRADUATION CEREMONY; OCTOBER 13, 2018.
Distinguished guests, graduates and alumni;
Let me begin with a special word of welcome not only to the graduating Class of 2018 but also to all of you here who may someday be members of some graduating class of the Kenya Methodist University; the Class of 2019, or 2020 or the class of 2022.
I also commend the Methodist Church in Kenya for its outstanding contribution to education which has seen KEMU become the first private university in Kenya to graduate medical doctors and surgeons.
You graduate at a time of great change and momentous challenges that include a difficult economy; debt and tax burdens, corruption and unemployment.
I want to assure all of you that as leaders, we are going all out and doing what was once unthinkable to address these problems and bequeath you a better country.
President Bill Clinton said that if he were to sum up his view of public life, it would come down to… “Are people better off when you quit than when you started? Do children have a brighter future? Are things coming together instead of being torn apart?” I fully subscribe to this view.
Many of you here call me Baba, and I accept the title with all humility. I want to assure you that as a father, I am determined to ensure that things work for you, that you have a brighter future and that Kenyans are better off when I quit than when I started. This is the reason we agreed with President Uhuru Kenyatta to put aside everything else and work for Kenya.
To help us realize this dream, I wish to appeal to the youth to aspire to higher ideals that they shall never compromise on for the sake of Kenya. Our youth must constantly ask; “Is there anything I have to put myself on the line for, for the sake of my community, my neighbor and my country or am I living in vain?
I want the youth of Kenya to believe that success comes from hard work and playing by the rules; not short cuts and shady deals. That is the only way to build a country that cares for of all citizens and stands the tests of survival.
I am aware that as youth, you did not create the divided, tribal, corrupt and unequal Kenya that you find yourselves in. But you can use your education to stop these ills. On that journey, I will cover your backs and walk with you.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Kenya needs to move forward in its economy, politics and social programs. What will make Kenya a better place for our children and earn it respect among nations, is knowledge.
That knowledge will come from three things that I wish to raise strongly at this congregation. These three things are; One, research, Two, research, Three, research.
Even in these hard economic times, we need to regard research as an indispensable investment in our future. Without research, we are sitting ducks in a rapidly and constantly changing world. Without research, we are fighting in the dark and hoping to develop by chance.
I believe we have to cut our coat according to our size as a country. I am therefore not insisting on research that secures us more patents than any other country or that wins us Nobel prizes for science, important as these are.
I am calling on our country to begin by investing in and supporting more of basic research that is meant to teach us rather than to invent or develop new products. That will have to be led by our universities.
We need to factor in and assign research components of each flagship project of our development agenda to a specific university based on the known strength of that university.
The truth however is that research is underfunded and ranks dangerously low in our list of priorities.
While UNESCO recommends that nations spend 2 to 3 per cent of their GDP on research, we spend only 0.8 per cent of our GDP on research.
How then will our children catch up with South Korea, for instance, which spends 4.3 per cent of its GDP on research?
Our government needs to set specific goals and targets for university contribution to national development goals.
As a country, we need to agree that each year; we will devote more money to research and a clear list of the projects to be financed and why they matter.
We will then need to link these projects with industries so that their results lead to new and better and competitive products.
I believe that until and unless that is done, our universities will continue to lag behind others in research while our governments will continue to record long lists of projects that failed to take off.
I am aware that we are straining and hurting economically and some will say we have no money to spare for such futuristic projects. But nations are built through hard choices and sacrifices.
We must always be willing to sacrifice our comfort today to ensure the comfort of the next generation.
For our universities to transform our society and meet international expectations, quality assurance is critical. This is a role the Commission for University Education (CUE) and the Ministry of Education must play without fear or favour with regard to courses and curriculum.
We also need to jealously guard the value of education by mounting a vicious crackdown on the fake and undeserved degrees that are sprouting in Kenya.
We must be merciless with people, including politicians who obtain degrees without having stepped in any classroom. Kenya must be led by people who have earned the papers they present for leadership positions.
As we pursue standards, we must listen to and address the concerns of key stakeholders especially private universities like KEMU as well as by the faculty of all universities. These bodies have raised concern about the apparent attempt to micromanage the design and delivery of courses and even to supervise and evaluate lecturers by the CUE. This approach threatens to make universities identical and undermine their autonomy.
Individual institutions must be allowed to create their niches and design innovative programs that differentiate them in the job market, win them global recognition and enable them bring different capacities to the building of our nation.
I am aware that our universities are struggling with funding challenges with public institutions hardest hit. This is making it difficult particularly for the public universities to meet even basic statutory commitments to NHIF, NSSF, Pensions funds, and staff Saccos.
Some universities are even unable to remit PAYE deductions.
Our society needs to adopt the philanthropic culture that has seen the rich in the developed world support scholarships, endowment funds and capital campaigns in their universities. We must also crackdown on wastage and outright theft of resources in our universities.
Universities are not got going to inspire hope when they are steeped in the bad habits of primitive acquisition, corruption and impunity.
We also need to continue reviewing our policies to promote private investment in higher education. Currently, there is disquiet among private universities that the formulation and implementation of some government policies put them at a disadvantage.
These concerns have to be addressed to enable private universities help the country shoulder the burden of providing education.
Finally; I have spoken in some detail about research and each time we talk about research, we think of the hard sciences. Today, I want to remind this congregation of another kind of research spoken of by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt over 70 years ago when he said…
“If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships—the ability of all people, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world, at peace.”
Kenya has been, and remains too divided to stand. We must work together to put the pieces that make Kenya back in place. This work of putting the pieces back together is what President Uhuru Kenyatta and I have been up to since the 9th of March.
We have been able to bring calm, tone down the rhetoric and prepare the country for a sober debate on what matters.
Like Roosevelt, I ask that if you want to measure our success, judge us by the enemies we have made. The agents of hate and division have attempted to declare war on the noble cause for unity and peace. We must resist and shun such people.
I appeal to Kenyans to embrace the idea that ‘Competition is useful up to a certain point and no further and that cooperation begins where competition ends. Cooperation is what we must strive for today, it is what the president and I have chosen and we want history to judge us by it.
Let’s join hands in this journey. I wish success in all your pursuits.