Who is a university student in Africa? Many times, university students in Africa are viewed to be an unruly mob. ‘Any time I drive past a university compound, I feel a sense of uneasiness, I know students for stone throwing and violence’, a motorist was quoted recently. Things are changing in Kenya. Despite the hard economic times that students especially in public universities undergo; a new group of young and energetic individuals has emerged with a mission of changing the way thing work in public institutions. That is why, the recent victory of Moi University, in a national entrepreneurship exposition surprised many analysts.
Students in Free Enterprise [SIFE Kenya] in conjunction with the Inter Region Economic Network [IREN Kenya] hosted the 3rd national university business and entrepreneurship exposition at the Panafric Hotel on Saturday May 28, 2005. In this event, Moi University Eldoret, were crowned the 2005 SIFE Kenya National Champions after beating 10 other universities in a highly competitive league. Moi University will proceed to Toronto (Canada) in early October to represent Kenya in SIFE World Cup an international exposition that will attract university teams from 42 countries world wide.
Moi University SIFE (MU-SIFE) was launched on 13th April 2004 under the umbrella body of SIFE Kenya. SIFE Kenya is a network of university teams aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and establishing linkages between business ventures, institutions of higher learning and communities. MU-SIFE has experienced a massive growth from a team of 13 students to 159 drawn from all disciplines in the institution. Located 40 Kms away from Eldoret town, Moi University was the second public university to be established in 1984 through the Mackay Commission as a college of Technology. It has a current population of 12000 students from the initial population of 64 spread out in 4 campuses.
Among the notable projects that MU-SIFE team is currently involved in are, Blooming Falls, that teaches small scale farmers vegetable production, Fertile attraction, that teaches farmers how to make cheap fertilizer, Biashara Nawiri that equips small and medium enterprise (SME) owners with entrepreneurial skills and their initiative of turning Kesses Dam into a recreational center. The team is also working with the Bindura children’s home teaching entrepreneurship with the aim of making the home financially independent. They also have the Green Power Project that aims at providing an alternative cheap and locally available fuel to replace the use of charcoal among others. Moi University SIFE is also remembered for having raised Kshs 65,000 towards the famine relief efforts through The Standard-KTN appeal last year.
In their Blooming Falls project, the team has been able to totally transform the life of a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Tarus. Mr. Tarus works as a security guard while his wife is a vegetable vendor. She used to walk for almost 35 KMS in search of vegetables for sale. This is because farmers in the locality mainly concentrate on maize and wheat farming. They used to plant maize on their 2 acre land and their annual income was Kshs 20,000. MU-SIFE managed to convince the couple to plant vegetables on one acre of their farm. The results are remarkable. Their daily income now stands at an average of Kshs 300 estimated at Kshs 72,000 annually. With this, their family is fed, clothed and their children send to school. In the past, this was impossible. According to Mr.Tarus, he used to take emergency loans from his employer just to be able to feed his family. His neighbors having seen the transformation have vowed to follow in his footsteps once their current maize crop is harvested. He now plans to expand his vegetable farm to the other acre. “If any life has been changed according to the SIFE spirit of changing the world, then I am the first one changed.” Mr. Tarus said. To the couple SIFE is god send and their lives will never be the same again. The SME owners have also formed a Sacco and some of them have opened accounts with Post Bank Kenya.
University students have most of the times been portrayed as unruly and living in utopia. The MU-SIFE initiatives have therefore taken their administrators by surprise. This was evident from their comments during a meeting facilitated by the Vice Chancellor’s office and the MU-SIFE team. According to Dr. Sang, the Chief Administrative Officer, the SIFE team portrays a different type of students. Dr. Sang had to be reassured that the neatly dressed, organized young people he was seating with were actually his students. Prof. Gudu, (Deputy Vice Chancellor, Planning and Development) said that the students work was very impressive. “Initially I had no idea what SIFE was all about until I got hold of their annual report. I go through a lot of reports daily and dismiss quite a number of them due to their theoretical nature. But here are students who have actually gone out into the field and done something tangible and on top of that produced a high caliber report” Prof. Gudu remarked. “What we have always had on paper the SIFE team has beaten us to it by implementing programs on the ground,” observed Dr. Rono, Head of sociology Department during the official handing over ceremony of the team’s trophy and certificates.
“The program has also been beneficial to the students both as a team and on individual basis” said Diana Ntinyari the team’s Vice President. “We have learnt how to work as a team noting that we come from diverse backgrounds. As a business management student, I have been able to put my theoretical knowledge to test. On top of that I have learnt how to plant Sukuma Wiki and other vegetables!” She added.
Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), founded in the United States in 1975, is a positive grassroots student movement active on more than 1700 university campuses in more than 40 countries. The principle of SIFE is simple. Through teaching others, SIFE students gain a practical understanding of how market economies work. They gain the opportunity to make a lasting difference in their communities and to develop leadership, teamwork and communication skills. Through outreach programs, SIFE students are helping the community confront issues such as illiteracy, an under-educated workforce, economic naivety, the dangers of deficit spending and government over-regulation. ‘We at SIFE are investing heavily in the future of Africa, that is, the African youth. I welcome any one with a vision for this continent to join us in this quest.’ said James Shikwati, SIFE Kenya country Director.