Alarm as cases of varsity killings rise
It started with a hashtag on social media, #FindGraceNduta. Nduta, a 22-year-old university student from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKuat), was reported missing by her family on January 29, 2017, at Githurai Kimbo Police Station.
What followed was a spirited social media campaign to find Nduta — a volunteer at St John Ambulance, and a church choir member. Friends and family joined in the search, hoping that Nduta had probably just wandered off and would show up soon, unhurt. She did show up a few days later — dead. Parts of her body had been stuffed in a bucket in a house in the sprawling Kahawa West estate.
Police officers from Kiambu county’s Juja Police Station later found Nduta’s torso and limbs dumped in the bush at Kalimoni area, some 20km from her middle-class Kahawa Sukari home.
It was a brutal murder: Nduta’s eyes had been gouged out, her tongue cut off and her entire body skinned. Her brother, 24-year-old Charles Kibe, who is accused of buying a knife and killing his sister in the ritual-like fashion, has since been arrested and charged with the murder.
In the past month alone, three female university students have been murdered, bringing to five the number of students killed in the past six months. From love triangles, drugs, to living dangerously, university teen homicide is on the rise, and in the past one year, more than 10 students have died.
Experts interviewed for this special report agree that teen university students are lacking “primary self-preservation skills”.
“It is the hallmark of poor adjustment,” says Mbutu Kariuki, a developmental psychologist. This poor adjustment is manifested in diminished self-worth, zero sense of environmental mastery and poor social skills, such that they simply cannot co-exist with others.
Camillah Selinah Mahelo was a third year Moi University student looking forward to graduate. She had a boyfriend, a student at the University of Eldoret.
On the night of February 8, Mahelo, best known as a korfball player, visited her boyfriend and they went to make merry. That was the night she was allegedly poisoned and later died at a private hospital where she had been rushed after she complained of stomach pains. Four students, including her boyfriend, were held by police for questioning.
Cases of teen homicide at the universities have started to gain attention, at a time when most students live off-campus in private hostels.
Dr Oscar Githua, a forensic psychologist and lecturer at the United States International University (USIU) classifies young people in this 18-25 years age group as “emerging adults” who need extra attention.
“By law, they are adults. But by nature, they are still children,” Dr Githua says. Left on their own, the teens are becoming more vulnerable to drugs, gambling, pornography and illicit sex. They also live lonely lives.
Last month, 24-year-old Sharon Achieng, a student at Mount Kenya University, went missing for seven days before she was found dead in her house in Nakuru County’s Kiti Estate.
It was only after neighbours complained of a foul smell emanating from the house that Achieng’s body was discovered. Though her brother, Ibrahim Kevin Ochieng, said she was epileptic, police found blood on Achieng’s beddings and floor.
The biggest challenge the average university student today faces is — cliché as it may sound — peer pressure.
“It takes only one student with a strong bad habit to influence the rest,” says Dr Philomena Ndambuki, an educational child psychologist and lecturer at Kenyatta University.
In spite of the seemingly endless freedom, a university student is never really free. In a desperate bid to fit in and be accepted as “one of them”, they fall prey to group behaviour. All it takes is a ring leader.
“University students must ensure that they are in charge of their lives, but this is not always the case,” says Dr Ndambuki.
One of the hallmarks of university life today is a carefree lifestyle. The students are often unruly and uncontrollable, and could unintentionally put themselves in harm’s way.
BEATEN TO DEATH
Last week, university student Joseph Kang’ethe was beaten to death in Nairobi’s Huruma Estate after a drinking spree went awry.
Driving on the fast lane, staggering back to the hostel in the wee hours and taunting police is today’s hallmark of a university student. “They are just typical teenagers,” Dr Githua concludes. “They are behaving and thinking like teenagers, believing that they cannot be harmed by anything. That newly-found freedom gives them an unreal sense of security.”
By failing to see the dangers of their carefree lifestyles and without an ability to make sound judgement, these teenagers are now living dangerously.
Experts say the environment in which some of the students grew up did little to prepare them for the perils of university life. Most grew up with absentee parents who were either too busy to raise them, or were away most of the time.
“They were left to learn life skills on their own,” says Prof Lukoye Atwoli, a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine. They learnt life skills from peers, television and the househelp.
While university life today is significantly easier than it was 20 years ago, the society has to cope with endless challenges brought by globalisation and a new information age.
“The students are different from those who attended university 20 years ago. These ones are just not prepared for university life,” says Atwoli.
Dr Githua says that so much responsibility has been placed on the young shoulders of an 18-year-old — who is probably handling their first Sh10,000 without prior knowledge of budgeting or differentiating needs from wants. He thinks that university students are being left to have too much independence and too much responsibility, a life they are not emotionally prepared for.
“University youth are wearing shoes that don’t fit them, they are falling into pressures to please their friends and could commit crimes ‘just to fit in’,” he says.
With the expansion of university education, most institutions have been having problems accommodating all the students they admit. As a result, some of them live in crime-infested neighbourhoods where rent is cheap.
HIGH CRIME RATES
Peter Njoroge was a third-year Maseno University student when he was murdered in cold blood in November last year. He was residing in Mabungo slums, close to the university, where crime rates are sky-high.
With no money to pay for decent accommodation, and where the under-funded Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) is unable to meet the needs of the more than 800,000 students in universities and colleges, the students admitted cannot fit into the combined 280,000 bed spaces in universities and colleges in the country.
Some students are unable to adjust from high school life chaperoned by a headmaster, school prefects and rigid school rules and are suddenly thrown into the deep sea of university life, where attending class is a choice, not compulsory, and where alcohol is no longer a cardinal sin but is readily available. They are also surrounded by a pool of equally clueless friends.
Prof Atwoli observes that their carefree, risk-taking tendencies could be explained by the fact that teenagers naturally push boundaries without the background of parental guidance.
In the past one year, at least 10 university students have died in crime-related incidents.
“There is zero sense of environmental mastery,” says psychologist Kariuki.
In March last year, the decomposing body of a 29-year-old student at St Paul’s University was found on a farm in Nakuru. His mother had reported him missing a week earlier.
In August last year, 20-year-old Kenneth Ndun’gu Kanyiri, a second year student at JKuat was shot dead by gangsters on his way from the main campus to his hostel. It was reported that Mr Kanyiri was walking towards the hostel accompanied by his colleagues when they were attacked. The student resisted and the gangsters shot him in the head and made away with their laptops.
“We are not blaming the victims here,” Dr Githua clarifies. “But we have what we call avoidable situations. These students need to adopt security sensitive behaviour.”
JKuat student leaders say they reported eight crimes in one month. Other cases involved rape and sodomy, besides laptop thefts.
Crimes of passion involving love triangles and jilted lovers are also a key contributor in these young students’ deaths. We counted at least seven love-triangle-related deaths among university students in the past one year. In February last year, Sharon Mmbene, a fourth year student at Egerton University was killed by her boyfriend, Hilary Musisi, who was then lynched by a crowd.
The two had a quarrel in their single-room house in Njokerio Estate, close to the university campus, after which Musisi stabbed her.
In March last year, Kevin Ikatwa, aka Razor, was stabbed and killed by his pregnant girlfriend over a Facebook photo. Ikatwa, a fourth year Bachelor of Arts student at the University of Nairobi, posted a photograph of another woman on his social media account, which raised the ire of his 19-year-old girlfriend, a first year student at the university.
Ikatwa, a midfielder for the National Super League Wazito FC, was found lying in a pool of blood at his doorstep after being stabbed in the neck.
“We need to be serious about the small villages around the universities where students live in their own apartments. Some of them go for days without food, or endure issues that could be sorted out with just some venting,” says Dr Ndambuki, referring to the many student settlements around universities.
STABBED SEVERAL TIMES
In the same month, Steven Wairimu, a fourth-year university student at Moi University in Eldoret, was stabbed several times by a fellow student in what seemed like a love triangle. Still in the same month, a teenager was arrested after she stabbed her boyfriend, a student at the University of Nairobi with whom she had reportedly lived for about six months.
Domestic violence among university students is more common than we think, experts say. Female university students subjected to domestic violence have nobody to talk to, therefore they normalise the violence because they think relationships are “like that”.
“They get into drunken fights and imagine that is how relationships should be. They excuse a lot of violent behaviour because their partners are supporting them in one way or the other,” Dr Githua observes. This is coupled with the fact that most get their ideas on relationships from equally rudderless peers or from the media, creating a recipe for disaster.
In April 2016, the decomposing body of Emily Jelimo, a 22-year-old third year student of Maasai Mara University, was found in her rented house. Police suspected it was a case of a love triangle gone bad, since Emily had informed her friends that her ex-boyfriend, a student at Moi University, would be coming to visit her. Police said that it was possible that Emily was killed by strangulation.
Experts are suggesting that university teen homicide is perhaps due to the difficult transition of students from rural areas to urban life that characterises university life.
“They have come to a city where anonymity is the word. It is no longer the village life where everyone knows everyone’s daughter,” says Mbutu.
If a university student is having trouble adjusting to city life, and if a self-evaluation yields a poor assessment of one’s image, chances are that they would do anything to fit into city life — things that could cost them their lives.
What about those born in the city, but who still experience identity crises?
“Even those from the city are facing the same problems. Both are experiencing freedom for the first time and they have not been told what to expect of university life,” says Dr Githua.
Psychologists who have counselled problematic university students attribute this to poor upbringing, causing the student to have an unusual sense of entitlement.
They are lacking in emotional intelligence and they are not only unable to acknowledge their own emotions but also to respect the emotions of others. They do not know how to take rejection because they have been brought up to get whatever they want.