In August 2017, Dennis Kithinji, a student at the University of Nairobi, was stripped of his passing grade on the Kenya Medical Laboratory Technicians and Technologists Board (KMLTTB) exam under circumstances suggesting retaliation for his past student activism.
Mr. Kithinji had attended the University of Nairobi beginning in 2012, where he had been a vocal student activist. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratories science and technologies in December 2016, and was required to pass the KMLTTB exam to begin working in his field. He sat for the exam in May 2017, and received a confirmation from the lab examination board (the Board) via text message shortly thereafter, informing him that he had passed. After paying the applicable fees to receive his practicing certificate in August 2017, however, Mr. Kithinji was notified that he had, in fact, not passed the exam.
Mr. Kithinji followed up with the Board multiple times, but did not receive a substantive response. He then contacted the Board through an intermediary Ombudsman’s office. The Board responded with a letter accusing Mr. Kithinji and other unnamed students of colluding with Board staff to falsify passing grades and send a fraudulent notification by text message. The letter did not cite to any specific evidence to support the allegations against Mr. Kithinji, and as of this report, no such evidence has been made public. The Board apparently did not hold a hearing or otherwise permit Mr. Kithinji access to the basis for the claims against him, instead insisting that his only option was to he retake the exam. Mr. Kithinji denies the Board’s allegations.
The Board’s response to the Ombudsman includes numerous claims that are unrelated to Mr. Kithinji’s performance on the KMLTTB exam, including detailed allegations regarding his activism while he was a student, claiming that he is “considered an unnecessary activist and alarmist by the Board,” that he “agitated for a number of students’ issues”, and concluding that he is “mischievous, callous, and misleading” and “driven by selfish ambition.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about apparent retaliation against a student for the peaceful exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally. Universities have a responsibility to refrain from arbitrary disciplinary action taken against students in apparent retaliation for student activism, or related exercising of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association.