On December 3, 2020, police fired tear gas at University of Nairobi students, who gathered to protest a government proposal to triple tuition fees in 2021.
The announcement of the proposed tuition fee hike prompted outrage among many students. The proposal coincided with a decision by the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) to reduce average student loan funding from Ksh. 45,000 to 37,000.
In response to these developments, the University of Nairobi Students Association staged a protest along University Way, near the University of Nairobi campus. Few details regarding the students’ actions are available. Reports indicated that police lobbed tear gas canisters at protesters who had allegedly blocked University Way. Reports did not mention any injuries or arrests.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about police use of force in response to the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Kenya is a party. While state authorities have a responsibility to maintain security and order, they also have an obligation to ensure that their actions are proportionate, do not harm members of the higher education community, and are not undertaken to restrict or retaliate against peaceful, expressive activity. Such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.