Sam Were is an ambitious 23 year old who was elected President of Kenyatta University for the second term in a row with over 10,000 votes. I talked to him about what it means to be the president of a university and his post-university leadership goals.
Simple, humble, visionary, maverick young man.
What course are you pursuing?
I am currently Public Health specializing in Environmental Health. Currently in fourth year set to graduate in July.
What career would you like to pursue after graduating?
Public health servant or officer. I’d like to help the country in terms of policy-making over health. In a few years, I might run for MP.
Who would you say are some of your role models in terms of leadership?
My lifetime role model is Martin Luther King. Also, my dad in terms of spirit and attitude towards life.
What motivated you to run for president?
I was inspired by challenges, teething problems affecting students and thought I would be the solution. I wanted to be a part of the solution and not one of the people chanting about problems.
Describe the election process.
It begins with call for nominations, if interested, you pick nomination papers and collect signatures. You’re vetted in terms of academic qualification, history of integrity, you have to be a student, you should not have disciplinary or criminal record. If you’re disqualified, you can appeal your disqualification. Then, campaigns open.
What about campaigning?
The strongest agenda students resonate with will see the light of day. Sell your agenda. The best candidate wins.
How many people usually run?
Between 5 – 10 or 5 – 15 people.
How long does your term last?
Have you held any other leadership positions?
Yes since birth, I was the winning sperm. In first year, I was chosen by my classmate so be class rep and I was a club official. In second year, I was a congressman and in the student union. In third year and fourth year, president.
As president, what exactly do you do?
Steer student matters. To protect lives of students and ensure welfare. Link the student government to university management. Ensuring the welfare of students in the institution is a priority. Academic excellence, security and quality of services. Representing students in university committee and ensuring their rights are not infringed. Ensuring health units are well-equipped. Supporting students who have passed away by providing transport for students to the burial. Supporting clubs and societies.
What do you have the power to do?
Influence and be the mouth of students. Each semester, an amount is allocated to top up fees for those unable to clear fees. Some people only have a balance of 1,000 but the university won’t let them clear. Offering scholarships, projects like a golf tournament we held.
What do you do day-to-day?
Pray, find time for class, find time for office, participate or touch base in national politics and hang out with friends and family. I handle communication like memos, mails, attend meetings, delegate. It’s a cocktail of things.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while president?
Being threatened of suspension by the university. Sources close to sources indicated to me that I’d been suspended but it’d been revoked within a day. Striking a balance between the administration and students is an uphill task. I was accused of sleeping/flirting with management. The then VC (Prof. Olive Mugenda), when people wanted to oust her, I was on her side and we won the case. After she left, they understood my stance.
What is the best part of being president?
I’ve been so happy to have introduced changes to the university some that will live longer than I will. There’s now a huduma center on campus, free automation – students no longer have to queue to verify details, they can just check the portal.
What is the worst thing that’s happened during your two terms as president?
We don’t have a Vice Chancellor, only an acting one. We hosted IAAF earlier this year, the event benefitted the university. The government sidelined students of the university who volunteered, sacrificed a whole semester, they didn’t participate. That was a big shame.
Are you single or taken?
Not searching. I’m learning the ropes.
What have you gained from the experience as president?
I’ve been firmly grounded on leadership skills. I’ve learnt to work for and with people. It’s added momentum to my leadership. Most importantly, I’ve learnt to offer solutions to solve problems. I also value the networks I’ve created globally.
What is something you’d like someone considering running for president (at KU or any other university) to know?
First, until you’re behind that desk, you won’t understand problems faced by students. If they can’t open their hearts to listen and understand students regardless, they’ve failed before they’ve even gotten the job. That’s the biggest thing.
Any final general words of inspiration?
Especially youth, anyone can become what they want. Dream bigger, think bigger, act bigger.