Kenyan students studying in Germany on government of Kenya scholarships are facing serious difficulties accessing the government remittances meant to support their stay and are turning to protest action.
Delays of up to three months in the payment of their monthly stipends have played havoc with the lives of affected students, some of whom have been thrown out of their residences by landlords, leaving them to seek accommodation from peers who are able to receive extra financial help from families back home.
Recent feedback from some students via social media reveal that after the joy and the excitement of winning a foreign university scholarship at either the graduate or undergraduate level subsides, beneficiaries settle down to a real-life hustle.
No stipends since January
In Germany, where Kenya has the highest number of state-sponsored students thanks to government-DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) scholarships, students have not received their stipends since January this year.
Sharing their situation only on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, the students say they have held numerous meeting with Kenyan embassy officials in Berlin but the situation has not altered.
“As I write, students are yet to be paid the stipend for the month of March and they have no idea when it will come,” said one graduate student. “Yet they have fees and rent to pay on top of other needs. The Kenyan embassy staff here also seem [to be] as lost over the issue as students. They are unbelievably clueless.”
“For those of us on these kind of scholarships, DAAD pays €100 [US$106] while the Kenya government pays €900 per month, and whereas the DAAD keeps its part of the bargain by remitting their portion on time – that is, before the 30th [day] of every month – the government of Kenya always delays to remit its quota,” the student notes
Kenyan students in Germany were planning a protest outside the Kenyan mission in Berlin on 31 March.
Suffering most are those on bilateral Kenya-DAAD scholarships negotiated by the Kenyan government in its bid to secure world-class trained engineers and scientists.
Visa regulations in many European countries bar students from seeking any kind of employment to support their stay in what has otherwise become a tempting option for struggling Kenyan students.
The lack of financial support adds to what is already a highly pressured experience for Kenyan students.
“These persistent delays mean students lead a pathetic life in Germany, especially when combined with the pressure to meet assignment deadlines and the conducting of experiments,” said another student.
It is not exactly clear where the logjam is in the disbursement process.
Upon its creation in 2016, the National Research Fund, or NRF, took over the administration of the graduate scholarships from the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation and the Ministry of Education in Nairobi.
The NRF processes the funds quarterly before they are forwarded to various missions abroad for disbursement to students.
Many of those affected have proposed that Nairobi sends the money directly to their individual accounts believing that this could help end the delays – if the delays are in fact at the embassy level.
Not a new phenomenon
The problem with delayed remittances to Kenyan students abroad is not a new or isolated phenomenon. Ten years ago, when Josphat Onyando was a student at the Kuban State University in Russia, the problem of delayed remittances from the government became so serious that government was forced to recall the students it sponsored jointly with the Russian government in 2009.
Eventually the students were sent back under new scholarships. However, for Onyando, who clashed with Kenyan diplomats in Moscow over the issue, applying for the new scholarships was not an option.
Onyando, who is now a qualified doctor working at a government hospital in Western Kenya, said he had to transfer from Kuban to Moscow University in order to complete his studies on time. Fortunately, his mother managed to raise the US$10,000 required annually to finish his degree in general medicine, which he completed in 2013.
According to Onyando, the problem with remittances can be blamed on both the government in Nairobi as well as the embassies.
“The problem is both the government and the embassies.The government remits the cash [after] a three-month delay and when the money gets to the embassies it is mismanaged or is allocated to projects like public holiday celebrations, random tea parties or diplomatic state visits,” the outspoken doctor says.
Corruption among government officials was another problem, he said, describing life for students under state scholarships during his seven-year stay in Russia as “real hell”.
While on a tour of Germany last year President Uhuru Kenyatta met with Kenyan students in Berlin and during that meeting students aired their frustrations over the issue. However, their grievances remain unresolved.