Honorable Esther Passaris, Billionaire Vimal Shah and Tech icon Kris Senanu are but some of the many eminent names that have been through the prestigious United States International University – Africa (USIU) gates.
But while the University has churned out great names and boasts of some truly high-flying alumni, the drama, intrigues and mystery of it’s ownership, operations and bewildering dealings has reared it’s ugly head yet again.
USIU-Africa was founded in 1969 as a division of a San Diego-based campus of the same name and has weathered numerous storms to emerge as one of the most acclaimed campuses in the whole of Africa.
Founded by a William C. Rust, an ambitious educationist and visionary, USIU saw it’s expansion grow rapidly with campuses across the world from London to Mexico City to Maui and to Nairobi.
That was William C. Rust’s idea – to spread the gospel of USIU across the world and, by 1971, Rust had spread his tentacles so far and wide, local publications were now calling his idea an “international phenomenon”.
Even in 1986, Rust was still breaking new ground, establishing new campuses and storming into new territories that now included Latin America and the Middle East.
But while the idea seemed noble and campuses continued to spread like wild fire, a series of financial setbacks and leadership wrangles would see the ignominious ousting of Mr. William Rust from the helm of USIU and his fall would finally come in 1991 when he was dethroned from the top seat after leading the string of campuses for a staggering 37 years.
The period, that was occasioned by deep economic tribulations, saw the sale of virtually all the other global campuses expect one – the one based in Nairobi, Kenya.
And that’s where the drama started.
Enter Freida Brown – a feisty Black American pedagogue who strode across the entire University like the mythical Loch Ness monster solely presiding over the Campus’ affairs for a solid 21 years.
Attempts to sell off USIU had hit a snag after it was decided that the campus was off the market due to the fact that it had been chartered in Kenya and had no linkage with the other campuses outside Kenya.
That confusion emboldened Ms. Freida Brown and saw her establish herself as the sole proprietor of the school, assuming all roles and embossing herself the Vice Chancellor, Chancellor and owner of the school.
Attempts by the Kenyan Parliament to dig out the true owners of USIU produced no results as MPs went back and forth trying to establish who really owned the education monolith.
Former Cabinet Minister Joe Nyaga even went as far as demanding a share of the USIU cake claiming that his family owned a stake in the campus since his father, the late influential minister Jeremiah Nyaga, had been one of the Campus’ trustees.
“I feel my family owns a stake in this university and we should not only be recognised but should also be getting something from its income,” the former Cabinet Minister told a Parliamentary sitting investigating the matter.
After enduring much heat from both Parliament and the School’s own trustees, Ms. Freida Brown offered to step down from her role as Vice Chancellor – after 21 years – and personally handpicked her successor – a Malawian Don Professor Paul Tiyambe Zeleza who took over the mantle in January 2016.
But after serving for only 6 years, Vice-Chancellor Prof. Zeleza would be dethroned by the same lady who appointed her – Madam Freida Brown – and is now on his way out of office in very unclear circumstances.
Prof. Zeleza’s first four years as the USIU Vice Chancellor was as tumultuous as they were trying. It is said that the good Don struggled hard to shake off the Freida Brown syndrome that had put the campus on a chokehold.
“USIU is the only chartered Kenyan university that is silent on dissolution of the university should the Government revoke the charter and where the funds, assets, property and liability should revert to in such an instance,” a reliable source familiar with the shady USIU clauses told Opera News.
In a memo that was released to the media and circulated across USIU, the University’s Council Chairperson Kris Senanu revealed that the controversial Freida Brown, who stepped down in 2015, would be making a comeback as the interim USIU Vice Chancellor for a period of nine months as they shopped around for a new VC.
“Freida Brown has, once again, forced herself into the picture and is back to run the school like her personal enterprise after effectively overseeing the removal of Professor Zeleza under unclear circumstances,” the source said.
“It’s imperative that Parliament urgently makes public the outcome of the probe into USIU now that Freida is back. Also, the University trustees need to address Governance issues, especially on who really owns USIU, before thinking of recruiting a new Vice Chancellor. Alot is in the dark and the world needs the mysteries to be unravelled. They also need to urgently amend the charter to remove the executive power of the Chancellor in compliance with the University’s Act 2012 where Chancellor’s of all private and public universities are titular heads with no executive powers,” the source adds.
As things stand, the controversy surrounding the ownership of the giant campus and the absence of a Chancellor, along with the premature ejection of Prof. Zeleza and the reintroduction of Freida Brown continues to boil over as the school stares into a simmering volcano as the wrangles and secret dealings continue to manifest.
USIU may have produced legendary names but still, it’s integrity, under the hands of Freida Brown, remains in tatters.