In many parts of Africa, university systems are in crisis; squalid conditions, student strife, and increasing state violence have turned many campuses into battlegrounds. Through an in-depth look at the Kenyan case, this paper examines some of the deep political dynamics of the current desperate situation. We demonstrate how in Kenya, state–university links involve attempts by higher-level government officials to control campuses through patronage, surveillance, and violence and how institutional configurations facilitate this. As the burden of repression falls on student activists who challenge current power configurations, we examine the current crisis through a student lens. By presenting and analyzing the historical narrative of student activism on campus, we show the inadequacy of overly structural, economic approaches to the crisis favored by the World Bank and some of its critics. Instead, we show the critical importance of understanding how the university crisis is organically linked to wider political processes, including local struggle over democratization of the state and economy.