Saturday, August 2, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Publication Date: July 31, 2008

Do we have revolutionaries or rebels without a cause in our Kenyan school system? Why are our children killing themselves and burning their own institutions? Who are they punishing?

In my days as a student, whether it was in the North America or Africa, university student riots of the ‘60s and ‘70s were as spontaneous as they could possibly be. In those days, there were no mobile phones that Kenyan students now use to mobilize one another.

To organize a riot from the University of Nairobi to Kabete or Kenyatta campus less than 15 km away, one needed physical transportation to get there. At best, a telephone booth in the student hostels conveyed the message.
However, the most potent method of spreading the virus from South Africa to Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and North America or within Kenya was via the mass media; the radio and the newspaper. And they were very effective.

If the riots took place in American campuses, it was because they were fighting for civil liberties or campaigning against a senseless war in Vietnam. It was the age of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, JF Kennedy and Malcolm X. It was the age of positive protests and positive consciousness. It was not blind rage that turned normal people into anarchists that we today see in our schools.

Having followed the high school riots this year for some time, I get this feeling that a lot has changed since my time. These days, there are more silly protests than we used to have. Another thing; the Kenyan student today does not vent her anger on external forces. She prefers self destruction to targeting the real causes of her frustrations.

In my time, I demonstrated against Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, against Nelson Mandela’s continued imprisonment in Robben Island, the murder of Steve Biko and JM Kariuki. I rioted against mass failure of students at the Architecture Department even though I was not one of the affected students. I rioted against government introduction of student loans at the university when we should have got free university education as before. I rioted against the oppressive regime of Jomo Kenyatta that curtailed freedom of speech and thought at the university. I rioted when my lecturers were arrested on tramped up charges of being communist and socialist agents.

On the contrary; unlike the students of today, we could never go on the rampage because we missed a chapati on Sunday. We had old fashioned buses that never had any old gramophones to play music for us. We bought music systems and played them at appropriate times in our rooms.

We never demanded to have sex in our dormitories. We knew better than to invoke the wrath of our parents, the church and the school authority needlessly. It was unthinkable even though we indulged in such acts.

The riots in our schools today are the product of rampant corruption and fraudulent activities in these institutions. In today’s Kenya, schools are in the hands of businessmen and women who have no professional interest in their students or the institutions that they run. They have turned these schools into private property. They control bank accounts and decide how much should go to the welfare of the very people who finance them.

Headmasters and mistresses are hardly found in schools. For their absence, the rest of the teaching staff are either getting drunk in local bars or are also absent on personal errands. All these activities add up to poorly prepared students for external exams. With syllabus es uncompleted, the temptation to access exam papers in advance can be very tempting on the part of parents and their children. Coupled with weaker managers at the Education Inspectorate and National Examination Council, we can expect nothing less than disaster and chaos.

I have been to too many developed countries in Europe, South East Asia and North America. I have seen school buses that ferry children from their homes to school. They are standard buses with bare comforts. There are seatbelts but no music or DVD and television sets. The driver is all there is to deal with. All students are disciplined. A report of any misconduct by a student is enough reason for expulsion.

It was therefore disheartening to learn that there are some public schools in Kenya where headmasters have indulged their students with DVDs, music systems and all sorts of unnecessary ingredients that are the recipe for sexual disorder! How can a school afford an expensive luxury bus yet a few weeks down the line, there is no water, no electricity, no toilet paper while there is porridge for breakfast and rats for company in the dormitories?

The rot in our schools starts from the top in the Ministry of Education and cascades down to the classroom teacher. The rioting student merely mirrors what the system has offered him. Let us start the clean up game rather than blame game from the top.