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Questions begging for answers on school unrest

In May, protesters in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province went into a burning spree and destroyed over 22 schools in less than a month. Unlike the current situation in Kenya where a day hardly passes without reports of a school being set on fire, the burning craze in South Africa was triggered by a dispute over district boundaries in the neighbourhoods of Vuwani.

According to media reports, a community went about burning schools in an organised manner following a decision by the Municipal Demarcation Board to incorporate Vuwani into a new municipality.

The residents were not happy and vented their anger on schools, ultimately affecting more than 50,000 learners. The actions of protestors in Limpopo notwithstanding, at least it can be said they were involved in a dispute with the authorities and decided to make a statement.

But what has provoked the students in Kenyan schools to torch schools in a well calculated manner and at a time when the education sector can be said to have regained some sanity, especially after teachers’ unions signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement with Teachers Service Commission which, among other things, suspended strikes for at least the next four years?

What is currently happening raises a number of questions, which unfortunately the authorities haven’t even made any effort to answer or address conclusively. Why, for instance, is it that in most, if not all the schools, that have gone up in smoke since May only dormitories have been targeted? Some people have opined that students are protesting the ministry’s banning of midterm breaks and visiting days in the third term.

This looks plausible because virtually all the affected schools are boarding schools. But why is it that over 90 per cent of the cases have been reported in Gusii side of former Nyanza province, Bomet and Kericho counties and a few cases in western Kenya and Meru region?

Why are the students in Coast, Central Kenya, North Eastern, Nairobi and larger section of Rift Valley not also feeling the heat and responding to this policy change? Another theory doing the rounds is that the teachers are fighting Education Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i because of the changes he has brought in the ministry while others are reading politics. But most of the theories haven’t explained why the arson cases are concentrated in particular regions.

Initially, the ministry tried to brush off the incidents, saying that this happens every year during the second term. What they failed to notice is that, while there are cases of school disturbances every year in the second term, what is unique now is that the arsonists are targeting dormitories and in most cases it happens while students are doing evening preps.

Furthermore, for the first time, one or two primary schools have also been involved. Curiously, most of the arson cases have happened under very peaceful circumstances and both the students and teachers have had difficulties explaining the train of events, apart from few instances like Itierio Boys and Nyamache where the students had some mundane grievances. Would this indicate an outside hand?

Are members of surrounding communities either involved or aiding in the razing down of schools? If so, what is the motive? When Kaagwa Primary went up in smoke, it was alleged that the arsonist made a second attempt to torch more dormitories but his effort was thwarted by villagers.

Why is the suspect yet to be arrested? In fact why is it that no one has been arrested, be they students, teachers or members of the public? Why has it been so hard for the police to investigate and bring to book the suspects in any of the over 30 schools affected? Too many questions, no answers yet. —[email protected]

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