28 February 2013

Gambia: The Two Faces of the St. Augustine's Riot Democratic Student Unionism Is Partly the Solution


Riots are spontaneous outburst of emotions. They are unpredictable. Each riot only needs a spark that serves as a pretext for it to spread like bush fire. The St. Augustine's riot is no exception. In the St Augustine's case, the spark was the holding of mock exams to the exclusion of some students who for one reason or another were prevented from sitting the exams by Father Manneh.

Every riot which breaks out has its own dynamics. In the case of St Augustine's Senior Secondary School the grievances against exclusion from the mock exams provoked long held grievances to surface thus leading to an outburst of emotions which resulted in the throwing of stones and the disruption of normal school life.

In yesterday's issue, Foroyaa reporters published the views of some angry students. They painted a grim picture of the stewardship of Father Manneh. However, when students on all sides of the academic spectrum were spoken to Foroyaa could get a balanced picture. It is abundantly clear to us that if no student was excluded from sitting to the mock exams there would be grievances against Father Manneh for being a disciplinarian but there would have been no riot. There is no doubt that students have a lot to explain to their parents if they go up to grade twelve and are excluded from sitting their exams because of administrative decision. One could understand the motivating factor for emotional outburst against Father Manneh's administrative decision which of course is designed to register high performance for the school as some students also claimed.

Some students on one side of the political spectrum did accuse Father Mnnneh of seizing shoes worn to school that are not full shoes and mobile phones and of preventing students from leaving class or being late for class because of prayers. Other students on the other side felt that if Father Manneh were to be more diplomatic in speech with the students and more accommodating the students against his administration would have realised what they have already realised that he wants the best for them. They support his zero tolerance for any tinkering with mobile phones while in school. They support his zero tolerance for lateness and absenteeism. They support the initiatives he takes to find sponsors for poor students. However, they maintain that he should not seize the shoes of poor students who cannot afford full shoes and should not be too harsh in speech and actions against the students. They also suggested that he should be more accommodating to students who wish to observe their prayers. Such students are convinced that once all Grade 12 students are allowed to take their mock exams and sit to the Grade 12 exams without exclusion the riot provoked by the circumstances would be history.

In the long run, the schools should encourage the students to have student governments in schools comprising elected representatives of students who listen to their grievances and convey them to the administration for redress. This is the way forward as an alternative dispute prevention mechanism.

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