12 July 2018

Kenya: More Schools Set Alight as Students Protest

Photo: Benson Momanyi/Daily Nation
Kisii High School students who resided in Wire House that was burnt down salvage personal items on July 10, 2018.

Police were on Wednesday looking for the authors of leaflets calling for the ejection of a principal in charge of a school whose two dormitories were burnt down on Tuesday night.

The leaflets, found at Makhokho Secondary in Kakamega South, read: "Rambo must go," clearly targeted at Mr Steady Ligono, whom the students have nicknamed after the fictional movie star, John Rambo.

Mr Ligono has been the acting principal since the beginning of this year after his predecessor retired. Other leaflets read: "We must get a new principal."

At St Mary's Mumias Girls, students protesting against the acting principal, Ms Mercy Luvai, burnt down a dormitory and were sent home.

The details emerged as Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed continued with her tour of western region, warning that those found guilty of starting the fires would be punished regardless of age.

ELECTRICAL FAULT

Kakamega South police chief Bernstein Shari said preliminary investigations had shown that the fire could have been started deliberately.

He said police had initially thought the fire could have been caused by an electrical fault but the leaflets had introduced a new dimension to the incident.

No learning was going on at the school yesterday and detectives were busy recording statements from students and teachers to establish what caused the fire.

"We have found leaflets dropped in the school compound and suspect the fire could have been started deliberately," said Mr Shari.

As the wave of fires in schools continued, a Kenya National Union of Teachers official, Mr John Wesonga, called for the re-introduction of caning in schools, saying it is the only way to instil discipline in students.

LAWLESS

The Mumias branch secretary-general said students were becoming lawless because there is no clear policy on discipline in schools.

"The government banned corporal punishment but did not spell out alternative means of disciplining the learners," said Mr Wesonga, referring to caning which was outlawed more than 10 years ago.

He said the education sector "is on fire" and asked the CS to convene a national stakeholders' meeting to find solutions.

Some students have blamed the wave of protests in schools on teachers' high-handedness, transfers of popular teachers and lack of entertainment facilities.

But unionists have accused the Teachers Service Commission of pressurising teachers to produce good academic results without ensuring that the government releases money promptly to schools.

At Makokho, the flames engulfed two dormitories - Shirikisho and Mashujaa - at about 8.30 pm.

RAISED ALARM

By the time the guards raised the alarm, the fire had quickly spread destroying beds, mattresses, clothes and students' personal effects. The students were at the time in class busy with their evening studies.

Yesterday, Ms Mohamed, who toured St Mary's Mumias Girls, warned both students and teachers found to have a hand in the attacks of severe punishment.

She said some of the teachers were lazy and "this gives the learners room to do as they wish."

"We have arrested a number of students and are still pursuing more who are taking part in the burning of school properties. We shall deal with them and nobody will be spared even if they are children because we have juvenile centres where they can be taken for rehabilitation and corrective measures," said Ms Mohamed.

The school in Kakamega was closed on Monday after a dormitory was burnt down.

HIGH-HANDEDNESS

The students were said to have been protesting against the acting principal, Ms Mercy Luvai, accusing her of high-handedness.

In Kisii, authorities shut down Kisii High School, bringing the number of schools closed in Nyanza to 10.

Nyanza regional Director of Education Richard Chepkwai gave the 198 students 30 minutes to leave the compound, just hours after a dormitory was burnt down. Those from far-flung places were, however, given more time to arrange how to get home.

Earlier in the morning, eight students were arrested at the school after they were caught on security cameras emerging from the hostel moments before it caught fire.

Reports by Benson Amadala, Shaban Makokha and Magati Obebo

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