Student strikes in Kenya

8th July 2011 at 01:00
21 August 1964 - Young people stage frequent protests at schools and colleges - but struggle to explain why

Although there may be individual acts of truancy among schoolchildren in England, mass acts of insubordination among students are inconceivable. In Kenya, however, in secondary schools and training colleges, strikes are becoming commonplace.

Considering the intense desire and urgent need for education, this would appear to be an anomaly and it completely bewilders the expatriate staff, who are at a loss to understand why their students are so ready to take action.

The nebulous nature of their grievances, which are not easily definable, even by the students themselves, indicates general discontent and unrest rather than any particular quarrel with the way they were treated.

The strikes seem to start the same way and follow the same pattern. A few students are seen to collect in groups, with no definite indication that anything unusual is impending. A small concrete annoyance, such as an order from a tutor to rewrite an exercise, a late or unpalatable meal, or poor examination results can cause the explosion.

The students gather en masse and refuse to attend lessons or lectures or any form of entertainment. They hold meetings and form processions carrying banners and placards around their ground and the staff houses. The placards are hastily written, and often badly spelt and wrongly worded, although they leave no doubt as to what they want to say.

The banners usually state impossible demands, such as the immediate departure of the principal, new buildings within a few days' time or a different textbook.

Placards usually show personal abuse against a particular member of the staff, and are pinned to the doors of their houses.

Whether the strikes are anti- European is hard to say. African tutors usually come in for the more virulent complaints and among other things are called "black Europeans" or "Western spies".

The fact that the students themselves are training for similar positions seems to have escaped their understanding; often a barrier seems to have been erected between one mental process and another.

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