School Revolts Point to Unresolved Kenyan Violence

Bishops Hope That Generation Is Not Lost

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NAIROBI, Kenya, JULY 24, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Though Kenya's prime minister was in London this week assuring investors that his country is back on track after post-election violence, the scars from those weeks of conflict have left their mark.



According to the nation's bishops, one of the consequences of the January-February violence over disputed election results is a revolt in schools.

President Mwai Kibaki was declared winner over Raila Odinga in the contested election last December. The unrest ended with a power-sharing deal in which Odinga was named prime minister, taking office in April.

But the weeks of violence have left a scar on discipline in schools, the bishops lamented. According to the Fides news agency, more than 300 secondary schools are in revolt in Kenya. In some situations, including a minor seminary in the Archdiocese of Nairobi, the students themselves have sacked and burned school buildings.

Cardinal John Njue, archbishop of Nairobi, called a press conference Wednesday to explain the Church's position on the situation. The bishops' conference released a full statement that day, signed by Bishop Maurice Crowley, chairman for the Commission for Education, which explained the prelates' view of the causes of the unrest and steps toward a solution.

The bishops list 31 underlying causes of the situation, including the post-election violence, but also detailing a social situation characterized by a lack of solid family structures and a corrupt educational system.

"Heroes"

Regarding the post-election violence, they wrote: "[Some students'] moral responsibility was totally killed. They burned houses, saw other people running away, children falling from tiredness, hunger and thirst for water. They became immune from any feeling of humanity. They regard[ed] their deeds as successful when they saw people being killed, maimed and property being destroyed. What we are witnessing now is the result of this demonization of moral responsibility.

"They were not reprimanded by the parents or the elders. In fact, they were regarded as heroes. When the students returned to school, they went with the idea that to be successful and a hero they need to disrupt and destroy the system."

But the bishops are clear that the violence following December's election is just one factor. They also decried elements leading to the unrest, which range from inadequate parent-teacher associations to a lack of employment opportunities to norms that have eliminated vacation time, as well as students' use of cell phones to encourage and report on their revolts.

The list of solutions suggested by the bishops is equally broad. It includes ideas such as continuing education for teachers, steps taken to improve the student-teacher ratio, and funds from both the ministry of education and tuition fees being delivered promptly.

"Kenya," the statement concluded, "cannot afford to lose a generation through irresponsibility and irrationality."