The massacre of 28 teachers in Mandera in November last year would have been avoided had the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), Ministries of Education and Internal Security acted on petitions by affected teachers working in North Eastern.
In petitions to their employer, the TSC, for transfer or improved security, the teachers tell of harrowing experiences at the hands of students, head teachers, parents and county education officers who derogatorily refer to them as adhome (slaves), or nguraro (‘hard’ hair) or kafir (unholy).
Although killings of 28 teachers and 37 quarry miners last year is blamed on Al Shabaab, the experiences of the teachers documented in report compiled by Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) points to the possibility of execution by locals at the behest of senior political leaders.
The testimonies of more than 1,053 teachers, copies of which TSC and the Ministry have, tell of events in which the teachers, and by extension civil servants from other parts of the country are mentally and physically abused in a manner that has strong elements of racism or ethnic profiling.
As their colleagues resumed duty this week after a two-week national strike, more than 1,500 teachers have been camping at the TSC headquarters in Nairobi demanding transfer to their home counties.
In what promises to be next phase of TSC-Knut hostile relations, the union wants teachers transferred to their preferred counties and their positions filled by locals.
“TSC should have used the December holiday to address the issue. The new code of conduct bars the government from forcing teachers to work in environments where their lives are under threat,” says Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion.
Reached for comment, Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi, Principal Secretary Kipsang Bellion and TSC chairman Secretary Gabriel Lengoiboni would not respond to inquiries about Knut’s report. Initially, Prof Kaimenyi, who was out of the country, requested to be sent the questions, but by the time of going to press, he had not responded.
At the same time, Knut expressed concern that the government was planning to force to go back to their work stations.
“We are aware the government wants airlift the teacher to northeastern this weekend. That is inhuman,” Sossion said. TSC spokesman Kuhumba Kimotho was non-committal on the commission’s or government decision. “There consultations are going on and we hope by end of the day (yesterday) or latest Monday a solution will have been found,” Mr Kimotho told The Standard Saturday.
Meanwhile, a senior Ministry official confirmed that the teachers had presented their grievances.
“Given that they have strong backing from their union, it is going to be difficult for anybody to sack them or interfere with their salaries,” the official said.
The teachers say despite assurances of protection and safety, the presence of the Government on the ground is thin. They say religious discrimination aided by ethnic xenophobia, has poisoned relations between indigenous communities and what they refer to as “Down Kenyans”.
Mandera, Garissa, Marsabit and Wajir counties have been identified as serious enclaves of insecurity that operate under different governance and legal jurisdictions.
The report signed by Sossion says: “The fears of teachers have remained unaddressed for a long time; it has led to the actual killing of teachers for it to be thought that ‘down Kenya teachers’ (sic) have been sent (sic) to teach Christianity. ..The teachers are unable to teach pupils because the (local) community sees them as enemies of their religion.”
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“Down Kenya teachers” in northern and north-eastern Kenya refers to teachers from other parts of the country or non-indigenous. According to the report, the situation gets worse during class and national examinations as head teachers, parents and students gang up to force the teachers to allow the candidates to cheat. The students insist on being given easy or simple internal examinations.
In one instance in Mandera, teachers who captured death threats on video reported, “The head teacher (name deleted) approached teachers individually to persuade them to participate in exam cheating. The exam was Kiswahili paper and when the teachers questioned it, they were warned and threatened.”
When the teachers are not being harassed over examinations, their religious persuasion puts them in the firing line.
“Most teachers who do not convert to Islam are called pagans. Most teachers of Somali origin come to work late and leave school at 12 noon. For non-Somalis, (if they come late to school late) a casualty is written for being late for even one day,” the report adds.
According Mr Sossion, there are about 10,000 Knut members in Mandera, Garissa, Marsabit and Wajir counties. Majority of the teachers come from outside counties regarded historically as low economic potential areas. Pointedly, the hostility towards ‘Down Kenya Teachers’ is fuelled by governors, senators and members of National Assembly.
Although we have the names, schools and contacts of the 1,053 teachers and the specific incidents of assault and threats to their lives, we have deliberately omitted them for fear of retribution. Also deleted are names of education officers and head-teachers implicated in persecution of teachers.
In Marsabit County, a primary school teacher was slapped by his students as colleagues and his wife watched and upon reporting the matter to the head teacher, he was simply ignored. In July 2012, a teacher in Garissa County was attacked by students and parents for attending a church service. Despite recording a statement with the police in March 2013, no action was taken.
In Mandera East, the report tells of an incident a teacher at a girls’ school encountered: “Students swear at teachers and say teachers smell. The teachers are treated like slaves. Students spit on teachers and pelt them with all sorts of objects during class time. When some of the teachers complained, they were interdicted for four months.”
In the same sub-county, parents and students attack teachers opposed to examinations leakages and cheating. In some cases, local education officials and head teachers collude to abet cheating in national examinations. The claims corroborate similar allegations of examination cheating and leakages by the Kenya National Examinations Council. The report further accuses a commissioner at TSC from the region of abuse of office.
“During national/internal examinations, the head teachers, community and students ganged up against non-Muslim teachers to forcibly allow students to cheat or risk being killed,” the report says.
It accuses the commissioner of being used by the head teachers to punish them, while local trained teachers are favoured.
The report cites the January 2012 Al Shabaab attack in which one teacher was killed and the one who escaped was interdicted by the commissioner at the behest of the school’s head-teacher.
Knut wants “all the affected teachers to be transferred to places where their services are required. The vacancies created by such transfers should be filled by new employment,” the Knut report recommends.