This is why we are not going back; teachers tell of harrowing experiences

In November 2012, Patrick Kimathi Miriti, a teacher at Shafshafy Primary School in Mandera County, was compelled to invigilate national examinations in a neighbouring school. After going through the rehearsals, he went back to his work station where he lived with a colleague, arriving at the house at 6pm.

Barely two hours later, unknown people broke into his compound and shot him dead. Reason? Kimathi had issued a stern warning to candidates against cheating in examinations.

Pleas to move his body to a mortuary in Mandera town allegedly fell on deaf ears and his body lay at the scene of crime for more than ten hours, prompting his colleagues, a civic leader and then Imenti North DO, to raise funds to hire a vehicle to ferry the body to the mortuary.

The incident is just one of the many gory tales of teachers who have been camping at the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to press for relocation from the North-eastern Kenya death trap. They handed their memorandum to Parliamentary Committee on Education on Wednesday.

Prevention of exam cheating or enforcement of good conduct has cost many teachers their lives or earned the severe physical and emotional assault in North-eastern Kenya.

In Parliament, the harrowing experiences of the teachers at the hands of host communities, students, political leaders and armed local militia in the frontier districts has put the Education Committee at loggerheads with the Security committee.

Education committee chairperson Sabina Chege, who gave the teachers audience scoffed at calls to sack the teachers while Parliamentary committee on National Security and Administration chairman Asman Kamama, says the teachers should be forced to go back to work.

The late Kimathi is just a statistic of the more than 30 teachers who met their deaths at the hands of xenophobic members of local communities, dozens more physically assaulted by their hosts on the basis of their religious affiliations and moral integrity during national examinations.

The memorandum contains incidents of murder and physical assault that took place between 2011 and 2014, excluding the November 22 2014, massacre of 28 teachers in a Nairobi-bound bus in Mandera.

Speaking to The Standard on Saturday, Ms Chege acknowledged having received the 21-page memorandum presented on Wednesday to Parliamentary Committee on Education by 2,000 members of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut).

Harrowing details

The Education committee chair concedes that the memorandum is a collection of harrowing details of the cold-blooded murder, harassment and intimidation of "mainly young teachers who are evidently traumatised and require counselling if they are to resume normal lives again."

Accustomed to hardships, the teachers have been camping at TSC headquarters, retreating to Knut headquarters in the evenings where they spend nights sleeping on cold floors without food, water and blankets.

In extreme cases, Knut has intervened to provide support to mothers with babies. It took Parliament three weeks to give them an audience, while TSC and Ministry of Education remain indifferent to their request for transfers for more than three months.

Ms Chege says of her encounter with the teachers: "From what I saw, these are young people with genuinely serious problems. If I were the Cabinet Secretary for Education, I would immediately transfer all women with young children. I would also fast-track the transfers of teachers who have served more than five years in the region," the Education Committee chair avers.

She, however, took issue with the Cabinet Secretary, governors, elected leaders, county administration, TSC and security agencies in the affected counties for not treating seriously the grievances of the teachers.

Three years after Kimathi's death, the report says, "To date the parents of the deceased teacher are still following up his compensation money. They need a letter from the headteacher but the letter has never been written..."

Zachary Mwangi from Central Kenya was a teacher at Damajaley Primary School, Dadaab, up to May 2013 when he was shot dead by terrorists.

According to the report, his head was decapitated and body cut into two parts.

His was preceded in 2011 by the deaths of Yusuff Godan from Isiolo, who was a teacher at Lafey School and Josiah Munene from Nairobi, a teacher at Damasa Primary School. Colleagues of the deceased teachers, who survived, were attacked by local communities over religious inclinations or for upholding discipline in learning institutions, the report says.

Female teachers bear the brunt of the entrenched religious and ethnic hostilities. There is a case of a teacher who lost her husband during 2012 Christmas season, but was denied compassionate leave, by the headteacher.

The teacher, who was expectant, was soon after interdicted for going to deliver. Another female teacher in Mandera East sub-county was interdicted from July 2012 to January 2013, for reporting to the principal that she had been attacked by pupils.

Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi and his Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang' have avoided engaging the teachers and the media.

Contacted, they would neither respond to telephone calls or texts messages. Intriguingly, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have not commented on the issue, despite it having been in public domain for more than three months now.

Abuse of office

Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion accuses the State of complicity in the murder of its own citizens after failing to adequately address the plight of the teachers.

"We are doing whatever we can to protect our members. These are people with families and dependants. Deaths or harm to them translates into misery to dozens of other innocent Kenyans who depend on them," says the Knut boss.

In 2013, a female teacher was interdicted after she declined to be an accomplice in national examinations cheating. The teacher who is still on interdiction was threatened with the sack.

In another school in Mandera, the memorandum says, "In second term of 2013 (name withheld) school in Mandera, was attacked with the sole intention of killing two female teachers... the house in which they were sleeping was sprayed with live bullets for close to four hours." They survived, but when they reported the incident to TSC, they were interdicted for a year.

There are more heartrending tales of impunity the teacher dares not talk about. A teacher in Mandera who had completed a Masters degree was interdicted when he sought permission to go and clear with his university before graduating. Another teacher in the same county, was slapped with interdiction for desertion of duty despite medical evidence that he had been admitted to Embu Level Five Hospital for more than a month. Yet another teacher who hails from Nyanza was interdicted for not cooperating to cheat in examinations.

He writes, "I reported the matter at Elwak Police Station after I was threatened with death. After the 2012 KCSE examinations, I was escorted out of school at gunpoint....After the release of examination, my house was broken into and all my property burnt."

Despite the interdiction being lifted and having been granted transfer to a safer area, a commissioner at TSC (name with held) ordered me to go back to Wajir or lose my job.

In nearly all the interdiction and salary deductions, the commissioner from North-eastern Kenya features a lot in what borders on abuse of office, according to the report.

In the same county, a teacher who complained about a randy head-teacher who had married his pupil, was punished by TSC with an interdiction for gross misconduct. Another teacher in Habaswein reports: "I was beaten (stoned) for refusing to assist them in exam 2013."

In yet a similar incident in which a teacher was interdicted, the report notes: "The headteacher of Dugo Primary school in Wajir sub-county, Wajir North literally participated in giving answers to Standard Eight candidates of 2013, which resulted in the cancellation of the KCPE results."

The reports cite many unprofessional incidents where school heads manipulate enrollment of local (semi-illiterate) teachers, "hire" people teach for them as they engage in other activities unrelated to teaching.