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Sunday, July 20, 2008

School Fires: Arson or Accident?

What is happening in Kenyan secondary schools? Can someone please stand out of the whole damn mess and speak out.

Of late there have been incidents of fires breaking out (!) in our schools leaving tidy messes in their wake. Just last week a fire broke out at Nanyuki Boys’ and destroyed property worth a tidy sum. And two days ago, another fire “attacked” another high school (Upper Hill High School), destroyed property and left at least one student dead.
Also published today by Chris: Why did Safaricom sack so many senior managers?
Kalenjin secrets: Deadly Nandi versus Arap Moi
This recent spate of “mysterious fires” reminds me of two separate “school fires” that led to the loss of so much property and nipped many lives in the bud.

I am talking about the Kyanguli and Bombolulu fires. Remember them?

On 26th March, 2001 at least 59 male students died at Kyanguli Secondary School (in Machakos) when a fire swept through the dormitory they were in. Arson was raised as a possible cause of the fire.

Three years before the Kyanguli fire, in 1998, at least 25 female students died in Bombolulu, near Mombasa, when their dormitory caught fire while they were locked inside. A commission of inquiry was set up to investigate the Bombolulu fire and its only findings were that the fire was caused by an electric fault. Nothing concrete.

These are just some of the most horrendous fire tragedies that have ever hit our schools. But it seems school heads (and the Ministry of Education) will take a very long time to learn that a stitch in time saves nine.

Most of these schools do not have warning systems that would help to deal with fires before the worst comes to the worst. Neither do they have fire fighting equipment (nor the expertise among the students on how to handle “fire” situations).

Most of the Boarding secondary schools have sub-standard dormitory dynamics. I mean: i)the wiring system is ovyo kabisa; ii) the dorms ‘carry’ so many students than they ought to; ii) they have very small windows (and fewer too); iv) some students bring incendiary materials into the dormitories but the schools have not put in place the necessary mechanisms of making sure students don’t get their hands on such material.

But, know what, some other schools take the issue of “fire” very seriously. They have in place mechanisms of preventing incidences of fire from ever occurring. They are also very particular about the psychological health of their students. You rarely hear of riots or fires in these schools and institutions.

Seriously, this situation has to be taken care of before history repeats itself and we are left lamenting and pointing fingers (in the wrong direction!). I would hate to hear “The cause of the fire has still not been established” while at the same time counting bodies and calculating the losses incurred after a conflagration.


Anonymous said...

Just close down all boarding schools. They are an outdated institution that should be done away with.
A punishment if you like, that's what they are.

papa plus said...

Closing these schools down is impractical and unrealistic. Boarding schools abound becuase they are the cheapest way for many parents to send their kids to school.

Many of our problems stem from poverty and are worsend by corruption. Fires will always occur. What is unacceptable is the high number in loss of life sustained. We don't have fire codes enforced by fire mashalls in kenya. No, scratch that, we probably do but the inspector or whomever is incharge of passing these dorms and buildings are fit for use doesn't do so because of kick backs and cutting corners etc. Ergo, tese dorms don't even have fire extinguishers, emergency escape routes, fire drills, running water and so on.

So unless we can start at seriously examine how corruption has infected our way of life, we will continue loosing life from fires, floods, road accidents, simple treated diseases, arson and banditry and a whole host of other 3rd world related problems.

Nandi Kaburwo said...

Anon @10:23. We had the same discussion of our vernacular station recently and I had the same opinion like yours.

It is simple. Parents have reduced parenting to biology, nothing else. These boarding schools are an excuse to send the children away to parent-teachers and anybody well-versed in child-development will tell you that there is an age in the life of a boy/girl when they need either parent. The absence of parenting from either leads to such maladjustments as lesbianism, sugar-daddies and related expressions of a relapse.

A girl seeks out a sugar-daddy because she didn't get the 'strength and re-assurance' of a father while she needed it. I would suggest that we do away with boarding schools, at least before class four.

Some people claim, with some degree of finality, that caning was necessary. I doubt. If I look back at the guys who were whipped in school, they didn't go far.

The other problem of course has to do with children aping 'macho' teachers. Those hard-core chain-smokers and alcoholics have good admirers among students everywhere than the Spartan types. The bottomline is PARENTING.

Anonymous said...


good of you to bring this up

Min of Educ is also lining up some resources to handle this.

you also forgot to mention the horror and tragedy of st. kizito which was i believe the first of these unrests at a level below college/university to jolt the nation.

at the turn of the millenium school heads and boards were already in crisis mode . yes sir, 8 years back it was on the table that student unrest was escalating exponentially and here now 2008 we are still talking like we have suddenly just found out. as always i reach out to you thinkers out there, people of good will and genuinely interested in finding solutions to our problems lets present our views and hope that our leaders will spare some time from their busy schedules of looting from the public coffers and pay attention to resolving at least some of these issues.

the stories of student unrest are many today,-graft-in-prisons,-police-200807199172.html

and so are the "reasons"

am sure there is already expert opinion and recommendations out there as well

currently politics dictates the best place to point the finger is drugs.

yet drugs/alcohol is just the agent providing "courage", but the real reason is probably elsewhere. drugs no matter how hallucinatory do not provide material for unrest. these young minds have already formed opinions long before the drugs

taabu has been preaching here about the culture of deceit, corruption and impunity that has permeated our very core. this has lead to disrespect for institutions and systematic breaking down of structures and institutions that could have been useful in addressing conflict and grievances

these young people (like many of us much older ones including those with one foot in grave already) are frustrated at seeing their "everyday idols" (parents, siblings and other upright relatives and friends whom they look up to or have high hopes for) caught up as victims or perpetrators in the never ending web of unfulfilled and crushed endeavors as they encounter corruption, impunity and prejudice. whereas these "idols" are able to contain themselves physically for the sake of the younger ones, the children as always amplify the emotion suppressed by their guardians. they grow up feeling that their is no place to turn to when they need to express a grievance and even if one exists it will be ineffectual or biased (nothing new there)

mix these emotions up with a few bad seeds and its a potent mix awaiting ignition (drugs, alcohol, an expulsion or any non event)

besides there nearly isn't enough youth based agenda to take their minds of the evils they see their parents and idols go through.

and then there is also increased exposure (TV, internet, radio, publications) to western cultures and norms that took centuries to evolve but are suddenly at our doorsteps without the benefit of learning how or why they evolved into their current state.

to effectively tackle this requires considerable but achievable and sustainable effort in restructuing the social and educational (formal and informal) of the youth and wider collaboration with the moneyed agencies (advertising companies and sponsors) as well as reasonable policies and strategies to address youth concerns.

only then will efforts such as safety features installed in learning and boarding houses be more effective. in my opinion, for a chain smoker strapped with dynamite, holding an open can of kerosine, a door sign marked exit will have very little impact on the dangers he is putting himself and those around him in.

gotta stop here otherwise i'll be publishing a book based on pedestrian analysis.

over to you in this forum interested in penning down ways to make our leaders address this growing problem/concern


Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiments although I doubt that we can squarely lay the blame on drugs. I would need numbers to convince me.

Yet, it is true that unrest among high school kids is on the up and up. I think a reason for that is with the advent of infomation technology, kids can now get access to infomation and decern some differences or similarities. Also they are beginning to realize that they are in charge to a larger extent of their fate. The so called viongozi wa kesho never seems to get here.

In some ways that is a good thing. It is amazing that we used to have parent teacher days every year where they served chicken and rice (not mashed or lumpy rice) on this day instead of the regular maro - githeri with weavils and human parts such as hair, nails and so on. So these kids no what's up and are voicing their opinion. Just like Kenyans did during the election. The status quo has to be challenged

Anonymous said...

anon 12:44

to clarify, am not saying drugs are the reason, just pointing out that politicians, whether they are real i.e MPs or pseudo i.e school administrators rather than work out ways get to the root of the problem are quick to find the first excuse out of the problem which in this case is drugs.

we all know thats absurd, because (if i may borrow from D. Waweru's style of reasoning) if we were to remove drugs/alcohol from school will the unrest go away? highly unlikely.

i agree with comments


Anonymous said...

These children are just behaving like the rest of the society, if aggrieved in any, they resort to violence.

Anonymous said...

that last line should read

i agree with your comments


Anonymous said...

I look back with a lot of nostalgia to the days when children were allowed to be children. I remember being part of various school teams throughout my primary and high school years.

I only realized the pressure of reading and going to school when I got to A level. Unlike these days when children as young as 7 years old have to be at school at 6am for 'tuition'. Surely, don't we realize that these kids 'burn out' by the time they get to form 1?

With less emphasis on PE,games and extra curricular activities, teenagers and left with little opportunity to use up their energy in more productive ways.

I have had a chance to teach in Kenya, and abroad and sometimes I wish I could make certain decisions that affect the whole process of teaching/learning in Kenyan schools.

I remember one particular boy who was not gifted academically, but was the most talented actor I had ever seen. ( he earned best actor in the province twice).

Unfortunately because our system is designed the way it is, the poor chap really whiled away his time at school waiting for the drama season since he always 'pulled the tail' anyway.

What he did with his time (this was a boarding school) is left to anyone's imagination.

The idea of ranking schools and splashing it in all the dailies is another trend that has seen the kind of competition that makes heads put too much pressure on kids - is it any wonder that kids snap at some point?

I could go on and one, but let me say that kids only emulate what they see around them - parents, teachers (at one school I taught in, a fellow staff memeber who was perpetaully high was the most popular).

The level of moral decadence is just amazing. Is it one of the things that come with development that we are still not sure how to handle?

Nandi Kaburwo said...

On another note, is it true that all schools serve murram (Githeri) or any food for that matter laced with paraffin/diesel to lower the libido of the youngsters? I found the claim not easy to dismiss because, although the food tasted that way back in school, no questions have so far been raised. Or is it that we all learn about it once out of Kafira?

Anonymous said...

clearly this is a multi-faceted problem with many diverse inputs but sadly converging in the minds of youth

this article although written fro a completely different geographic profile has significant similarities and parallels pointing to our own circumstances and many of the foreign objects can be easily substituted with our own local editions.


Anonymous said...

Nandi, that issue of food laced in paraffin reminds me of a particular incident when we all refused to eat lunch because somebody probably tripped next to the sufuria and emptied a whole debe.

The authorities however acted very fast and appeased us with a meal of 'rice and dengu'. An additional 'incentive' was to cancel the afternoon classes since we had to wait for lunch.

Of course, the act (of lacing food) continued with all sorts of rumours doing the rounds; ie to lower the libido (lesbianism was becoming rampant),as well as to make the food cook faster.

I do not have any answers and would b glad to hear a more informed opinion.

Anonymous said...

even as i read this expert opinion the more clear it becomes that some of those resposible are not willing to go deeper into the problem

i'll for now ignore the drug/alcohol debate

this article has better insight (students perspective)

first - the students feel that they either do not have access to some resources or those previously available have been withdrawn

secondly - avenues for airing or channeling grievances are considered dysfunctional

third - is the fear of (mock) exams

and there could be a few others more

administrators however feel the students are exposed to harmful influences which include drug/alcohol and negative role models in society (which in some cases include bad parenting)

and secondly are not free to discipline (cane) the students

and again many other reasons

best place to start is schools where there has been no unrest (seriously) to find out why/why not. then those that there was some agitation but amicably or otherwise resolved

caning or not caning should not be an issue, there must be at least hundreds of scalable non violent and fair methods of discipline and award to encourage better behavior while deterring the bad, if implemented "fairly".

some of the grievance mechanisms in schools are obsolete or irrelevant and need constant revision to keep abreast with rapid changes in the social dynamics of the youth

fear of exams or testing (whether mock or final) as pointed out earlier by anon 1:09 demonstrates a serious flaw in our system whcih somehow leads you to the conclusion that the testing milestone is not a measure of how far you have come (learning or self advancement i.e progressive process) but is a cut off date at which point a barrier is being erected to only allow a handful to pass through (elimination process)

examination and testing should become a measure of how much a student has learned and unless that gets inculcated into their senses, they will continue to fear testing. and there is nothing wrong with testing at all, whether its done repeatedly or once. the earlier stigma of not going beyond a certain national grade is still in play and these old retrogressive cultures need to be broken up. we all know at least one person that didnt make any one of the cuts and yet went on to uprightly make something out of their lives as well as the converse, those that excelled through all the national stages and still became wrecks.

anyway nuff said


Anonymous said...

These are the results of ODM using the youths to cause violence, root, kill and rape after last year election. So when these youths resume school, what do u expect? you dont have to be a rocket scientist taabu to read this connection, common sense. but since you dont see beyond your flat nose and your Raila,you cannot be blamed.


papa plus said...

Anon 8.02
Please cease and dissist from usurping Ivy's identity. the Ivy i know here is a blogger who is unabashed of his/her identity and opinions. Unless you are one and the same then kindly disregard...

This rumor of paraffin laced food should stop for 2 reasons;
1) the birth rate among school going kids has been consistent
2)paraffin is expensive

As everyone before has mentioned, these problems are mirror images of our politics and society today. We should not be surprised that dorms can burn, KCSE results can be forged just like election tallys can be topped up, there is apathy within our student bodies just as it is within Kibera youth, and on and on.

UrXlnc put up some note worthy thought provocking ideas. Is the ministry of education hearing this?

Again, poverty is a curse. Some of us, including myself; have become accustomed to life abroad and its efficiency and discipline. We wish our people back home would do the same but forget that life there is completely different.

Anonymous said...

Papa plus, paraffin-laced food was a reality for me for the six years I was in borading school.
True, it's possible that the two may accidentally have come into contact during tansporation/handling etc . But I think there's more than meets the eye. I would be interested in knowing any scientific reasons out there.

It's rather unfortunate that decision making has been left to politicians and boy haven't they messed up the education system. I haven't read any details about the commission/commitee/taskforce, but as with all the rest we have had, I think this is the wrong approach to solving the problem.

Mrembo said...


I would like to believe that most of the fires spreading in our schools are accidental (carelessness) as opposed to thinking that someone willingly ignites them knowing other students are inside the dormitories, not unless we want to start talking of devil worship and those other dark things!

Urxlnc, I love reading your posts, I would like to ask though do you live on Kumekucha? And do you honestly sit down to do research before you make a comment? That is very commendable, unlike some of us who just write our own opinions.

Maybe you should become a contributor on Kumekucha, your views are always refreshing! And I would love to read your pieces.

ritch said...

I would also like to believe that no one really sets fire (maliciously) to the dorms while the students are inside. But then the facts on the ground almost always speak otherwise.
What does Urxlnc stand for. Just curious. I, like Mrembo, like reading to your comments. Would love to see you on board. Chris, are you there?

Anonymous said...

Urxlnc - Your Excellency

Anonymous said...


hehehe, theres just no way to answer that question


yeah! that was a handle of/for two way respect in light of intense venom on this forum. even if i didnt agree with someone i complete my comment by addresing the reader respectfully and likewise for anyone responding.

sounds kind of silly but still respectful to say

ur an idiot


ur an idiot

incidentally that is basically what we've been telling that jama up on that hill up yonder and he has told us the same, dont you think

but life is full of irony (or as they say in this neck of the woods, life's a bitch)

the few hardcore venom spitters hardly read the comments and cannot even grasp the handle and proceed to create their own (sigh what a waste) and the balanced contributors who tend to be more objective and less foul are the ones that actually pay attention

such is life


ritch said...

Sawa. Quite intelligent of you,UrXlnc. You know if you are wading in murky waters (the venom in these sides of the town (comments section) then one ought to be in gumboots. Hence your witty handle. Know something, I have to copy and paste your "handle". Can't seem to grasp them letters. Hahahahahah!

Anonymous said...

Papa Plus,
Boarding schools are not cheap, parenst would fare better feeding their kids at home than paying "activity" fees etc that they never use, and buying pangas and jembes, hockey sticks..! that they never use and never see again. Stupid is what boarding schools are in today's kenya, and only a way to spread homosexuality, social alienation, abnormal social behaviors e.g over-stressed over-studying and exam drilling - and parental role abdication. They are prisons, and only introduced by white men to keep african kids away from home to better absorb all their filth and religion to be taken into slave service thereafter. Away with those redundant institutions and national examinations that do nothing but cheapen kenyan kids.

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