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10,000 children out of school as closures invite parents’ anger

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DAVID MUCHUNGUH

By DAVID MUCHUNGUH
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More than 10,000 learners have been ordered out of dilapidated schools ordered shut by the government in a countrywide crackdown on unsafe institutions.

Education officials have ordered more than 300 primary and secondary schools shut and asked parents to enrol their children in public schools near their homes.

Cabinet Secretary George Magoha ordered an audit and the closure of unsafe and unregistered schools countrywide two weeks ago, but the directive has faced resistance from the same people whose children it was intended to protect.

And Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang issued a circular directing officials to assess the infrastructure in schools and “make appropriate decisions” by October 25 and submit a report to him by October 31.

The resistance to the closures from parents and other stakeholders has lifted a lid on issues influencing education in informal settlements.

“This circular is an emotive reaction to a terrible tragedy which is understandable, but is not a good basis for making effective policy decisions,” Mr Allan Juma Masika of the Kenya Alliance of Non-Formal Schools Welfare Association said.

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Nairobi regional Director of Education Jared Obiero acknowledged that though the ministry has directed where the learners should report, not all of them have done so.

“We cannot force the parents to take them there. It is their democratic right to school their children but the environment must be safe. If it is not, we’ll close the schools,” he told the Nation by phone.

The crisis has been compounded by congestion in many public schools, especially in urban areas.

Parents have complained about long distances to the schools, which are also grappling with a biting teacher shortage that has plagued the sector for years. The Teachers Service Commission has announced plans to engage interns in an attempt to plug the gap.

The directive to close non-compliant schools was a reaction to the tragedy that befell Precious Talent Top School, off Ngong Road in Nairobi, on September 23.

Eight learners were killed and 69 others injured when a classroom block collapsed. The owner of the school, Mr Moses Wainaina Ndirangu, has since been arrested.

He was arraigned on September 27 and detained for 15 days for police to complete investigations.

Learners at the school were relocated to neighbouring public primary schools — Ngong Forest (480), Jamhuri Primary (180) and Riruta Satellite (130).

When the Nation visited the ill-fated school on Friday, eight children were learning outside the classrooms on their own.

“The private schools in this area are supported by foreign donors. The children get free things like lunch and uniforms. Closing the schools means the parents will have to cater for those needs,” the headteacher of a public primary school in Dagoretti South told the Nation.

The owners of the schools, the teacher said, use the poor infrastructure at the schools and poverty of the learners to attract donor funding.

“There are hundreds of these schools in Dagoretti and Kawangware.” Most of them are squeezed into tiny plots and do not even have playgrounds or trained teachers.

But parents have shunned government schools with better infrastructure, spaces and qualified teachers.

Pama Academy in Kangemi, which was closed last week, is only 800 metres away from two public schools (Kihumbuini and New Kihumbuini primary schools).

Prof Magoha directed that learners be moved to the public schools. He warned, without elaborating, that “we will not allow people to trade with our children”, while calling for more scrutiny of NGOs that operate in informal settlements.

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“We are not condemning private schools. Any private school that conforms to the standards that the government has put will be allowed to operate,” Prof Magoha said after closing Greenfields Academy in Mombasa.

He admitted to failure by his ministry in inspecting and registering schools, saying “eight children died out of the carelessness of all of us”.

A visit by the Nation to the public schools revealed that the few pupils who have reported are integrated well. “The children and even the parents are very happy. They are settling in well,” said Mrs Muchiri, the headteacher of Riruta Satellite Primary School.

The school had received over 50 new learners from Precious Talent Top School and a few other private schools.

She said that the learners are counselled together with their parents and an integration session held for them in the classrooms.

Parents who spoke to the Nation said they prefer private schools because they are near their homes and have fewer learners.

They also said that private schools perform better than public schools in national examinations. Where the schools have donors, the learners are fed well.

The government has been blamed for the poor school infrastructure. In Nairobi, for example, according to a report by a task force commissioned by former Governor Evans Kidero in 2014, there were only 205 public schools serving 193,053 children yet the primary school-going population was estimated to be 493,586 in 2012 and 596,868 in 2017.

This means that more than half of the eligible population is either in private schools or are out of school.

“After the feeding programme was stopped, many children went back to the streets. This was the only place they could eat. We even used to pack food for some of them to carry home,” a teacher in Kawangware said.

He explained that the programme, funded by Feed the Children, was withdrawn after a dispute with the government.

Poor performance and overcrowding in public schools have also been attributed to the rise in private schools, with parents willing to pay more for their children to earn better grades.

Not all schools in informal settlements offer free services and some charge over Sh20,000 per term. The lure of the grades then obscures the safety of children.

“The parents don’t care about the methods employed to get these abnormal marks. There is a lot of drilling and the learners later struggle when taken out of that environment. That is not learning,” Mrs Muchiri said.

At Ngong Forest Primary School, over 70 learners have reported. The school will serve as the examination centre for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education candidates.

The ministry has sent textbooks and exercise books for use by the new students. The administration has already started a feeding programme for all the learners.

A lobby comprising the Kenya Alliance of Non-Formal Schools Welfare Association, Kenya Independent Schools Association and Complementary Schools Association of Kenya has opposed the mass closures, saying the action will leave more than two million learners in informal settlements without an education.

Through a statement signed by Mr Allan Masika, Mr Charles Ochieng’ and Mr Charles Ouma, the officials claimed that some parents were being asked to pay a fee before the learners were admitted.

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20 specialized Cuban doctors to support pandemic fight at KUTRRH » Capital News

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NAIROBI, Kenya July 18 – The COVID-19 fight in the country received a major boost on Friday after the government announced the arrival of 20 specialized Cuban doctors to support ongoing efforts to combat the pandemic.

Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said the doctors who are specializing in internal medicine, oncology, cardiology, renal and pediatrics will be based at the Kenyatta University Teaching, Referral and Research Hospital (KUTRRH).

“With the COVID-19 cases rising, these specialized doctors will go a long way in supporting our doctors in managing the disease and also in exchanging of skilled development,” he said.

Kagwe revealed that the doctors are from the Brigade of Henry Reeve, a contingent of doctors specialized in Disaster Situations and Epidemics.

He credited President Uhuru Kenyatta for facilitating the coming of the doctors in the country to help in the fight against virus whose infection rate continues to peak.

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He revealed that President Kenyatta personally made a phone call to his Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel to bring in the doctors who will offer their services in the country for a period of three months with a possible extension for another three.

“We are really grateful for that gesture from the Cuban government,” he said.

Kenya is a long-standing partner of Cuba in the filed of medicine ostensibly in facilitating training of her doctors in Cuba.

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Burkina’s anti-jihad volunteers stir praise and controversy » Capital News

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Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jul 18 – To some, they are doughty fighters who with meagre resources put their lives on the line.

To others, they are an undisciplined band — a “death squad,” according to one — that has carried out summary justice and inflamed ethnic tensions.

The force at the heart of this controversy is the newly-created Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland (VDP, to use their French initials), a militia fighting jihadist raiders who have sown terror in rural Burkina.

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore unveiled the idea of the VDP last November as the shocked Sahel nation mourned the massacre of dozens of people in an ambush in Semafo.

They were the latest victims of a jihadist insurgency that began in neighbouring Mali and now casts a shadow over states to the south.

In Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world, more than 1,100 lives have been lost and nearly a million people forced from their homes.

On January 21, after another bloody attack, parliament approved a law creating the VDP.

Under it, citizens who join the VDP undergo 14 days of military training, are equipped with light arms, communication and observation equipment, and carry out surveillance and protection missions.

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They are unpaid, although each local unit receives 200,000 CFA francs ($350, 300 euros) a month to pay for petrol and other operating expenses, according to VDP members.

Volunteers often also get help from local people and monetary tips from traders or others they escort.

“We were fed up getting slaughtered like chickens,” says “Rambo,” a 32-year-old farmer who joined the VDP in Kongoussi, in northern Burkina Faso.

“We had the choice of sitting back and watch death come to us or to confront it head on, hoping that we could at least save our families, our villages. We prefer to fight.”

– Weak army –

Commentators say the VDP is both a symbol of the weakness of the armed forces and de-facto recognition of unofficial militia that existed before.

“Recruiting volunteers sounds like an admission of the inability of the FDS (defence and security forces) to ensure the defence of the country by themselves,” a local grassroots group, the Observatory for Democracy and Human Rights (ODDH), said.

Drissa Traore, a specialist in Burkina Faso, said the authorities “found a compromise between institutionalising (armed) groups and dissolving them.”

Self-defence groups proliferated in rural Burkina Faso after 2015.

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These “koglweogos” — Guardians of the Bush in the Moore language — sprang up in several regions, notably to fight criminal gangs.

They have often been accused of torture, extortion and summary justice, but were also popular.

Government reports about jihadist attacks persistently report the presence of the VDP at these incidents — a clear sign that the battered, under-equipped and poorly-trained armed forces are making extensive use of the group.

Map of Burkina Faso © AFP / AFP

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Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Emmanuel Zoungrana, a commander in a northern sector, said, “If we had enough numbers… we wouldn’t have to call on the VDP.”

“The army has been unable to recruit 10,000 or 5,000 people each year. This initiative helps us to compensate for that.”

The VDP are most useful in providing information and in their knowledge of local terrain, said Zoungrana.

“They can’t be expected to be super-fighters. That said, we have seen their courage and fighting spirit on the ground, and the results have been satisfactory.”

The death toll among the volunteers is high.

More than 100 have been killed so far this year, according to “Rambo,” and others have been murdered in their villages by jihadists for perceived collaboration with the army.

A retail worker who is a VDP member in central-northern Burkina said the auxiliaries in his area were mainly used as escorts for senior officials or convoys, but had also “helped dismantle terrorist bases.”

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“Before we launch any operation, we inform the army and ask their opinion,” he said.

– Rights accusations –

The fight against jihadists has led to mounting accusations against the armed forces — and now the VDP — of summary executions of civilians, especially of the Fulani, also called Peul, ethnic group.

Moctar Diao of another rights monitor, the Observatory for Human Dignity, says there are cases when the VDP have acted as “death squads, sowing desolation and fear under the cover of fighting terrorism.”

Among the incidents, “volunteers from Namsiguia (in northern Burkina) were identified as the killers of nine people who died in Boulsi-Baogo.

Belem Boureima, a 74-year-old farmer, and his family are among the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced by jihadist violence in Burkina Faso © AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO

“In early June, two school students were picked up and executed in cold blood by the VDP Tanwalbougou.”

He added: “When they (the VDP) operate alongside the army, it’s OK, but when they are left to themselves, they rule the roost in areas which have been abandoned (by the government).

“They extort businesses and the public, they rustle cattle, and people are unable to complain.”

Newton Ahmed Barry, a journalist who is president of the country’s National Electoral Commission, said that in some regions, Fulani people were excluded from volunteering from the VDP, when their contribution could be a trump card.

Zoungrana said the army was taking “every measure” to avert abuses and saw the VDP as playing a crucial role.

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“If the VDP, with good recruits and supervision, and the FDS covered lots of terrain and closed down the corridors where the enemy move around, victory would be assured.”

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Sakaja threatens to transfer cops who arrested him for drinking during curfew – Nairobi News

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Nairobi senator Johnson Sakaja spent the night at the Kilimani police station after he was arrested drinking at a bar along Dennis Pritt Road during curfew hours.

The Jubilee senator, who is a close ally of President Uhuru Kenyatta, was taken in after causing scene at the ladies Lounge where he was found drinking past 1am with 10 others.

A police report at Kilimani police station indicates that the first team of officers had told the senator to leave the social joint but he defied, prompting them them call in their seniors.

Among the senior officers who arrived at the bar where Sakaja and others were drinking in defiance of curfew order was deputy Kilimani sub County police commander Adan Hassan.

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The lawmaker is said to have also defied his order to leave and dared them to handcuff him.

“On visiting the said place, (police) found about 10 seated outside drinking. Sakaja became violent raising hands to be handcuffed,” the report reads.

“He invited others not to get away hence he was arrested together with three others who others who refused to give their names for disobeying curfew orders and inciting others. In the course of arrest, the others escaped.”

The report says while in custody, Sakaja was asked to be given free bond but refused to leave police cells threatening to transfer all officers within 24 hours.

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