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Why students destroy property when they go on strike

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Over the past few years we have seen a number of student strikes. Students from the University of Nairobi have proven to be the kings of protests. There are a number of issues that cause student strikes, some avoidable, some unavoidable. But why exactly do students opt for property destruction when they demonstrate?  Many people see students as being foolish for doing this, well, not always. There are foolish reasons in there but there are also sensible reasons. .

Recent UON strike
Recent UON strike

1.       To make a statement

When students go on strike, they always aim to make a statement. During the recent UON demonstrations, Joseph, a second year student was quoted saying, “Without us destroying the police station, police will always take us for granted by killing our comrades.” Peaceful demonstrations have long been proven to not yield satisfactory results.  With peaceful demonstrations, promises are made by the offending party, promises which are never kept.  By destroying property, everyone realizes just how serious the situation is.

2.       Lack of accountability

Students themselves are rarely held accountable for the damage done during strikes. When they are slapped with a fine for damages by the administration, it’s the parents who pay. Then when looking for the real culprits, it’s the student leaders who pay. Cases of student leaders being suspended after strikes have been common. Someone always has to be held accountable and when the administrationcan’t find the guilty culprits, they pin it on leaders.

3.       The thrill

There’s thrill in rioting. Picture yourself as a student. Then there’s that shop whose attendant always has bad attitude towards students. When a strike occurs, students will be quick to demolish and loot the shop. A similar situation happened at Kenyatta University in 2011. When one of our beloved comrades was murdered by thugs, a section of students went on the rampage. A particular food joint near called ‘Blessing Hotel’ was the first to be burnt to the ground. Apparently many students had issues with the hotel management and hygiene levels. When on the highways, students think, “These matatus usually overcharge us, let’s stone them” or “This lovely car might belong to that HR manager who didn’t even care to respond to my job application.”

4.       Stupidity

Compare student riots to oligopolistic markets. In these markets, there are price leaders and price followers. There are firms that believe a certain price is right so they set it. Then there are those firms that believe the prices set by the other firms are cool so they follow in. In mass protests, there are those who believe in the cause then there are those who do it because others are doing it. Both categories are foolish because of the ‘risking your life factor.’ If you stopped one of the people leading the protest and ask them whether they are prepared to die for the cause, their answer would be no. So unless you are a freedom fighter or KDF it’s always wise to stay away from danger zones. 

5.       The ‘superior grievances’ theory

When students go on the rampage, they are convinced that their grievances are worse than everybody else. They are also convinced that the welfare of other parties doesn’t matter at the moment since they (students) are suffering. When your car gets stoned, they don’t think of it as a big deal because you can go and get it fixed and continue with your life. That applies to all other forms of property. The truth remains, it’s all wrong.  Students need to be respected and students need to respect others too.

Written by Philip Etemesi (KU)

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