, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 25 – When a section of Jamhuri High School students went on the rampage on Wednesday morning, leaving in their destructive wake five admitted in hospitals, tens injured and a shut school, many concluded that the conflict was of a religious nature.
When journalists arrived at the school, they were met by a wave of thick tension one could cut with an axe but it wouldn’t break.
Limping students with bandaged hands and some bleeding and a heavy contingent of anti-riot police was the welcome message at the gate.
A psychologist, a sociologist and a philosopher now say nothing could be further from the truth, dismissing those calling it a religious conflict as trivializing the deep-rooted issues the school could be facing.
“Christians and Muslims have lived together as brothers and sisters for centuries. We can’t accept that the same can’t happen in Jamhuri,” said Dr Luke Odiemo, a senior psychology lecturer.
Their fingers firmly pointing at the administration, the University of Nairobi dons were categorical that what happened at the school has got nothing to do with the students and religion but an ineffective administration that may be less responsive to students’ grievances.
“This is not the only school with diverse religious beliefs, why are we only seeing problems taking that shape in this school? It shows a management problem.”
Odiemo who did not mince his words asked why the school which has been accused of having some separate facilities for students e.g. the library do not have a unilateral set of rules to run the school regardless of one’s faith.
“If you bend one rule, the whole system will fail. The administration ought to enforce the school rules equally and fearlessly,” he said.
“Do we have the facts about the religious claim? That this was a religious conflict or are we looking up at the flare-up by the Muslims and it was given a wide coverage that makes it a religious conflict?” posed Dr Owakah Francis, a philosophy lecturer.
Way before the ugly cocktail of the conflict in the school was splashed on our screens, students said there were simmering tensions in the school from Saturday with small pockets of conflicts being reported on Monday morning.
Though there were under currents of conflicts in the school, it was reported that the official trigger of the Wednesday riots came after two students from different faiths fought.
“Let us deal with these individuals, let us listen to their grievances, and every time they bring a religious dimension to that conflict or grievances, shove it aside,” Owakah said.
“The last time I remember somebody died for people’s sin, it was Jesus Christ. Today everybody is held responsible for their own sins.”
He urged the school administration to put in place measures that will not lead to one group feeling marginalized.
“If what I read about the acts of profiling in the school are true, then the administration is weak. And if the administration is weak, then don’t blame religion,” he said.
The senior psychologist lecturer adds that the issue may be complex and it requires teachers to be equipped with relevant knowledge and skills to handle adolescents.
“Human beings have ego defence mechanisms divided on three levels; primitive, intermediate and mature. Primitive are aimed at hurting anybody. Intermediate ones protect their egos by rationalizing problems while mature ones choose to help when somebody hurt them,” he said.
“These youths still don’t have very mature ego defence mechanism methods, theirs are still very primitive which they deploy whenever their interests are threatened.”
Calling the stage the stage the students are at as fragile, Odiemo urged the administration to give as many avenues as possible for the students to resolve their grievances.
“When children reach adolescent, they start experimenting with ideas. But what is required for anybody in charge of youths is to provide an environment where they are able to experiment ideas when they are feeling secure,” he urged them.
“So when you destabilize security in the minds of the youth, they have very little room to think before they act violently because their defence mechanisms are still very primitive.”
The dons did not hesitate to point a finger at a society they say is slowly drifting towards the sinking sand of normalizing violence as an acceptable means for resolving conflicts.
“It’s also a microcosm of what happens in society because we have people drawn from all over the country. Whatever happens outside the school may sometimes be reflected in the school,” added Nzioka Charles, a sociology professor.
With the increased cases of violent protests, especially during the 2017 electioneering period, which were often met with lethal force from the security apparatus, Nzioka says he isn’t surprised about what happened in Jamhuri.
“We are solving issues through violence, I wouldn’t be surprised if the students took the same route.”
With the influx of crude leaders, some facing incitement charges and some with questionable characters, weighed down with the carcasses of graft, all being given a platform, Odiemo agrees with Nzioka saying that the young people learn through ‘monkey see monkey do’ where they mimic what their role models do.
“In social learning, people will copy behaviour on three conditions: if the behaviour has benefits in doing it; if the person doing it is similar to you like a Kenyan; and if the person has a status you can admire,” he continued.
“If someone who they consider to be a role model does something wrong and they are not punished, these young people will imitate that easily,” he said adding that “if the punishment comes, it would be a deterrent to the youths.”
As the investigation goes to unearth what triggered the riots, the dons are calling for the Kenyan society to sober up and start mending the social fabric which is being torn from every side.
“As a society, we have failed. We have refused to follow structures,” the philosophy lecturer pointed out.
They also urged the nation, especially members of the fourth estate to be mindful so as not to frame the conflict as of a religious nature because the country already battles a ferocious demon.
“Kenya already has a problem with ethnicity, let us not introduce a second one in the name of religion. The nature of the Kenyan society is that they don’t care about the truth. As long as you don’t care about truth, don’t look for justice,” Owakah concluded.