How much do we gain by engaging in strikes in Kenya? Do we really have to strike in order to have our petitions heard? Are there any alternative means to ensure that we make our grievances heard? Is it just me who gets mad all the time I hear news of striking workers and students?
During my Campus years at Daystar University, we once held a peaceful demonstration. Yes, peaceful demonstration. We had a few petitions; top on the list we wanted our then Vice Chancellor, Steven Talitwala out of his position and out of the school.
This is what we did. We spent a whole evening strategizing on what to do, led by Daystar University Student Association (DUSA) leaders, one of my friends, Kevin Osido being among the key strategists.
At this point I need to explain something: Daystar University is a Christian University and therefore, the strike was organized on Biblical grounds. This means that everything was illegal unless it abided by Biblical teachings and doctrine. It was agreed that we would not involve ourselves in looting or destruction of property. This was clearly explained to us that as Christians, we would not engage in vices that would later cause regret.
Unlike other Universities where students throw stones, loot shops, steal cars and destroy property worth millions of shillings, we peacefully walked.
Daystar University Athi River, is about 3 Kilometers from the Nairobi-Mombasa highway. We all walked to the main road and pitched camp there. The road from the campus was so dusty and by the time we got to our destination we were all looking very dirty and unkempt. But who cared, many were actually happy with this. If anything it made us look like indeed we had some serious grievances that needed serious intervention. I really cannot remember what we achieved out of this, all I remember is that some of the student leaders were expelled from school.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was our peaceful demonstration. I still do not remember if we carried any placards.
Strikes or Demonstrations
This is what Wikipedia says about strike: Strike action, also called labor strike, on strike, greve (of French: grève), or simply strike, is a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became important during the Industrial Revolution, when mass labor became important in factories and mines. In most countries, strike actions were quickly made illegal, as factory owners had far more political power than workers. Most western countries partially legalized striking in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.Strikes are sometimes used to pressure governments to change policies.
I have keenly been watching news and I still do not get it, that of late we have so many Kenyans striking. As far as I can remember, just within this year, we have heard news about striking teachers, or at least plans by teachers to go on strike if promises for pay rise made to them by government are not honoured in a month’s time. One month! Surely!
At the beginning of the year there was the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. The corporation’s employees went into the streets demanding for a pay raise. Then we had striking doctors, who were also demanding for the same. Many patients lost their lives during the doctors’ saga. This made me wonder, is it that this money was more important than human lives? Even without considering the Hippocratic Oath, I think this was wrong on moral grounds.
Many more cases of striking workers continue to be recorded month after month. Matatu drivers’ strike, then motorcyclists strike and again, this year, Daystar University Students took to the main road on what they too called peaceful demonstrations after one of the students was killed following a road accident near the school.
Girls demand for shorter skirts
The most interesting of them all has been a recent case of Secondary school girls striking demanding to be allowed to wear short skirts in school. It was reported that over 400 students of Rwathia Girls Secondary school in Kangema district went on strike demanding shorter and more ‘appealing’ uniform. They complained that the new purple skirts were too long, ugly and not meant for their age. The girls are said to have cut their skirts to their desired length, only to attract the wrath of the deputy head.
I watched this news item and wondered where we are headed as Kenyans. The girls also complained of high handedness by the deputy principal and small portions of food. The students started complaining on a Saturday, and in the wee hours of the following Monday, they were walking out of the school. They were intercepted by the police who herded them to a police station until day break. Finally, the students were sent home as the teachers, parents and board members discussed the issue.
It is at this point I stop to ponder and ask. Why has Kenya turned into a striking Nation? I ask again, why do we always go on strike in order to have our grievances heard? How big is the gain made out of striking? Does anyone sit down to think of the losses made during such a strike?
While we have teachers, doctors and other key role models going on strike over anything and everything, what message are we passing to the young generation? Who will stand up to be their mentors and what will they tell them? Can we really blame the students when they strike demanding for trivial things like shorter and shorter skirts while some of their counterparts cannot even afford to be in school because of lack of school fees? How does a short skirt affect a student’s education? At my age it does not make sense at all. However, putting myself in their shoes and drifting back when I was their age, I have this feeling that it would have made a lot of sense and maybe a reason to stay out of class and a reprieve from books even if it was for only a day or two. Indeed, misplaced priorities!
Have yourself strike free weekend, won’t you?