VICTOR BWIRE: Sigalame School fires handled in a pedestrian manner

Suffice to note that online platforms have exposed young people to learning about anything.

In Summary

•Article 53 of the Constitution provides that all children are protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhumane treatment, and punishment.

•Kenya is a signatory to several international treaties including the UN Convention on the rights of children and the African Charter on the rights and welfare of children, which domestically have been entrenched through the Children’s Acts.

Fire alert
Fire alert
Image: THE STAR

It’s not only irritating and embarrassing, but disgusting that a school like Sigalame High, an academic giant, icon of excellence in education and scion of professional achievers from the former Western Province in Kenya, can be left to the vagaries of administrative inertia, negligence on the part of authorities and failure to apply intelligence in security management.

Away from the apparent acceptance to see the school degenerate, the failure to protect the lives of the people who work and learn in the school, is baffling. These are Kenyans who are entitled to the right to life, security, decent jobs, and secure environments and to allow a school to be exposed to such life-threatening experiences like five fire outbreaks in four months is the highest level of negligence on the part of authorities.

Article 53 of the Constitution provides that all children are protected from abuse, neglect, harmful cultural practices, all forms of violence, inhumane treatment, and punishment.

Kenya is a signatory to several international treaties including the UN Convention on the rights of children and the African Charter on the rights and welfare of children, which domestically have been entrenched through the Children’s Acts.

The school has suffered at least five arson attacks in four months starting on July 27, followed by another on August 10, then on August 25 and September 25 and October 26. To only use administrative policies to deal with such dangerous arson attacks including transfer of personnel instead of a combined approach including officers from the serious crimes and intelligence units is not convincing at all, to the community, old boys, and parents.

Whatever the cause of the fires, there is a feeling of neglect within the community and casualness in the way the destruction and criminality is being allowed to continue. For people to start requesting the sponsors of the school, the ACK church to conduct prayers for the school or parents conduct rituals at the school to chase demons is the lowest we can go in handling such criminal activities that target institutions housing the youth.

Given the current challenges that children and the youth are facing, escalated by COVID 19, radicalization and violent extremism has taken root in most learning institutions and the risks at too high to be neglected. The behavior at the school must be looked at more keenly than is currently being done. At the national level, Busia County is among those noted to have increasing numbers of recruitment into radical groups and fact that in addition to Sigalame, Namboboto, Budalangi, John Osogo, Makunda and Ganjala secondary schools in the county have had fire incidences and scares over the last same four months must rung a bell to the authorities that may be extremism ideologies have found themselves in learning institutions in the county. We must use intelligence to deal with the situation and use a multi-agency approach to deal with this menace

The National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) and the Ministry of Education recently launched a Guide on Child Safety and Security against Violent Extremism (CSSAVE), in which it spells out how pupils and students in learning institutions can be protected against such threats to their lives. I am not sure this is being applied in the county, that is already identified as a high-risk region.

The guideline acknowledges that learning institutions are fertile grounds for recruitment as the indoctrination process used by violent extremist elements in recruiting young people over the internet resembles tactics employed by online predators whereby, they first gain trust of their targets over time, and gradually impact radical ideologies.  

The guidelines will help school managers to respond, report and track any cases of violent extremism in schools and offer the help needed by learners. The easy-to-use guide is premised in the early detection and response before the risk of criminal recruitment and identifies other risks to safety and security that makes learners more vulnerable to radicalization into violent extremism.

Studies show that young people are more specifically targeted and vulnerable to radicalization and being easily influenced content from popular media platforms.

We must stop the pretense and work around creating an atmosphere that protects children from those intent on entrench or promote violent extremism conducive environments in schools, home, and other areas. The fact that children in learning institutions are highly exposed to such tendencies like exposure to harmful content including their teachers, caregivers and learning tools, requires that special interventions are put in place to guard against their access to such content.

This calls for enhanced interventions on media and digital literacy in learning centers, that will help children have basic skills to analyse and understand the importance or limits of consuming media content and information from digital platforms.

Interventions aimed at securing children against harmful content must be alive to that fact that the internet enabled smart phones are providing young people with access to information that if not supported with media and digital literacy will be dangerous.

Suffice to note that online platforms have exposed young people to learning about anything including harmful content aimed at influencing their choices towards violence.