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Storm in a teacup that sparked students unrest at Jamhuri

A scuffle between two students over a cup of tea sparked a full blown fight at Jamhuri High School in Nairobi, leaving seven students and the principal nursing serious injuries.

The seven are being treated for machete and hockey-stick injuries in three different hospitals in Nairobi, while the principal, Mr Fred Awuor, is nursing bruises after he was stoned and attacked with broken chairs when he tried to calm the situation. Another 35 were treated and discharged.

Education authorities shut the school until Monday to prevent further chaos.

The conflict, which pitted Muslims against their Christian colleagues, began on Tuesday when a Form Two day-scholar was allegedly slapped by a prefect, who accused him of using a cup belonging to a boarder.

“I decided to report the matter to the deputy principal’s office and the prefect was summoned and warned. When the prefect came out, he warned me that he would deal with me,” the student said.

He alleged that as he was going home from school at around 7pm, five students, among them the prefect beat him up. He was treated at Al Amin Hospital in Eastleigh for soft tissue injuries.

The fight escalated yesterday morning between Christians and Muslims with both groups trading accusations over what they termed religious intolerance.

The students armed themselves with hockey sticks, machetes and stones and attacked fought in the school compound as the teachers and other students scampered for safety.


Rushing to arbitrate the dispute, Mr Awuor was attacked mercilessly, with some of the students accusing him of failing to sort out the long-running row between the two groups.

Police officers drawn from the Administration and Kenya Police Services were deployed to the school but were unable to restore calm immediately because the students continued fighting and insulting one another. The police were led by Nairobi County Police Commander, Japhet Koome, Regional Commissioner Bernard Leparmarai, Starehe OCPD Alice Kimeli and others.

According to reports gathered from either side, tension has been building up since the beginning of the year, when the school enrolled more Muslim students than in the years before, numbering 367 out of 1,600.

“The Muslims have been demanding that they have more leaders because out of the 33, they only have three,” one of the students said.

The chairperson of the school’s board of management, Lorna Mumelo convened an assembly of the school population and announced that all the grievances would be sorted out.

“We want to carry out thorough investigations as a board together with Ministry of Education officials. The school has been peaceful all through and we want to understand where the problem is.  Small issues always come up in schools. We are investigating the issue. There is no school that doesn’t have such differences,” she said.

Mr Awuor said the students have an underlying issue that they chose to sort out without involving the administration.

“The disciplinary committee will handle this matter and take action. Give us the time to investigate this issue,” Mr Awuor said after the school was closed.

Some of the students who spoke to the Nation in confidence accused Mr Awuor of failing to pay attention to their grievances and ignoring information about the tension between the two groups.


“We have been feeling sidelined. We are not treated like the rest of the students in this school because of our religious affiliations. When we are bullied, harassed and denied our rights, we go to him and he doesn’t address the issues. Sometimes, he just ignores them,” a Muslim student said.

He added that the principal and the other teachers were quick to address issues raised by Christians especially on matters bullying and harassment.

“He has also failed to allow us to pray when we want. If we go for lunch time prayers we do not get our meals when we go to the dining hall. When our leaders raised an official complaint, they were told it’s not a must that we pray. He said we have to choose between praying and eating,” another student said.

The management, the students said, had directed the prefects to be strict instead of confronting the issues.

“They have been asked to slap, kick and even punish us. And although sometimes we do the same mistakes as the other students, we are usually the ones punished severely. We are forced to do things that our religion does not allow us to do,” another student claimed.

The Christians, however, denied the claims, accusing the Muslims of seeking special treatment.

“They bully us and claim that we are dirty. They are always complaining and they do not want to mingle with us. They always threaten that they will one day kill us all. Even yesterday, they said they would be coming to school with machetes. We told the teachers but they ignored us,” one of the Form Four students said.

Significantly, the school has enforced the segregation because Muslims and Christians don’t share toilets and libraries and there is a special partition for Muslims in the dining hall.