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Title:Students, arson, and protest politics in Kenya: school fires as political action
Author:Cooper, Elizabeth
Periodical:African affairs: the journal of the Royal African Society (ISSN 1468-2621)
Geographic term:Kenya
secondary education
Abstract:Nearly every week there are stories of destructive fires in Kenyan secondary schools. Most of these are suspected arson cases, and the usual suspects are the schools' current students. This article provides the first analysis of the recent spate of school-based fire incidents, based on a comprehensive survey of media, government, and court reports, as well as primary data collected through interviews with students, educators, and administrators. This evidence clearly demonstrates that school-based arson is a phenomenon that spans regions in Kenya, and occurs in boys', girls', and mixed schools, private and public schools, and across school calendars. Current and former students explain this trend in terms of arson's effectiveness as a tactic in protest politics. Based on these findings, the author argues that school-based arson is indicative of more than the contested conditions of education in Kenya. The use of arson by students reflects what this generation has learned about how protest and politics work in Kenya. Students' recognition that destructive collective actions are efficacious in winning a response from authorities highlights that learning and feeds a reactionary mode of governance in which citizens' initiatives tend to be neglected until they pose direct threats to public peace and financing. Notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]