African News

Kenya: Over 200,000 teachers down their tools

24 January 2009 at 03:46 | 1099 views

By Emmanuel Turay, PV East Africa Bureau Chief, Nairobi, Kenya.

Over 200, 000 teachers in Kenya have boycotted work since early this week, paralyzing learning in schools with a view to forcing government to accept their terms over salary offers.

This strike action followed several meetings with the government that failed to resolve differences over a payment of Sh. 17.3 billion salary increase.

Sources in the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) disclosed that the matter has been referred to the industrial court for arbitration and obtained orders stopping the strike, but officials at the Kenya National Union of Teachers Union (KNUT) argued it had not received it.

The Secretary General of KNUT Lawrence Majali told PV in an interview that they are not aware of any court order nor have they any idea whether there is is such an order stopping the strikes.

The chairman of KNUT George Wesonga told pressmen that the government must prepare for the mother of all strikes.
The government on state media accused the teachers’ union of constantly changing goalposts, making it difficult to reach a solution.

KNUT also blamed the government saying it is rigid and engaging in threats. The Minister of Education Professor Sam Ongeri has declared in a press briefing that the ongoing strike is illegal. He stated that the TSC would take action against those who take part in the strike and the commission will withhold salaries and other benefits of any teacher who takes part in what he called an illegal strike.

He further disclosed that a court action has been served on KNUT noting that it binds all members in the field.
The minister said he is optimistic learning would continue since there is a court injunction stopping the ongoing strike.

Meanwhile Wesonga has said the union had received an invitation for talks from the minister. He said they are ready and willing to negotiate.

"We sent a reply that we are waiting for details of the venue, date and time of the meeting with the minister. But we are yet to receive any communication," said Mr Wesonga.

At the same time, the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association said it would intervene on the standoff between the Government and Knut.

Mr Cleophas Tirop, the association chairman, said the group’s national executive committee would meet Knut and government officials in a bid to resolve the matter.

In another development,President Mwai Kibaki has declared the current food shortage in Kenya as a national disaster and appealed for Sh37 billion to address the crisis.

According to Kabaki, national assessment has shown that 10 million people are food insecure and require emergency support. These people will not be able to meet their minimum food requirements between now and the end of August 2009 without emergency measures.

The president expressed deep concern over the deteriorating food security for poor households and directed all arms of the government to marshal available resources to respond effectively to the situation.

The president also warned government officials and unscrupulous traders against corruption which reports this week said was frustrating government relief efforts.

President Kibaki said, to address the crisis in the medium term, the government would this planting season provide 93,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer at affordable prices to farmers and reduce the price of seeds by 10 percent. The government would provide farmers with affordable mechanical ploughing services.

Some 7 million bags of maize will be imported at Sh17 billion in order to mitigate the crisis. Another 3 billion shillings has been set aside for additional relief food supplies, while Sh1 billion will be spent on non-food emergency interventions and Sh1.2 billion on provision of water, purchase of livestock and supply of hay in arid areas.

The government, in collaboration with the World Food Programme is already feeding 1.4 million people under the emergency operation programme while another one million people are receiving direct government aid.

Out of the required Sh37 billion required, the government has raised 5.2 billion shillings. The head of State urged development partners to help cater for the shortfall of about Sh32 billion.

The government estimates that Sh30.2 billion will be required for emergency food supplies, Sh 3.8 billion for the education sector, Sh1.3 billion for water, health and nutrition programmes and Sh2.6 billion for agricultural and livestock interventions.

The most affected areas are marginal districts in Eastern, Coast and Central provinces as well as pastoral and agro-pastoral areas of Rift Valley and North Eastern provinces.

President Kibaki attributed the current food crisis to severe drought facing the country as well as lack of rain in many parts of the country and consecutive poor rainfall in the past two years. The other factors are last year’s post-election violence and the international food and oil

Photo: President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.