A week after schools reopened, teachers in northeastern Kenya have yet to report to work. Instead, over the past few days, more than 300 educators have stormed the Teachers Service Commission offices in this capital city, demanding transfers to schools in parts of the country where al-Shabab terrorists have been active.
Regional and political leaders have responded by issuing an ultimatum to the teachers: report to work next Monday or face firing.
Last November, al-Shabab gunmen ambushed a bus on the outskirts of Mandera County, killing more than 20 people, most teachers. The terrorist group has threatened to carry out more attacks.
"We are here today telling the government that we are not going back to the northeast because of insecurity," said one of the teachers protesting at the commission offices.
"We are telling our government that we are not litmus paper to go and test our lives" in the former North Eastern Province, said another. "We are asking for transfers."
"It is very clear our brothers and sisters were butchered in North Eastern Province. It is not fiction," a third teacher said. "Therefore, whoever has given directives to us that we go back to North Eastern province is ill advised."
Concern for educators and education
Aden Juale, Parliament majority leader and a lawmaker from the northeast, said lawmakers and others share concern for educators’ safety. But he said abandoning their teaching responsibility is not the way to handle the situation.
"We care for our teachers. We care for their security and we are asking them to return to Mandera," Juale said. If they don’t return by the deadline, "we are asking [the] Teachers Service Commission to give a chance to other Kenyan teachers."
Wilson Sossion, who heads the Kenya National Union of Teachers, said government leaders need to initiate a dialogue instead of threatening teachers.
Threats of job loss will "worsen the situation," said Sossion, who added that Duale could not dictate to the teachers union or commission. "… He is a mere politician and all he would be doing is to meet this group of teachers and assure them of security. This is an explosive issue, but he cannot issue threats. It is fear which has brought these teachers out of North Eastern."
Sossion noted teachers want reassurance of their safety, and each host community needs to play a role to keep teachers out of harm’s way.
Mandera Governor Ali Roba admits his county faces a security challenge and needs solutions. He criticized Juale’s approach, saying, "He should visit, get first-hand information on what is happening on the ground."
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Nkaissery said teachers would be safe, but he did not outline specific measures to protect them.
"I want to encourage and request the teachers just to be brave enough like other citizens living in Mandera," Nkaissery said. They should "go and perform their duties without any fear because there is security and we shall provide security for them."
There have been fewer Al-Shabab border incursions in the past two months, under what officials say are stronger security measures. But many residents believe another attack against the few remaining teachers will put their children’s education in jeopardy.