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Kenya's Teachers Protest in Nationwide Strike

Kenyan teachers call on the government to increase hiring during a protest outside the Parliament building in downtown Nairobi. September 7, 2011.

School is starting a little later than usual this year in Kenya, as teachers go on strike across the country to demand the government increase hiring.

Teachers marched through the streets of Nairobi Wednesday on the second day of a nationwide strike.

Led by the Kenyan National Union of Teachers (KNUT), they are calling on the government to hire 28,000 new teachers.

And while the union insists they are not after more money, pay is certainly an issue.

Ephrahim Muregi is the chairman of the Nairobi chapter of the teachers' union. “This [is] a government that does not care for the common man. Imagine a teacher earning 10,000 shillings a month, that is what most of these young men and women are earning. These guys are earning a million shillings and they are not paying tax, these ones are earning 10,000, which is taxed. That is why we are saying the government is totally insensitive to the plight of the poor in this country,” Muregi stated.

Ten-thousand shillings is only about $90. And to put that figure into perspective, it costs about 3,000 shillings just to rent a shack in the city's Kibera slum.

A government committee on education earlier this year proposed budget cuts to save about $75 million (6.7 billion shillings), part of which was to be used for recruitment.

But that money was later re-allocated to the military.

The move has caused rifts within Kenya's government, with education ministers blaming the Finance Ministry, led by presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta, for mishandling the funds.

Assistant Minister for Education Patrick Ayiecho Olweny addressed the protesters as they pushed against the gates of parliament. “For me as an assistant minister for education, I have done my part. And I think it is in the press. Is it in there? It's in there? It's in there, and I will keep supporting you now, I will support you tomorrow. And I will," he said.

He also said members of parliament will “put Uhuru (Kenyatta) to task to ensure that that money is released to the Ministry of Education.”

Teachers have vowed to continue their strike until the government meets their demands, and have told students not to bother showing up for school.

Primary school teacher Olembi Peter, who says he often has to teach classes of 100 students at a time, says the children understand the teachers' concerns. “People are enlightened nowadays, even the little kids know what's going on," he explained. "So even the kids know that we are marginalized and we are suffering, so we just told them -- the issue is with the government and it's not with you.”

Until the government relents or the teachers back down, class will remain dismissed.