Wednesday morning was not like other mornings in Kimathi. There was a slight anticipation and tension in the air. The tension was fuelled by memes, memos, war calls of ‘wamlambez’ and threats. The time had finally come, or so we thought. As one comrade Omwami likes to put it, “You cannot stop an ejaculation whose time has come.” We thought it was finally time for the ejaculation. Would they be able to stop it? Would the comrades answer ‘wamnyonyez’ or would they just ignore that sacred call?
The exams were only five days away. The exam cards were not out. Worse still, HELB beneficiaries were yet to get their money. The school’s policy stood firm: you can’t get an exam card without having cleared your outstanding fee balance. It was only natural for the HELB beneficiaries – more than 6,000 students – to feel anxious. Were they to prepare for the exams – up to 12 exams for some – or were they to bother their parents for fees?
This is not the first time such an issue has occurred. Last year, the HELB money for beneficiaries in Kimathi was delayed. There was a “solution” however: Beneficiaries with a fee balance of sh. 4,000 were allowed to sit for their exams. Why sh.4,000? Because that’s the amount that HELB will deposit into the school account of a single beneficiary. So it was reasonable that if indeed you have not cleared fees because the HELB money is not yet out, you should not have a fee balance of more than sh. 4000? But was it reasonable at all?
The reason why I ask that is because a considerable number of students ended up taking special exams last time. Why? Because they were HELB beneficiaries and had a fee balance of more than sh. 4,000. In that whole saga, we even have reports of several students who had to repeat the year because they couldn’t apply for specials in time and had a fee balance of more than sh. 4,000.
Here’s how HELB works: You are given 65,000 or 45,000 or 37,000 for one academic year. Out of whatever amount you are given, 8,000 is deposited into the school account as school fees for that academic year. You are therefore left with 57,000 or 37,000 or 29,000 in that year. Considering that the school fees of the JAB students is averagely 34,000 per year, you can comfortably pay the school fees with all your HELB money.
The main point here is that students don’t just depend on the 8,000 that HELB deposits directly into their accounts to pay their school fees. A huge number of students take the whole HELB amount and pay school fees. These are the people who had to face a rude shock last time because their balance for the semester was more than 4,000 yet HELB money was yet to get to them. They are the ones who had to take specials and repeat the year.
You can imagine the whole scenario occurring again. Most students were unsure what their fates would be in terms of whether they would sit for their exams. The school administration was not kind enough to bother to provide any kind of assurance or explanation, not before Wednesday. Furthermore, the solution that the school had proposed last time didn’t work for everyone. The comrades therefore found their own solution: A strike. At the beginning, the idea started out as a peaceful demonstration but soon spiraled into the good old fashioned strike, with plans to throw stones, inhale tear gas and block the highway – all that fun stuff.
Of course, from the very beginning the idea of a demonstration was doomed to fail. At least, its probability of success was small. All the ingredients for a successful strike were there: the motivation of injustice, the numbers, the stones, a highway to block, the leadership, a nearby police post e.t.c. There was only problem – this is Kimathi: Students don’t just come together and do something in solidarity. It’s not our thing. It’s not how we roll. We don’t do that. We are only comrades because it’s a good name to keep mentioning. We are comrades only by name and in theory but not in practice.
It didn’t matter that our HELB money had failed to get to us because our smart card numbers are not yet out. And who is in charge of smart cards? Didn’t we do our part as students two whole semesters ago when they asked us to give our details for the smart cards and we did?
It doesn’t matter that we have a trimester program which for some reason the school hasn’t communicated effectively to the HELB people. It doesn’t matter that our class reps have repeatedly raised such issues in meetings with the school administration and that they have consistently been ignored and dismissed.
It doesn’t matter that before Wednesday; all attempts by our student leaders to iron out the HELB issue with the administration had fallen on deaf ears and faces that seemed to ask in contempt, “What can you do?”
And of course for some of us who don’t have problems with our fees; we didn’t care about all those sorry fuckers who faced the risk of dropping out of school because their HELB money didn’t get to them. Of course we sympathized, but what did they want us to do?
Even after Sabul The Bull went to all the trouble of coining such a delightful phrase as, “Disloyalty to comrades is loyalty to Satan,” we are still disloyal to each other.
So of course, there was never going to be a strike. But still, some of us allowed ourselves to dream. We didn’t necessarily dream of the strike. No, strikes are not good. They cause the deaths of students. They make a five year course go for eight years. We allowed ourselves to dream of the time when the school would take us seriously. We dreamed of the time when the school would stop treating us like primary school kids; a time when we would talk and they would pay attention and answer us.
And here’s the interesting thing: We don’t have to throw stones to get them to listen. All we need is to show them our solidarity. One way to do this would have been to boycott the exams by failing to pick our exam cards. If more than half of Kimathi students would have done this, a strong message would definitely have been sent; a message that they would have responded to in a favorable manner. However, this was also another dream. It would have required mass action by DeKUT students and like we said, “We don’t do that; it’s not our thing.” Unfortunately.
At around ten, photos of police officers spotted on campus began to make their rounds on WhatsApp. The student council had already been called for a meeting by the school admin. Within a matter of hours, all talk of the strike died and with it all hope for Kimathi becoming an institution of higher learning and not a glorified secondary school as it is now.
Our ejaculation was premature. It seems we haven’t had enough. It seems there’s still more space in our stomach for shit. We can take this a little bit longer, eh? Well, we shouldn’t worry. We’ll get what we are asking for. We’ll get what is coming to us.
Here’s a parting shot: There’s a village. In that village, everyone keeps sheep. One day, a leopard came and killed the sheep of one villager. All the villagers rushed to his aid. They gave him their sincere sympathies. Encouraged, he asked them to join him so that they could go hunt down the leopard but they didn’t want to risk their lives. The next week, the leopard came and again killed all the sheep in another man’s pen. The villagers still didn’t want to risk their lives hunting down the leopard. By the time the villagers agreed to go hunt it down, one leopard had devoured more than a dozen herds.
Your neighbor’s herd was massacred yesterday. How long before the leopard you refused to kill comes for your herd?
I would tell you to share this widely but you know what? I don’t want to put you in such a difficult position. So don’t feel the need to share it. You are a ‘Kimathi comrade’ after all; we understand.
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