September 11, 2021

Not Safe in School: Report Exposes East Africa’s Dangerous Countries for Students

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In July 2019, Uganda police fired tear gas in apparent action to stop fight between students of two different schools in eastern Uganda. Over 50 students were admitted to hospitals

On March 14, 2019, heavily armed Ugandan police reportedly fired teargas and live ammunition at secondary school students participating in a protest at Kigezi High School in Kabale town and district. Students had allegedly attacked a teacher and threw stones at police.

Two years earlier, on June 26, 2017, police fired live ammunition to disperse a student strike, seriously injuring three students of Kacheera High School in Rakai town and district.

The two cases cited above are part of a long list of incidents in which Ugandan authorities have deployed war-like response to deal with youngsters carrying nothing more than just placards and whistles.

Between 2017-2019, there were at least 30 reported attacks on school and university students and university personnel, according to data detailed in comprehensive report by Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). The report was released to mark the International Day to Protect Education from Attack September 9.

Ugandan police and military have reportedly used excessive force, including live ammunition and teargas, to disperse protests, in addition to detaining or arresting at least 135 university students participating in education-related protests, some of which turned violent.

What is happening in Uganda is not isolated. It is widespread. In the east African region, only Rwanda is not featured in the report. The rest, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, South Sudan, and Uganda – have documented cases where schools, which are supposed to be a learning refuge, instead became war zones.

In this region, attacks students Kenya has been far more widespread from both the state and non-state actors. On February 16, 2018, Somalia-based Islamist group al-Shabaab attacked Qarsa Primary School in Wajir county, Kenya. Three teachers died, causing hundreds of non-local teachers to flee the area and at least 250 schools in the county to close.

In April 2019, the International Crisis Group (ICG) reported that nearly 100 schools in Garissa, Mandera, and Wajir counties remained closed.

Kenya is categorised by the GCPEA report as a “heavily affected” country, experiencing over 900 incidents of attacks on education and military use of educational facilities, or harm over 500 students and education personnel.

Al-Shabaab, that the Kenyan government has engaged in conflict both at home and in Somalia since 2011, continued to carry out attacks in Wajir, Mandera, and Garissa counties, and in the capital, Nairobi, between 2017 and 2019.

In 2018, non-government organization ACLED listed 45 reports of violent events involving al-Shabaab in Kenya. (ACLED = Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project)

In Burundi, campaigners accuse the both state forces and the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth league of threatening, beating, and arresting students in an enduring climate of political violence and intimidation. Attacks on students and teachers peaked in 2018 in the months leading up to a constitutional referendum.

During the 2017-2019 reporting period, the research authors collected reports of at least 42 incidents of attacks on students, teachers, or other personnel, which harmed over 65 people. By comparison, in the 2013-2017 period covered in Education under Attack 2018, at least 70 students were detained, arrested, and imprisoned, and many others intimidated or threatened.

For example, on January 10, 2018, Imbonerakure members allegedly arrested a teacher and supporter of the opposition FNL party, while at work in Busoni, Kirundo province. The teacher was detained and beaten, according to local media, for advising people to vote against the constitutional referendum.

On December 28, 2018, the exiled civil society organization Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT Burundi) reported that a secondary school teacher and member of an opposition group was reportedly detained or forcibly disappeared by state intelligence agents, in Mabayi, Cibitoke province, allegedly for his association with an opposition party. At the time of the incident report, the teacher’s location remained unknown.

When it comes to South Sudan, a peace agreement signed between the government and main opposition groups and enacted in September 2018 contributed to a decrease in violence. However, attacks on education continued to occur including the use of schools by armed forces and groups, attacks on schools, attacks on students and teachers, and sexual violence at schools.

During the 2017-2019 reporting period, GCPEA identified at least 50 reports of attacks on schools. Reported attacks on schools occurred at a less frequent rate than during the 2013-2017 period, when violence reportedly destroyed more than 800 schools between late 2013 and early 2016.

For the 2017-2019 reporting period, GCPEA collected nine reports of attacks on students, teachers, and other personnel. As in the previous reporting period, attacks on students, teachers, and other education personnel occurred sporadically between 2017-2019. Between 2013 and early 2017, approximately 35 attacks and threats against students and educators occurred, including abductions and killings.

For Tanzania, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) classifies it among a very few countries where GCPEA identified isolated attacks on education between 2015-2019. These cases were not put in the report.

In the case of Rwanda, it is not mentioned in the 162-page report, pointing to the fact that schools have been marked by order. It does not mean there are no troubles in schools. There have been several cases of students starting sit-ins protesting over conditions in their school. Some have been dismissed from the schools. The cases of troubles in schools are usually handled by local officials.

The only time since 1994, when there has been visible student agitation at university level was in 1998-99 when Anglophone students opposed government’s policy to force them to study in French. At the time, Rwanda’s education system was such that there were Anglophone and Francophone schools up to secondary school. The students wanted that policy to continue at university so they had their own separate courses. The noisy agitation at the now defunct National University of Rwanda resulted into the dismissal of many students, with some preferring to flee the country.

No other student strike or public agitation has happened at university level.

A recent case in July which The Chronicles has reported, is one where four secondary school students were arrested after they scribbled “RIP” on photo of President Paul Kagame. The teenagers were charged with several counts including genocide ideology. In a surprise turn of events, perhaps in response to public outcry, the prosecutors asked for bail for the students – suggesting the authorities got to the understanding that the prosecution of these youngsters was a bad idea, and want the case to die.

Globally, GCPEA compiled over 11,000 reports of attacks on education or military use of educational facilities globally between 2015 and 2019. These incidents harmed over 22,000 students, teachers, and education personnel in 93 countries.

GCPEA found that Yemen and Afghanistan were among most heavily affected by attacks on education and military use of schools and universities between 2015 and 2019. But during that period, students, teachers, school personnel, as well as the educational institutions that served them, suffered some form of violence in at least 92 countries and in every region of the world.

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