Who will blink first? Teachers’ strike sheds light on Kenya’s leadership crisis


Teachers during a past strike
Teachers during a past strike

Three weeks have gone by, and no respite seems to be on the horizon for the crisis plagued public schools that are painfully grinding to a near halt.

This is notwithstanding the fact is that students are becoming more vulnerable, desperate and exposed to elements even as a section of them are about to sit their national exams due within the month of October 2015.

The teachers are on strike again because of remuneration issues and this time it’s rather serious.

The Supreme Court of Kenya has ruled that they should get a pay increment of between 50-60 percent. Their employer the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), in spite of the Supreme Court ruling, will hear none of it; it cannot pay… will not pay!

Not a typical labor dispute!

On the surface, the matter here seems a straightforward labor dispute capable of being handled using the right channels, aided by dialogue and a ‘solution oriented’ approach. But what is not apparent to the casual observer in this matter is the long running issue of mistrust among the protagonists as well as deeply entrenched positions that over time have grown roots. This is a crisis of confidence our institutions and its leadership!

The teachers’ unions have out rightly dismissed any talks before the government first, implements the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The TSC says it does not have funds to cater for the increment, being an independent commission of the state it has to get its funding from the state to provide for such increments.

The government through the Cabinet Secretary for Education and The Presidency have unequivocally stated they will not pay as such an increment is unsustainable.

However, what is being witnessed presently not a crisis of teachers’ labor dispute but rather it is a crisis of confidence in our institutions and its leadership.

This is an indictment of a ‘national culture’ in which those at the helm have a right to get away with impunity. They then and expect ‘lesser’ citizens to look the other way because they do not deserve better.

History of teachers’ strikes over remuneration

To go into the history of teachers’ versus government remuneration tussles might result in a digression from the purpose sought here.

What will suffice to acknowledge is that eighteen years ago this push by teachers began and three different administrations down the line the chicken have come home to roost!

For this government, failure to acknowledge and plan for such an eventuality has left it with egg on its face.

In January 2015, the teachers had fired the warning salvo but withdrew tactically from its strike threats knowing that its biggest bargaining chip, the national examinations, were still way off. However, it followed the court process faithfully, which gave it sufficient armor to launch this latest scathing strike.

When did the hailstorm begin?

Let us look at our legislature; a closer look at the tenth and eleventh houses reveal a pattern. Fresh out of the post election violence (PEV 2008), the tenth parliament unashamedly closed ranks and awarded themselves a hefty salary increment.

They did that which they could not do before to stem bloodletting during the PEV of 2008. They achieved this by tweaking laws to allow for the increment.

The eleventh Parliament came in to find the hapless Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) had reviewed their salaries downwards. What played out afterwards left many civil citizens in utter shock.

Not only did MPs close ranks once more across the heavily polarized political divide; they proceeded to arm-twist the SRC to give in to their demands for higher remuneration. They also threatened, bullied and punished any institution or office that dared question or check their excesses.

I have the Judiciary in mind that they had more than eight hundred million chopped off their last budget for frequently questioning parliamentary decisions, boggles the mind. Who suffers? It has never occurred to our strange ‘waheshimiwa’. It is the ‘mwananchi’ who cannot easily access judicial services.

Kenyan MPs Earnings

Kenyan parliament
Kenyan parliament

Kenyan legislators have been ranked the second-highest paid lawmakers in the world, beating their counterparts from the developed economies of US, Britain and Japan.

A study done in June 2013 shows Kenya MPs’ basic pay, excluding allowances is 76 times Kenya’s GDP per capita of Sh84, 624.  However be consoled, the 416 legislators earn 54 per cent less than their Nigerian counterparts, the global leaders with an annual basic pay of Sh16.5 million.

Is it a surprise that Kenya is closely following Nigeria on this earning index after having overtaken lowly placed Nigeria on the corruption index as one of the most corrupt countries?

The high pay given MPs distorts Kenya’s public sector remuneration where the minimum wage for skilled laborers such as gardeners, messengers, and watchmen is shs. 10,954.70.

Leadership in the situation

But what about our leadership, what is their role in this state of affairs? Welcome to Kenya. Like some distant lands we know of, this country is fast becoming a jurisdiction of permanent interests, not permanent vision.

As long as the legislature is serving the particular interests of the kingpins they can be left to please themselves with whatever pranks they can conjure up! For all I guess, the MPs could be the vultures after the big game has fed!

The teachers must have read this script well for unlike the woeful medics who are fighting county level battles and even so seem to be losing out; they are taking national bulls by the horn!

It is a case of learning from the best and knowing that nothing works well in this land more than impunity. Disregard all rational factors around, as long as one is pursuing those matters that will uplift their selfish interests. All other issues are details, period!

What is leadership?

In leadership, there is one thing that every academic, historian and leaders themselves agree upon. Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a common goal.

That there is a leadership gap in the current conflict between teachers and the government is not in doubt. Not even the opposition mandarins posing as sympathetic to the teachers’ plight can run away from this accusation.

In fact, it might be viewed in bad taste that the opposition are taking advantage of the strike to gain the sympathies of teachers and their supporters while offering no plausible solutions.

Behold the vulnerable and neglected public school children

Meanwhile, the children are suffering and unlike the teachers are unrepresented and voiceless. Being minors, they are mostly constrained by immaturity. There is no law protecting them from such vagaries.

The ‘giants’ in this war will not ponder their plight and the blight it might cause in their later lives.  Into week three with no solution, the die for our children is cast.

Cry my beloved country for the journey to the Promised Land is tough and arduous. Every step requires much effort and sacrifices; the days are dreary and misty save for those few times when silver linings shine through such as the time we enacted the Constitution of Kenya 2010. It would be easy to resign and give up, but this too is not an option, ‘our dawn is much nearer when the night seems darkest.’

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Story By Vincent Obadha
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