January 26, 2001
volume 12, no. 26
Kenyan Church, State Battle Over Schools

    NAIROBI, Jan. 25, 01 ( -- An impasse between the Catholic Church and the Kenyan government, over five parochial schools that have been closed down, is now in its second week.

    The Kenyan government insists that the schools must be opened immediately. The Church-- which runs the schools-- has told parents and students that they will remain closed. More than 2,000 students have been affected by the school closings.

    The key issue in the dispute is whether the government will be able to dictate the terms of instruction in Catholic schools.

    At the end of the December holidays, the Catholic Church in a western province of Kenya told students not attend the scheduled re-opening of the five Church-sponsored schools. The schools would be closed, the Church officials said, citing problems of mismanagement.

    The Catholic Church in Kenya sponsors about 3,700 primary and secondary schools, and numerous technical schools. In fact the Church has been responsible for founding all the major schools in the country. The Church has maintained a strong tradition of running those schools professionally.

    The controversy surrounding the schools is a major indication that people in Kenya are becoming more assertive, demanding to know the way their institutions are being run. Citizens have begun telling the government that their wishes must be respected, and acted upon. They want assurances that institutions will hear their voices. And they also want assurances that these institutions will be run by leaders who display a high level of prudence in management.

    The Catholic Church of Kenya has complained that the government's Ministry of Education has been frustrating Catholic efforts to run Church-related schools efficiently. According to the Father Muturi Njuguna, the government ministry has tried to sideline Church officials, giving them no say in the management of the schools the Church has sponsored. Catholic officials have replied by saying that the government is violating the terms of the country's Education Act, and letting the public know that the government does not involve them in most of the decision-making on problems affecting the schools. These complaints came to a head in the western district where the Church officials finally decided that the schools were mismanaged, and should be closed down.

    The Kenyan government, in the person of the education minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, has responded to these complaints by saying that the Catholic institutions should stick to their educational mandate and stop causing confusion. The minister said that his ministry was empowered by the law to order the re-opening of the schools in the western district. Musyoka charged that the instructions issued by authorities of the Catholic Church, telling students to stay home, were unlawful, and that the Church directives were causing confusion among the members of the public.

    The Kenyan Church's Justice and Peace Commission supports the Church officials' decision to close the schools. Seliva Waitutu, who chairs the commission, said the Church should be able to investigate the schools' management without political interference. "Our joy is the ensure that the schools we sponsor are well run," she said. "But efforts to correct anomalies in those schools have not borne any fruit."

    The Church's role in the development and provision of education in Kenya remains undisputable. Since the coming of the missionaries, who established schools on the Kenyan coast in the 19th century, the story of educational development in Kenya has been synonymous with the Catholic Church.

(preceding article written by Fredrick Nzwili)

January 26, 2001
volume 12, no. 26
DAILY CATHOLIC Global News in the Universal Church

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