Pubdate: Sun, 28 Mar 2004
Source: Daily Nation (Kenya)
Copyright: 2004 Nation Newspapers
Author: Liz Gitonga



The issue of drugs finding their way into the hands of pupils and
students in schools is not new.

A study commissioned by the National Agency for the Campaign Against
Drug Abuse (Nacada) says a large number of students across all age
groups have been exposed to alcohol, tobacco, miraa (khat) and glue

The study shows that in Western Province, 43.3 per cent of students
abuse alcohol while in Nairobi 40 per cent of the students have abused
drugs. They start with cigarettes before graduating to harder drugs
like cocaine and bhang.

But perhaps a close look at the style or management of schools would
give a hint on how drugs are sneaked into the institutions and why the
students abuse them.

Although for a long time unrest in schools, which has become a
perennial problem, has been blamed on drug abuse and alcohol
consumption, certain conditions have served to perpetuate the problem.
Today, the market is flooded with cheap beer packaged in sachets, and
kiosks that have mushroomed near schools serve as selling points of

While the majority of students in schools that went on strike last
year blamed it on poor communication between them and the
administration, it is widely believed that such behaviour was
influenced by drug consumption.

Alliance High School Principal Christopher Khaemba agrees that poor
communication could be a cause of indiscipline for students.

"In my school, we have found it useful to have gatherings every
morning and evening. Some of the Saturdays are also dedicated to open
forums where students raise issues which are subjected to critical
debate," Mr Khaemba says.

There is also a suggestion box where they drop their complaints, which
is only accessible to the Principal. "I pay attention to all the

The National Agency for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse national
co-ordinator, Mr Joseph Kaguthi, concurs that cheap alcoholic brands,
readily available in the market, complicate matters in the effort to
fight drug abuse among the youth.

"Brewers and distillers are as many as the brands they make.
Furthermore, bars are not the only selling points. The beer is
literally being hawked to anyone and anytime with much abandon," Mr
Kaguthi says.

In Nairobi alone, there are more than 10,000 unlicensed liquor joints,
some of which are temporary structures on road reserves.

Mr Kaguthi says a task force will develop a programme for training of
trainers who will be spread out in schools countrywide and serve as
"drug masters" to counsel the students.

"We have no alternative but to have a teacher in each school trained
thoroughly on matters of drug abuse. These trainees will be required
to guide and counsel the students," he says.

Some 140 trainers will be trained at the national level and the
programme will go down to provinces and districts.

Ms Bertha Omanya, formerly the headmistress of a Nairobi mixed
secondary school, says drugs use in secondary schools is not only a
threat to academic performance but also peace within the

But Mr Khaemba disagrees that heads of schools are entirely to blame
for the "mismanagement" of the institutions. He says poverty levels
have gone higher in the past 15 years, making it hard for parents to
financially support the rehabilitation and maintenance of boarding
facilities - a common complaint by students.

"And the population of students has grown by leaps and bounds since
the 1980s when the government stopped giving maintenance grants to
boarding schools.

"The comfort that the students are craving for, therefore, cannot be
compared to then, when the population was small and manageable and
funds for maintenance were readily available," he says.

This mismatch has posed a special challenge to managers of boarding
institutions and the students may not understand our position.

Lenana High School Principal Peter Warui blames manufacturers of cheap
beer packaged in cans and sachets. "These beers are making the fight
against alcohol abuse and the management of secondary schools an
uphill task. They need to be abolished," he says. He says alcohol is
readily available in the market and sold cheaply, which makes it easy
for the students to access it.

"The cheap mini-packs are now being sold in kiosks and supermarkets.
We have powdered beer in the market too. The manner in which this beer
is packaged makes it easy for the students to sneak it into schools,"
Mr Warui says.

Mr Kaguthi says some teachers, clergymen and parents also abuse the
drugs openly. Some smoke in the presence of schoolchildren and
influence them. Dagoretti High School Principal R.M. Murengi says some
students access drugs especially during visiting days.

"But efforts to scrap visiting days have always been met with a lot of
resistance. The students would not understand why other schools have
that privilege and not them," Mr Murengi says.

Mr Khaemba says unrest in schools may arise when the students' daily
routine changes haphazardly or if new items keep cropping up without
an explanation. Similarly, when the routine is overlooked without any
explanation or justification.

"The school programme must not leave the students idle for too long or
have a prolonged prep time, leaving no room for leisure or
co-curricula activities," he says.

High-profile indiscipline cases that have been blamed on drug abuse
include the 1999 Nyeri High School arson in which four prefects were
burnt to death by their colleagues and the Kyanguli Mixed Secondary
School in which 67 students lost their lives in 2001 when their
dormitories were set on fire.

Last November, Kinyui Boys' High School in Machakos was burnt by
rioting students. 
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