The conspicuous docility with which parents and guardians treat bullying in this country is deeply worrying. The latest heartbreaking case of bullying involving a Form Two boy from Nairobi School reported by various local media houses on July 8 brings this to the fore.
In WhatsApp screenshots shared widely on social media, the devastated parent of the boy shares the boy’s ordeal with a group that reportedly has parents of the Form Two boys as members. She eventually asks them to pray for him and one can only imagine a mother’s pain in dealing with what can only be described as her son’s brutal assault.
Media reports later indicated the boy suffered from head injuries as a result of prefects constantly hitting his head and that he would need surgery to drain fluid from his brain.
Nairobi School is just the latest school caught up in bullying menace but it is neither the first nor the last. It helps that this was a reported case, but there must be many a student suffering somewhere, crying themselves to sleep because of bullying. One would have hoped that the collective empathy and anger from the parents of Nairobi School — and any other school where bullying of such magnitude is reported — would be enough to make them rise to action. That it would perhaps make them go to the school and tear down the gates, demanding answers about the boy; knowing that he could easily be one of their sons.
One glaringly evident thing from the WhatsApp group and from the plethora of reactions on social media is that we’ve normalised bullying. We’ve numbed ourselves to its devastating effects and could not be bothered with more than: “Boys will be boys,” or “Bullying happens in every school”. Or asking the boys to man up.
This country seems to have normalised bullying as a “rite of passage” especially for boys’ schools yet we lament about mental illness among them in their adulthood. Because research has shown that depression is one of the most common mental health problems among Kenyan men. These two surely must be related. Some people will say “They will be just fine, I was bullied too” but will they?
At what point did parents become so docile about their children’s welfare?
Of course, there is the Kenya National Parents Association, whose chairman always has something to say about everything touching on parents, children or education, and could play a pivotal role in shaping or influencing conversations around bullying but it simply isn’t.
The children left behind at Nairobi School and all those schools affected by bullying, should also concern us, as bullying doesn’t just affect the bullied but also the bullies and the ones who saw it happen.
Maybe we treat bullying as normal because it’s institutionalised in Kenya. Visit any government office to seek services you’ve already been taxed for and watch bullying unfold in a spectacular manner. You will be made to wait as you watch unbothered officers gossip and drink thick tea. Suddenly, if you are lucky, they will announce to nobody in particular that they are going on a lunch break.
And then proceed to leave a long-winding queue watching in feigned disbelief because, well, “That’s just how they are. We are used to them.” And because the services they provide are essential and you don’t want to be kicked out, you will swallow your pain and stand in line.
Bullying by police officers is masterfully captured in Sauti Sol’s song ‘Blue Uniform’, where some of the lyrics go like this: Hey you in the blue uniform/If I have wronged you I will reform/ raia analia kilio/hey you, hey you.
It does not help, of course, that most of our elected leaders are bullies, who impose their will, greed and power with reckless abandon. And we still allow them to bully us.
Now, education officials have opened investigations into the bullying claims but this is hardly cause for celebration as bullying is not a new phenomenon and does not require a neatly typed and bound report but action to forestall it. And the victims need help to deal with it. Let’s speak up and act now for our children so that we don’t have to cry for them in future.
The writer is the editor, Living Magazine; [email protected]