This past week a very disturbing incident happened in Kitui.
A band of Kenyans armed themselves with machetes and marched to their local school to look for the head of the institution, intending to butcher and quarter him purportedly over poor performance in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations.
According to media reports, when they could not find the school head, they pounced upon a teacher who had brought her children to school, marched her out of the school, and proceeded to chop her up with machetes before setting her corpse on fire.
This is not the first incident of parents physically attacking teachers for flimsy reasons like poor performance in national examinations.
One obviously wonders why these barbaric parents are surprised that their children are performing poorly in examinations when the only solution they can think of is to physically assault teachers.
It is clear that these parents have obviously not been following their children’s academic work, and have only become engaged after their final examinations.
VIOLENCE AS DETERRENT
To turn around and blame teachers for the students’ poor performance is the height of stupidity, and one hopes that the security agencies have identified the perpetrators and are preparing to arraign them in court for suitable punishment after conviction.
We must, however, accept that these parents did not necessarily act out of the Kenyan collective character.
We are a country that long ago accepted violence as the primary means of solving our problems.
Parents praise the efficacy of the cane as a method of shaping their children’s behaviour, ignoring decades of research that show that this method is ineffective and has potentially harmful effects on the mental health of those on the receiving end.
As we have pointed out previously, our political discourse is full of violent imagery, and the accompanying gestures are a body language expert’s dream come true.
The result is frequently violent elections and even more violent reactions after disputed elections.
Despite all this, Kenyans will tell you that they went through a violent childhood and they “still turned out all right”.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
They will accuse anyone who discourages physical violence of advocating for “foreign” ideologies.
They will argue that only violence ensures that people are disciplined. But no, those of us in mental health will tell you that we did not turn out all right.
Since the unfortunate murder of teacher Daisy Mbaluka, life for most Kenyans has continued as usual.
The Teachers Service Commission has since pulled teachers from the school, and the teachers’ unions have expressed their anger, but the rest of us have not even spent a few moments thinking about the import of this event.
As a matter of fact, the murder only merited some little mention in the media.
Perhaps we have completely lost our sense of humanity, and are now hurtling down towards the precipice at which societies go to die.
Perhaps we have regressed to the primordial existence we had before the great migration out of Africa began.
Perhaps the national conversation we need to have is not a political one as is currently being proposed, but an existential moral and behavioural one.
If a collection of citizens can carry machetes to their children’s school and kill and incinerate a teacher without any serious consequences for them, then we are nothing but just a bunch of barbarians on the loose.
Lukoye Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Moi University School of Medicine; [email protected]