Unconventional Thought: Lives should come before money to prevent school fire outbreaks



The author Raymond Mujuni

There was a pain in my heart when, on the morning of Monday 12th November, I woke up to chats in our newsroom Whatsapp group that a school was on fire in Rakai.

It took us about 15 minutes to establish that the said school was St Bernard Manya Secondary School and that it was, sadly, a boys’ dormitory that was ablaze.

The rest from then on, was a script that we had written in the news for a long time; That the fire brigade arrived late – and was incapacitated to help, that the school lacked the necessary fire emergency response mechanisms and that they had been warned about the same and neglected the warning, that a lot of property worth millions was destroyed and lives numbering eleven had perished in what appears to have been an arson attack

It is still a matter of investigation for what the source of the arson was.

That however will not be my choice of focus – what I think we should discuss is how our institutions are subverted by capital and the danger it portends if it’s not nipped in the bud.

I must state from the onset I am not a rank soldier for capitalism but I acknowledge that it has proven – for at least the time of its running as a force – a capable theory of delivering broad based economic and social growth.

So I won’t argue against it or for it, I will argue for institutions, which – in a democracy like ours – are the light at the end of the tunnel for good governance and the best capable mechanism of limiting the dangers of capitalism.

An institution, if we must define it, is a set of rules that structure social interactions in particular ways. Institutions are said to have an equilibrium and a very specific set of certainty in the way they behave.

The representation of capital in the Rakai fire is the school itself. A private, for profit, education centre selling both an education and societal molding to its clients.

It has, in it, multiple institutions that guarantee smooth running. However, the government, for whose job it is to provide education has an overall oversight role through the district education inspection office

In the Rakai fire, it was established that the inspector’s office had made stern recommendations to the school part of which included spacing the beds to the required 2.6m length and for the installation of a fire extinguisher.

The school, through it’s institutions should have received and acted on this advice and in fact, it shouldn’t have opened its term if it wasn’t in a position to guarantee these provisions.

But it opened anyway. It opened because the threshing demands of quality aren’t stringent enough to nip capital in the bud and until the next school fire, many inspection reports in many districts will not make sense.

To curb these fires or to even minimize the amount of loss and injury, I say, the unconventional thought is to strengthen the institutions that inspect our schools and empower them to nip even the most capital accumulating schools in the bud of standards.

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