Life is heartbreaking for a poor child in the developing world

Tuesday September 21 2021
To be a child and poor in the developing world, every month is a sinister month.

To be a child and poor in the developing world, every month is a sinister month. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


“It must be horrible to be buried in October,” says the colonel’s wife, a character in Gabriel Marquez’s novella, No one Writes to the Colonel.

But for children around the world, and especially those in Africa, August must surely be the sinister month.

From children in eastern Congo, running the gauntlet of murderous militia, to children in Nigeria, victims of abductions by criminal gangs and jihadist Boko Haram, from child victims of war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region to children in jihad-ravaged northern Mozambique, and to girls in Afghanistan, who must now subscribe to stone-age notions of morality, August must have been a particularly sinister month.

And as if August had not seen enough atrocities committed against children, teachers at Thiru Primary School in Nyahururu tied three children to a post in the school yard as punishment.

The picture, which horrified Kenyans, shows pupils, aged probably between seven and 12, tied together to a post.

The pupils stand with their backs against the post. A rope goes around their small bodies from the chest to their thighs. It is not known how long the children were left in the sun.


The horrifying picture evoked past and recent history. For older folks, the picture brought memories of executions in some post-independence African countries when real or imagined opponents were tied to posts in a similar manner and executed by firing squad.

The picture also evoked the slave trade. In Elmina Castle on Ghana’s Gold Coast, visitors can see iron rings in the concrete yard to which recalcitrant slaves were chained and left for days in the searing West African sun.

On arrival in the New World, erring slaves as depicted accurately in 12 years a Slave in which Lupita Nyong’o stars, would be hanged from a tree, their toes barely touching the ground, and left for hours.

The extreme treatment of the children in Thiru also evoked a more recent memory— the gassing of children at the Lang’ata Primary School in 2015. On that ignoble day, children and their parents were protesting theft of their school field by a high-ranking government official.

Heavily armed police lobbed teargas canisters in the midst of children. Pictures of unconscious children — some as young as seven — being rushed to ambulances shocked the world. Even the Pope, on his visit to Kenya, would refer to the incident.

Local newspapers juxtaposed images of the Lang’ata children being carried to ambulances with pictures of injured Soweto children being carried to hospitals after Apartheid police shot into crowds of children in 1976.

The children gassed at Lang’ata were from poor homes. The children tied to a post and left to bake in the sun like slaves, too, are from poor families.

Their shoes are worn out and one even wears old dirty plastic slip-ons. Their poverty, like their punishment, is heartbreaking. To be a child and poor in the developing world, every month is a sinister month.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator