By Jacob Walter
When a former Eastern Provincial Commissioner, Mr Eliud Mahihu, and a Provincial Education Officer, Mr Rees, visited the then Marsabit Primary School in 1964, they requested that the piece of land the school was sitting on be set aside for a secondary school.
The appeal was pegged on the ground that most local parents, whose major mainstay was charcoal vending and pastoralism, would find a caregiving centre for their children while they were going about their errands.
So, in 1965, Marsabit Primary School allotted 12 rooms, to give room to the establishment of Marsabit Secondary School, the first of its kind in the entire Northern Kenya region.
The school enrolled its first cohort of 37 students comprising 34 boys and 3 girls under Allan Massell, a Peace Corps volunteer, as the headteacher.
The school by then had 12 buildings which served as the classrooms, dormitories and teachers quarters sitting on a 40-acre piece of land.
Mr Massell was replaced by Frank Jefferys – a Briton who served for two years and was replaced by Mr David Muito, the first African headteacher who only served for eight months before Mr Job Mulanda who headed the school for two-and-a-half years.
In 1967, the management transformed the institution into a boys’ school, phasing out the girls.
The pioneering class sat the then East African Certificate of Examination in 1968 emerging with average results.
Nine years later, Mr Paul Goto took over only to revert the institution into a mixed secondary school up to 1984 when Marsabit Girls’ Secondary School was established.
Marsabit Boys’ Secondary School saw the setting up of extra “Harambee classrooms” which consequently transformed it into a three streamed boys’ school.
According to one of the founder teachers of the school, Mr Rehman Moghal, who taught Kiswahili and Islamic Religious Studies and also doubled as the boarding master before he retired, the school earned its national outlook through the sterling results it posted between 1970 through to early 1990s.
To many, it became the “Alliance High” of Northern Kenya as it attracted students from all over the country and also excelled academically.
Mr Moghal explained that apart from the students who came from Northern Kenya, a good number of its student population was drawn from Nyanza, Western, Machakos, Kitui, Makueni and Mt Kenya.
The school produced some of the best brains in Kenya, Including former Isiolo Governor Godana Doyo, current Marsabit Deputy Governor Solomon Gubo, former Marsabit Deputy Governor Abdi Omar, former Saku MP Jilloh Falana, former EACC Chairperson Halakhe Dida and former Ambassador to China and Zimbabwe Dr Huka Wario.
Other alumni include the former North Horr MP Bonaya Godana, former Saku MP Abdi Sasura, former Moyale MP Mohammed Galgalo, former Isiolo MP Hersi Jaffani and former Assistant Tourism Minister Halakhe Fayo, among many others.
But in 1986 after the introduction of the 8-4-4 system, its glory began to nosedive.
And the gains made have shockingly continued to fade away over the years.
Mr Moghal attributed the tailspin to the workload that came with the system as 13 subjects were taught, which later dropped to eight.
“This school was one of the best in the entire Northern Kenya region and parents strived to have their children admitted here,’’ Mr Moghal said.
He also blamed the massive slump on the advent of social media that has turned students into anti-social beings.
In an attempt to piece together narratives of what happened to the once excellent learning centre that grew in leaps and bounds only to fade away from the list of the national academic giants, the Nation reached out to the old boys of the school.
Marsabit county Deputy Governor Solomon Gubo, who attended the institution between 1991 and 1994, cited political interference, limited resources, indiscipline, parental negligence and localisation of teachers as some of the major setbacks.
He said the school last produced a big chunk of university-going students in 1996 and 1997 under the leadership of one of the longest-serving principals, Mr Sheriff Abdullahi.
He held that the dismal performance of most of the local schools started when local politicians began having vested interests in who should head local schools.
“Political interference has played a critical role in derailing academic performance, as the politics of who is who and who knows who crept into our local school managements,’’ Mr Gubo said.
Non-local teachers began taking a backseat when their local juniors were promoted to head the schools.
Localisation of students’ admission by the Ministry of Education also led to the local schools being dominated by local students who resorted to speaking their local languages even during school hours.
Lapses in administration and management was also blamed for the dismal performance.
Students never wore uniform or sometimes attended classes in sneakers under the administrations that reigned between 1997 and 2017.
They only took orders from the principal and grossly disregarded and showed indiscipline to other teachers. Sometimes they even pelted teachers with stones at night.
However, all is not lost thanks to Mr Ali Jilloh, the current principal and his deputy Wako Wario, who have strived to take the school back to its former glory.
The two took over the school management in 2018 and maintain that they have a lot to do to restore the school’s lost glory.
However, there are still some serious challenges: An acute water shortage, only one old dining hall that was intended to accommodate 100 but currently houses 447 students, among other dilapidated structures that demoralise students; lack of support from the alumni, poor terraces that easily get muddied whenever there are heavy rains and sometimes negative ethnicity.
Coming from families of illiterate parents, most students took advantage and sometimes even squandered fees and absconded from class.
The school has for many years been forced to operate on debts since the administration only collected Sh5 million against an annual budget of Sh25 million.
Even 35 years after the school’s inception, students cramp themselves up in an old woodwork workshop turned into a makeshift library,
Mr Jilloh also expressed his worry over a gaping valley caused by environmental degradation after a section of locals grabbed a portion of Marsabit Forest thus cutting down all trees.
“Our greatest fear is over this gaping valley that threatens to swallow the entire school compound,’’ Mr Jilloh lamented.
He said that the valley threatens to sink the entire school if timely intervention is not done.
His deputy. Mr Wario, on his part, decried the massive influx of illegal drugs such as bhang, kuber, miraa and cheap liquor in the county, which have seen some students abusing them.
He appealed to the law enforcers to help seal loopholes that allow the peddlers to sell the drugs all over the county.
The two administrators, who are also the institution’s alumni, explained their commitment to restoring the glory and the splendour of the school in the next two years.
They have also appealed to well-wishers to help transform the school into a modern and national centre of excellence in Northern Kenya.