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Prof Laban Ayiro Launches Book on Arson in Kenyan Secondary Schools

Vie-chancellor Prof. Laban P Ayiro giving his address at the closing ceremony of  the 23rd Nairobi International Book Fair - September 1, 2022

On 5th October, the Vice-chancellor, Prof. Laban P. Ayiro was a guest of honour and panel discussant at the launch  of a new book, Burning Ambition: Education, Arson, and Learning Justice in Kenya authored by Dr. Elizabeth Cooper, a social anthropologist who conducts research concerning children and youth, education, violence, and inequality, with a primary focus to Kenya.


Other members of the panel were Prof. Wandia Njoya, a senior lecturer in Literature and French and former Head of the Department of Language and Performing Arts at Daystar University,  

Dr. Hildah Oburu, Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Nairobi, and  Mr. Nelson Havi, a lawyer and immediate former president of the Law Society of Kenya (2020-2022).


Burning Ambition explores how young people learn to understand and influence the workings of power and justice in their society. Since 2008, hundreds of secondary schools across Kenya have been targeted with fire by their students. Through an in-depth study of Kenyan secondary students’ use of arson, Elizabeth Cooper asks why. With insightful ethnographic analysis, she shows that these young students deploy arson as moral punishment for perceived injustices and arson proves an effective tactic in their politics from below. Drawing from years of research and a rich array of sources, Cooper accounts for how school fires stoke a national conversation about the limited means for ordinary Kenyans, and especially youth, to peacefully influence the governance of their own lives. Further, Cooper argues that Kenyan students’ actions challenge the existing complacency with the globalized agenda of “education for all,” demonstrating that submissive despondency is not the only possible response to the failed promises of education to transform material and social inequalities.

“A fascinating account of the multiple and sometimes perplexing reasons Kenyan students give for burning and seeking to destroy an institution ostensibly designed to help them: the school. A brilliant and gifted writer, Cooper delivers a significant contribution to anthropological studies of politics and development. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the social and political tensions surrounding school violence in Kenya and anywhere”, says Amy Stambach, author of Faith in Schools: Religion, Education, and American Evangelicals.

The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Fred Nasubo, a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the British Institute in Eastern Africa.


The book can be order online at or A desk can obtained from

Orders must be placed direct and fully prepaid (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, cheque or money order made payable to University of Wisconsin Press). Books are nonreturnable and cannot be resold. Additional tax and shipping charges may apply.