CAPT. (RTD) COLLINS WANDERI
On 1st June 2015 President Uhuru Kenyatta commissioned of a group of 7,000 National Youth Service (NYS) service men and women for deployment into national youth empowerment programmes all over the country.
Apart from engaging in national reconstruction programmes such as improving informal settlements; building water pans and drilling boreholes in Arid and Semi-arid Land areas; and carrying out vector control programmes, they are also expected to mentor and empower fellow youth and stimulate patriotism in their areas of operation.
This action by the president could not have come at a better time. Kenya is grappling with massive youth unemployment and there is genuine concern that Al Shabaab militants have exploited this situation to bolster their ranks and spread their extremist agenda. Leaders from the former North Eastern Province have publicly claimed that marginalisation and youth unemployment are the main reasons Al Shabaab is able to easily recruit members and spread radicalisation in the region.
The spectre of hordes of able bodied young people hanging around notorious neighbourhoods in Nairobi and other major towns of Kenya without something to do should be a cause for worry for everybody in government. Failure by national and devolved governments to establish deliberate and sustainable empowerment programs for youth who constitute a major segment of the population can easily generate feelings of marginalisation and social exclusion. Global statistics indicate that there is a direct correlation between youth unemployment and marginalisation; and crimes against property and political violence. In many countries of Africa politicians have exploited gullible unemployed youth to create ethnic militias and vigilante groups which have committed serious atrocities in sectarian violence fuelled by competition for political power.
When NYS was established in 1964 it was supposed to train young people in tasks of national importance, including service in the Defence Forces, national reconstruction programmes and disaster response. For about 20 years, it was compulsory for high school graduates to go through NYS before they joined university.
The program was abandoned in the late 1980s at the height of agitation for political pluralism and not much was heard of NYS until May 2014 when Anne Waiguru, the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning announced that NYS was planning to recruit and train 21,870 youth annually to curb youth unemployment, crime and radicalisation. On 18th July, 2013 Senate had unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Hon. Beatrice Elachi seeking to re-introduce compulsory national youth service in Kenya. It is not clear whether this law is related to this fresh effort by government to re-launch NYS.
Inability to access relevant and quality education is considered as the main cause for youth unemployment. However access to university and college education may not guarantee formal employment either. In most cases, formal education is not sufficiently designed to the requirements of industry. Global studies indicate a rising discrepancy between the skills graduates learn in college and those required in the workplace. Mandatory post-high school or pre-employment national service can help bridge this gap. Whereas it may be considered undemocratic and oppressive by sections of the political elite and civil society, compulsory non-combat national service modelled in the system used in Israel and Nigeria may be Kenya’s only way out the dilemma of pervasive youth unemployment.
In Israel, youth aged between 18 and 21 who do not wish to join the military are recruited into the national service and trained to provide services such as special education, public administration, legal aid, care for the old and destitute; horticulture, nursing, public health and sanitation; rehabilitation of drug addicts and national security inter alia. Israel has used this program to bolster its national security and transform its deserts into arable land through irrigation and the country is now a net exporter of staple food and horticultural products.
In Nigeria University and National Polytechnic graduates are required to participate in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program for one year. To enhance patriotism and national unity, graduates are deployed to areas far from their homes and are expected to learn the culture of the people in their areas of deployment.
The program has helped young Nigerians to gain entry into the job market. Similarly, compulsory national youth service in Kenya can be used to empower young people who cannot access college education due to historical; economic or social disadvantages as well as graduates who lack practical skills suitable for the job market.
Capt. (Rtd) Wanderi is the chairperson, Kenya Institute of Forensic Auditors (KeIFA)