IN the last one year, Kenyas have been treated to subtle but very significant developments in the National Youth Service (NYS).
In July last year (2013) Kenya’s Senate passed a law that brings back NYS conscription for high school graduates. Previously, the pre-university service was voluntary. But with the new law, all high school graduates will be required to sign up for the NYS, and undergo a program that give young people vocational training, instil patriotism and empower them to help safeguard the country. What did not escape keen political observers is that the law was sponsored, passed and implemented by Jubilee aligned senators. Of course the Jubilee president very promptly assented to it.
This was followed by a massive national recruitment into NYS in January 2014, one whose outcome is believed to have led to the ouster of Rugut as the Director of NYS. Even within the Jubilee government itself, there is sustained effort to strengthen one partner at the expense of weakening others, while simultaneously creating a county-based powerful structure of presidential authoritarianism using the provincial administration.
Globally, an increasing number of young people are enrolling into civilian or non-military national services, generally referred to as National Youth Services. Civilian national services have been instituted for varying reasons, such as to foster national unity; to make conscription more equitable; to provide young people with experience, perhaps to improve their employability; to achieve certain social objectives, such as helping poor people or the environment; or to allow students to fund their education.
It’s a poorly kept secret that since independence, the insecure ruling elite routinely misused recruitment into police, military, NYS and KWS rangers to protect their individual interests and to favour certain regions in the republic. A survey by an American scholar in 2002 on Kenya’s coup prevention strategies found that both Presidents Jomo Kenyatta and and Daniel Arap Moi “each set up a paramilitary organisation as a counterweight and rival to the other regular services of the military”. Kenyatta bet big on the General Service Unit (also then known as FFU or Fanya Fujo Uone), and Moi on the dreaded Special Branch that is the present National Security Intelligence. They both filled the ranks with their tribesmen and lavished them with goodies at the expense of professionalism.
Experts are quick attribute the deteriorating insecurity in Kenya to, amongst other factors, the simmering discontent running deep in lower cadres of regular police who for several years now have been poorly remunerated, under-equipped, over-worked, and with non-existent terms of service; all at the expense of their bosses and their favoured counterparts in Administration Police.
Between 2005-2007, the Kenya Administration Police emerged from the shadows and morphed into a feared combat force, complete with an aviation department for aerial patrols, advanced anti-riot gear and speedboats for marine surveillance, with its annual budget rivaling that of the regular police and leaving the military forces anxiously glancing over their shoulders. Kibaki was clearly following in the footsteps of Kenyatta and Moi – creating a tribal personal army within the AP.
Thus, in the run-up to the contentious 2007 General Elections, thousands of AP officers were summoned to their training college in Nairobi for an undisclosed mission. These officers swore an oath, even as their colleagues from a certain region were ejected from the camp. It turned out that they were to act as poll agents of President Kibaki’s Party of National Unity. Others were assigned official duties with the disbanded Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK). The APs were further shocked by the appearance of a commissioner and top officials of ECK who trained them on how to stuff ballot papers.
A stunned nation then watched in shock as KTN played a clip in which fleets of buses provided by local company transport Citti Hoppa, owned by a deceased PNU politician, departed the AP camp in Embakasi carrying hundreds of AP officers to ferry them to their stations for electoral and political duties during the December elections. This mission ended in disaster for Kibaki and PNU.
Following Jubilee government assumption of office, and with 2017 electoral cycle just around the corner, the present regime is seemingly not leaving anything to chance. It does not escape anyone’s attention that the same security chiefs who advised President Kibaki are the same security chiefs still advising President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto. Like Kibaki in 2007, Uhuru is desperate to be re-elected in 2017, and has gone public to guarantee that his re-election in 2017 is a done deal and the rest should wait! So what’s the plan with NYS? Why replace the Director with a Kibaki insider just at the same time increase the budget? The NYS budget has more than doubled in this financial year to over Ksh 6 billion up from over ksh 3 billion the previous year. Further to this, the Chinese Prime Minister reportedly pledged a Ksh. 30 billion grant to NYS during his visit there accompanied by the Deputy President. This amount far exceeds the annual budget of the National Police, and constitutes a significant proportion of the annual defence budget. Is this money merely to train recruits to “excavate dams and undertake minor road repairs?”
It is against this background that the goings on in NYS should be viewed. Like PNU before it, the Jubilee government is planning huge numbers for youth recruitment for NYS paramilitary training under guise of an amorphous youth empowerment programme known as “Catalyze Transformative Youth Empowerment in Kenya”. Jubilee have already enacted statutes that guarantees them numbers into the training programme. The law is vague on the exact content of training for these recruits and how the state utilizes the new graduates.
For starters, Kenyans must bear in mind ‘paramilitary’ is a militarised force or other organization whose organizational structure, training, subculture, and often function are similar to those of a professional state military, but which is not considered part of a state’s formal armed forces. In layman terms, youth are being trained to be soldiers but not really be accountable to the Armed Forces or Police Acts, but be entirely left at the whims of the executive.
The devolution and planning cabinet secretary Ms Anne Waiguru, now widely considered to be the most powerful in Uhuru’s kitchen cabinet, revealed that the NYS plans to recruit and train 21,870 youths annually, through what she called a “National Service” and that these servicemen and women will ‘disciple’ 227,670 youths per year. The 227,670 youths will then “serve the nation” for between 4 to 6 months as paid labour under the supervision of the 21,870. These numbers break down to 10,935 biannually. Question is: How do these numbers fit with number of polling stations and polling streams in perceived opposition strongholds? What exactly does the NYS training entail? There are numerous ways such graduates can be used to skew the political platform.
According to Ms Waiguru, the start date for each cohort will be in July and January, and graduation to happen in November and May of each year. This means that there is an impending massive recruitment to NYS in the next few weeks. Waiguru further says that every six months a set of “Huduma Corps” comprising 10,935 recruits will graduate and after paramilitary training, youth will transfer to developmental activities such as building of small dams and water pans and integrated road construction. Sounds all good isn’t it? But which law has been enacted to monitor these recruits beyond their graduation?
Another red flag in the NYS program is the state’s proposal to create a security firm within NYS, ostensibly where Kenyans can hire NYS security guards to supplement the work of police. According to Ms Waiguru, NYS Security wing is intended to provide a sustainable alternative to militia groups and vigilantes. Did parliament debate and approve this? What is the scope of NYS towards providing civilian security and which law will NYS security men operate under? Will they be armed? What is the structure?
In 2005-2007 the opposition wasted too much energy basking on 2005 referendum victory and grew complacent, only to be caught sleeping with widespread electoral rigging whose foundations were traced back to administration police recruitment and training by Kriegler and Waki commissions. In 2013, the rigging was mainly digital with main protagonist were all focused in government duties of the grand coalition.
Why would CORD allow Uhuru to single handedly define the NYS paramilitary program without questioning its intentions and demanding a clear, equitable and transparent recruitment, training and deployment? Can CORD demand an independent audit of the January 2014 recruitment at NYS (including those of police and army) to be conducted? How about criteria for deployment into frontlines, how is it done? Who do some get UN and diplomatic missions abroad while others are consigned to sure death in Baragoi and Somalia? Lack of youth employment ranks third after inflation and insecurity on issues that the nation feel are the most serious according to the recent survey of by IPSOS Synovate. This means joblessness is a major problem that bedevils all counties and all regions and such recruitment must be equitable and fair.
In 2017, let not the opposition CORD be caught asleep when thousands of “empowered” NYS graduates, labelled by Ms Waiguru as “Huduma Corps”, are unleashed for political and paramilitary errands. There is ample time to counter these moves using legal and political methods.