The first nation-state in modern history was formed during the French revolution. After deposing of the King, the revolutionaries were facing threats from supporters of the old monarchical regime. To ward off the counter attack, they needed a large and powerful army.
Conscription made that possible. Soldiers were amassed from all parts of the First French Republic. The Jourdan Law of 1798 stipulated that “Any Frenchman is a soldier and owes himself to the defence of the Nation.” It demonstrates how conscription was essential to creating a national identity. In practice, up to 1,108,300 soldiers were recruited to the French army, making it the largest European army, which crushed the resistance to the revolution, and which enabled Napoleon Bonaparte to make huge territorial gains and change the old political order of Europe.
It is only thanks to our ability to unite around a common identity and to work together in large numbers that we can ever achieve a grand shared vision. None of us is stronger than the mighty lion, more fierce than the leopard, or faster than the cheetah. When wildebeests face them as individuals, they fall. Facing them together, they can stand strong, they can survive.
In Kenya, today we have no need for conscription. Facing no real military threats, our Commander-in-Chief President Kenyatta, can be satisfied with the lean staffing of our Defence Forces, mostly deployed in peacekeeping missions around the world. Thanks to Uhuru’s strong diplomacy of building unity across the East Africa Community and Africa more broadly, as well as his commitment to dialogue to resolve any outstanding dispute with our neighbours, our youth are free to live and grow in peace without having to raise arms to defend our collective values and interests.
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But the privilege of living in a country without war, does not mean we have reached the promised land. Our country still suffers from inequality, crime, poverty, food insecurity and epidemics. Just like the French had to work as a collective to fend off their rivals, just as none of us could beat a lion or outrace a cheetah alone – we can only achieve prosperity by working together.
In his speech to the nation, President Kenyatta spoke of achieving “social justice, inclusivity and access for all,” “environmental sustainability… intergenerational equity and… a strong rules-based international system.” This democratic and noble vision is served by the concrete goals of the Big Four agenda: food security, affordable housing, universal healthcare and manufacturing.
The ambitious plans for our country cannot rely solely on the massive investments directed into universal health coverage, affordable housing, enhancement of food security and boosting the manufacturing sector. They can never be achieved by a single politician or by counting on good chance.
We can only realise the Big Four if we act in solidarity. Our youth have a crucial role to play. As a first step, this group would need to commit to acquire the essential education and professions that our country really needs.
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Data shows that only 22 per cent of university students are pursuing courses that contribute to the Big Four. According to a report recently published by the Commission for University Education (CEU) and Kenya National Qualification Framework Authority, there is a troubling mismatch between university courses and the needs of our economy. Young men and women prefer courses in business administration and education (arts), while the construction, finance and medical sectors desperately need qualified workers.
This must change. Our youth must put aside some of their own narrow and perhaps shortsighted interests. Just like past generations could not choose which battlefield they were to fight upon, so too our youth cannot be too picky about the courses they take. If we are to succeed on the global stage, leap over the pitfalls of poverty and overcome the anguish of disease, housing and food insecurity and unemployment, we need everyone on board – and above all our youth.
- The writer is a banker