Let’s remain vigilant over Jubilee’s designs to misuse the youth service

Saba Saba is a few days away. I write today’s essay in memory of Saba Saba. It was an important landmark in our struggle for the Second Liberation. But it was not the only one. It is the most celebrated.

It reminds us of how important it was for a few patriots to dare lead wananchi in demanding democracy and constitutional liberalism rather than live like slaves under the politically oppressive and economically exclusive Kanu regime. Success was not easy to come by: more repression followed after Saba Saba: some leaders were locked up, some were killed, while others went into exile but the struggle continued.

I write this essay today in honour of my fellow Young Turks and the six elders we worked with to make multi-party politics a reality in Kenya in 1992 after close to 30 years of authoritarian rule. These Young Turks were Raila Amolo Odinga, Paul Muite, James Orengo, Gitobu Imanyara, Joe Ager, Mukhisa Kituyi and I. The six elders who dared stood up to the Kanu regime were Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Masinde Muliro, Phillip Gachoka, Salim Mohammed Barmaritz, George Nthenge and Martin Shikuku.

We did not free Kenya from authoritarian rule by manipulating any state apparatus: we did so by mobilising the people of Kenya into a broad and popular national democratic movement called The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) in Kenya. We believed—and still believe—that this broad popular national democratic movement is still necessary to safeguard the democratic gains of the Second Liberation such as the Constitution and its embodiment of individual and people’s rights, devolution and development with equity and inclusivity.

But as I write this essay the ruling coalition has put in place a sinister project to claw back our democratic gains and to stall the implementation of devolution. Unfortunately this is being done by a Ministry in charge of Devolution and Planning. Let me explain.

More than a year ago the Jubilee government decided to expand the National Youth Service as an enterprise of training youths to undertake public works and political mobilisation on behalf of the ruling coalition as the Kibera case now reveals. The number of recruits into the NYS has grown from less than 10,000 in 2013 to over 30,000 currently. The idea is to recruit more.

The NYS budget has likewise gone up exponentially, hitting close to Sh28 billion in the current budget. This is at a time when we need more in the police force, more in the army to guard our territorial boundaries and more efficiency in our intelligence services. All this cost money, and any budgetary allocation should take into account the global national interest and the project of building the Kenyan nation.

The original idea was that once the youths are trained they will be posted to the various counties where they will undertake public works and reach out to fellow youths. In the final analysis a “cell system” will logically emerge which can be used for effective political mobilisation.

Since the youths are also given para-military training, this cell system could easily turn into a powerful militia ready to be mobilised effectively against political opponents. We could then easily have the Kenyan version of Haiti’s “ton ton macoutes” that destroyed any semblance of constitutional governance and democracy in that island during the days of Papa Doc.

Since we have not fully recovered from the debacle of the December 2007 elections and the post-election violence that followed, I would rather the Jubilee government erred on the side of caution and called off this NYS project. It is ill thought out, unnecessarily expensive, divisive within the security apparatuses of the state and is likely to be misused by the authoritarian tendencies in the Jubilee administration.

Article 4 of our Constitution states that “(1) Kenya is a sovereign Republic. (2) The Republic of Kenya shall be a multi-party democratic State founded on the national values and principles of governance referred to in Article 10.”

In my articles in the past two weeks I have dwelt at length on the significance of Article 10. Let me today concentrate on this issue of being a “multi-party democracy founded on the principles of good governance” and go further to show why and how the NYS project is bound to undermine in letter and spirit this Article in our Constitution.

First and foremost quite a good number of our youths are unemployed; they could very well do with some training in our polytechnics to undertake the public works that the NYS, with para-military training, is doing. In other words, youths do not need military training in order to obtain skills so as to be employed productively. Institutions already exist for such skills development.

Secondly, in the event that youths have to rely on nothing other than their paramilitary training and they are not serving in the disciplined forces, this country will be in serious problems. We are all aware of the origins of Al-Shabaab in this country. We are preparing another recipe for yet another Al-Shabaab-like recurrence, only this time it will be in the service of a narrow minded elite determined to have state power without going through the competitive process of party politics.

Remember Article 4 says that we are a multi-party democracy where legitimate power is acquired through free and fair elections. An election that is engineered through the manipulation of state apparatus and the use of a militia or the military to determine its outcome undermines the letter and spirit of our Constitution. In 2007 there was a concerted attempt to use the Administration Police to influence voting in Nyanza; it was thwarted at inception. Later, however, the same Administration Police was used to influence the counting of votes at the KICC—the consequence was disastrous.

It would help Kenya if all players seeking to govern this country agreed to go through the difficult process of building political parties and competing for the people’s votes openly in the political arena. If free and fair elections are then guaranteed by a truly independent electoral commission our democracy will no doubt thrive.

But using quasi-military outfits like the NYS to subvert the democratic process will only land this nation in trouble and the gains of the Second Liberation will be pushed back by more than three decades. That is why, in celebrating the achievements of the Young Turks and the patriots of Saba Saba, I would like to appeal to the Jubilee Government to call off the NYS project. Let our youths go.