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Consider paramilitary training in schools in anti-terror campaign

OPINION
By Robert Wesonga | February 6th 2019

Those who have sat in class in a tertiary institution and beyond are familiar with the adjectives Athenian and Spartan as relates to the orientation of an education a society may elect to offer its children. Even those who are enthusiasts of the history, Literature and philosophy of Greece of antiquity shall be aware of this.

There were two dominant city states in classical Greece: Athens and Sparta. While the former favoured a system of education that tended towards the nourishment of the mind and humane values, the latter gravitated towards military education. For as Athens sought to create the best human being to serve the state in times of both peace and war, Sparta was for the creation of a warrior citizenry that would stand and be counted for their nation in times of war - and these wars, Sparta loved getting into.

As we grapple with combating terrorism, inspiration from Sparta and Greece is instructive. Even though Athenians were peaceful and lovers of philosophy, they awoke to reality and infused the element of the military in their education so as to mitigate the risk of their warring neighbours and rivals the Spartans.

That said, Spartan experience is not entirely alien. Not so long ago, the government prescribed a mandatory National Youth Service for prospective university students. This opportunity, those who attended the service still say, not only availed the energies of the young in providing service to a country that had nurtured them in childhood, but also created human beings with life skills necessary for navigating the challenges of life. That programme was scrapped in the early 1990s in favour of a more voluntary National Youth Service.

Trained soldier

Countries like Israel and South Korea have compulsory basic military training for their young population because of the geopolitical and conflict contexts within which they find themselves. The objective for these countries is not to convert every citizen into a skillfully trained soldier, but to offer basic military knowledge that both creates a standing reserve of trained citizens that could complement the efforts of their military at a moments notice.

For Israel specifically, every citizen is also trained on how to conduct themselves in case of attack from its neighbours. It is obvious that Kenya finds itself in the midst of the global challenge that terrorism has become. Despite the best efforts of the international community and the Kenyan state, Somalia is still unstable, and the border we share is largely porous.

We are basically at war, not with any county, but with terrorism, and for us the Al-Shabaab has become the embodiment of the threat to our country. Whereas calling on our soldiers as the first line of defense has worked, arming citizens with basic skills in response to possible terrorist attacks is an alternative we need to explore.

Brave men

Days following the terrorist attack on a Nairobi hotel complex have left us awed by private citizens who selflessly put their lives in danger in order to complement the job done by the security forces. Our social media platforms, and indeed the mainstream media, have been filled with images of heroes who thought more of others than themselves and stepped in to help rescue over 700 people who had been trapped in the hotel. The most successful of these individuals were those who had knowledge and skills in responding to terrorist attacks.

Inspiring tales of courage from regular citizens who paid the ultimate price as they struggled to save those they found more vulnerable have also been told. Sadly, we have read and watched regrettable narratives of how some of these brave men and women died in a hail of bullets. Although only speculative, it helps to imagine that their chances of survival would have been greater had they basic knowledge and skills on how to help themselves and fellow victims.

It is no secret that the nature of a society's education should be determined by its immediate needs. As the new curriculum begins in primary school, it is time educationists, statesman and the public thought of where in our system we can teach skills relating to response in times of terrorist attacks. Whether this shall be incorporated into the life skills lessons, or see the National Youth Service expanded to absorb all form four leavers, can be a subject for debate.

And for those who think that soft skills of dealing with radicalization are all we need, it will be important to realise that whereas we may implement that in our country, we have little or nothing we can do about radicalization in other countries, especially Somalia.

Now is the time to think of how we can help ourselves and others when disaster strikes, as it keeps striking time and again. Celebrating Inayat Kassams heroism is great; helping him in future will be greater.

Dr. Wesonga is a lecturer in Literature at the University of Kabianga, [email protected]

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