Note: I submitted this article to the Nation last week but it was not acknowledged, so I shall publish it here now.
It is somewhat rare to find good news relating to the government on most days. The week before last, I had the enviable fortune of applauding the government on two developments that really got me excited. The first was that I stumbled upon a new public service web site called ecitizen.go.ke. The web site, as I understand it, is meant to simplify our access to some of those government services that have been the bane of our interaction with government.
Such activities as registration of business names, announcement of marriage bands, the renewal of drivers licenses have been very difficult for Kenyans to access. Through this new web site, the government promises to add on the number of e-services available to eventually include a wide array of services that will ensure that we do not have to form snakes of queues around government buildings in Nairobi.
This development has been a long time coming and people like myself have worked towards it for at least a decade. As these services become easier to get, the value of corrupt practices will proportionately drop. Look at passport applications: it is so much easier now to get a passport than when I first took my passport a decade ago. The queues are no longer there, the system is efficient and the staff is courteous – and most importantly you get a passport within or around 21 days from when you applied. Ten years ago it would take you months unless you “facilitated” the process – in which case it would take you a day at the expense of everyone else.
“There is nothing like great physical challenges to teach you that life is hard and that you must serve others to make it better.”
The second piece of good news that I caught reading the Nation on my android mobile app (but do I say), was that the government last week re-launched the National Youth Service. At the launch, I read, the president announced that the NYS programmes were being revamped and that they would be drafting 20,000 young people in the next few weeks.
The disappointment that I faced when I rushed to the NYS web site, nys.go.ke, was palpable. As sometimes happens when a launch deadline is due, it would seem the NYS team was a bit unprepared with information for the public. Their Facebook page as well was not illuminating – even a week later. Be that as it may, the relaunch of the National Youth Service is a great thing for this nation and we should all be very excited.
The last group to attend the NYS in its hey day, finished their A’ levels in the 1980s and were required to attend NYS for a year before going to university. Those that I have spoken to inform me that while the bootcamp programme was brutal, they swear that they learnt a great deal about survival and they gained many useful skills.
“My work ethic was instilled in me at NYS,” a colleague told me. He is always in the office by 6am without fail – and by then he has been in the gym for an hour. Yet another recounted to me how her creativity in life was shaped at NYS. “There is nothing like great physical challenges to teach you that life is hard and that you must serve others to make it better.”
My generation, born in the eighties, missed this experience as the NYS wilted in the face of bad governance in the country. There may be a correlation between the near demise of such institutions as the NYS and the non-governmental YMCA, and the sad plight faced by young adults in Kenya today – questionable values and work ethic, dependence on drink and “swag” for validation and low self esteem. Thankfully, the YMCA is also showing signs of reawakening.
The NYS has the added advantage of being a source of labour for important programmes around the country. In my mind’s eye, I am excited to see young people building classrooms, bridges and gabions, replenishing forests and feeding the homeless. I have visions of young ladies learning to drive cranes, tractors and graders on our rural roads and farms as young men teach young children how to read fairy tales.
There is an opportunity here to shore up this country’s capital and invest it in young people in meaningful ways and build their minds and hearts. There is an opportunity to develop young people who find themselves and who become true to themselves and true to their country. As a beneficiary myself in a bootcamp for Young African Leaders, I stand in ovation to the president and his Cabinet Secretary, Anne Waiguru.
Beware, I say to them, this one, you must not fail to excel in.
Post Script: I love the NYS Marketing tagline: “Go on. Be Great!”
Post postscript: It has been pointed out to me by Anne Waiguru’s office, that while the NYS compulsory programme ended in the 80s, NYS continued to recruit about 2000 young people every year. The institutuonal rot made it a sleeping giant which is why they relaunched it. They promised to look into the website and facebook.