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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

National Service trainings should be an engine for poverty alleviation

14th May 2012

Sometimes last, the government announced that the compulsory National Service will be rejuvenated and registration would start in the coming financial year. According to the minister, the revival of the programme is a result of public demand for its revival after appreciation of its positive work done previously in inculcating into country’s youth the value of patriotism, solidarity, equality, physical fitness and value for labor work including manual work among elites…

The program is not new in Tanzania or elsewhere in the world. Many developed and developing countries have various forms of national service depending on their socio-economic needs.

National service is the usual term for compulsory military service programmes in countries including Austria, Denmark, Greece, Guyana, Israel, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Finland, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey. Conscription in the United States was called Selective Service and continued until 1973. Most NATO countries discontinued obligatory military service in the 1970s. Israel was the only country to conscript young women as well as young men for military service in the late 20th century.

India has a separate programme called the National Service Scheme (NSS) in which students from primary level to graduate level participate. In some Indian colleges (like IITs), it is a compulsory part of curricula.

In the 21st century, an increasing number of young people are enrolling in 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. Civilian national services have been formed in over 30 countries.

Some of countries with such programmes include: named as China's Poverty Alleviation Relay Project;  New Zealand's Conservation Corps; Nigeria's National Youth Service Corps; Singapore's National Cadet Corps; National Youth Service (Seychelles); National Youth Service (Zimbabwe); United Kingdom's Community Service Volunteers; just to mention a few examples.

It should be noted that in Tanzania, the programme is coming back against the backgrounds of changed social, political and economic settings, calling also for adjustments to meet the requirements of the times, without diluting the core values of the programme. In Seychelles, the “National Youth Service” (NYS) was formerly compulsory and included traditional educational curriculum, political education and paramilitary training. However, it was a heavily-criticized program by the Seychellois opposition on the grounds that it allegedly indoctrinated young adults with the ruling Seychelles People's Progressive Front's socialist ideology and that it rarely allowed its participants to visit their families. We do not expect such happenings in Tanzania.

I attended National Service programme for one year at Ruvu JKT camp between July 1990 to June 1991. Apart from paramilitary tactics training, various other trainings in agriculture including poultry keeping, arts and construction were provided. We produced rice, vegetable, poultry meat, eggs and other agricultural products such that the camp managed to feed itself and sell variety of products to various customers in Dar es Salaam and neighboring regions. However, I am still wondering why the programme collapsed, given that the huge labor force was able to produce in surplus. It is clear that the management of the productions at these camps was poor and lead to misuse/ embezzlement of resources.

In Tanzania people who have attended and not attended JKT have different opinions on revival of National Service,  from both groups there are those who support by claiming that it is useful  for promoting national unity, citizenship education, as well as life and vocational skills buildings. On the other side, the group which oppose this program claim that the previous experience with this programme has shown that it was consuming a lot of resources with very little social and economic returns. Moreover, some people who attended this programme claim that they did not get any sort of vocational training apart from a series of tortureous experiences from Afandes.

I could agree with both camps especially those who attended the programme and obtained hands on experience of its usefulness or unusefulness according to therir opinions.

However, as the revival of the national service programme seem to be a reality now, I am sure we are not in a position to oppose it but the most important issue is to try to come up with concrete issues on success and failures of national service programme in order to use these issues for lobbying and advocacy to ensure that the up coming National Service programme is effective and efficient and provide high returns both socially and economically.

Below I present some ideas on how tha National Service programme can be used as an engine towards supporting implementation of poverty alleviation programmes such as MKUKUTA.

National Service programme should not only expose attendees to military training but also to prepare the attendees to provide technical support to other programmes which can support development programmes especially in areas where most technical staff are not available.

On the other side, we have observed that graduates in various fields such as education, arctitecture, engineering, health, agriculture, community development, law and others have stranded for years looking for jobs in vain.Tthere are opinions that the government can utilise National Service programme as a trade off for students education various levels of education especially in colleges and universities.

Instead of paying loans graduates are enrolled in National Service camps for few months say six months whereby ther are given special training on volunteerism and later deployed to various areas in the country which do not have adequate professionals in various fields such as health, education, agriculture and so on. These volunteers will work in the specified areas for say three years before are allowed to request for transfer. If they are found competent and effective then they can obtain automatic employment in the government. During the time of volunteerism thay will be paid as employees and provided with necessary services such as accommodation. This will support retaining of these graduates in the areas of deployment.
This exercise will support to curb the problem of inadequate professionals in rural areas, while at the same time will provide adequate working skills and experiences to new graduates.

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is an organisation set up by the Nigerian government to involve the country's graduates in the development of the country. There is no military conscription in Nigeria, but since 1973 graduates of universities and later Polytechnics have been required to take part in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program for one year[1]. This is known as national service year.

"Corp" members are posted to cities far from their areas of origin. They are expected to mix with people of other tribes, social and family backgrounds, to learn the culture of the indigenoues as well as supporting developemnt programmes in the place they are posted to. This action is aimed to bring about unity in the country, to help youths appreciate other ethnic groups as well as provide an opportunity for youth to utilise their skills in supporting national development programmes.

There is an "Orientation" period of approximately three weeks spent in a camp away from family and friends. There is also a "passing out ceremony" at the end of the year and primary assignment followed by one month of vacation.

In Nigeria, the program has also helped in creating entry level jobs for a lot of Nigerian youth. An NYSC forum dedicated to the NYSC members was recently built to bridge the gap amongst members serving across Nigeria and also an avenue for corpers to share job information and career resources as well as getting loans from the National Directorate Of Employment.
National service programme can also be utilise to boost skills for artists, athletes and sports men and women. We have currently seen that arts, athletics and sports have become one of the major source of employment. Though not professionally trained, our local artists and sportsmen/ women have managed to utilise their skills in obtaining income, such that at some extent they have now managed own houses, cars, businesses and other social and economic returns which have provided necessities for themselves and their families. We cannot deny that arts, atghletics and sports have part to play in poverty reduction as the financial circulation in these businesses is high and therefore can support in income generation.

The national service can also be a place to promote arts, sports and athletic skills by intriducing special professional trainings which can attract young people to join in and thereafter become professional artists, athletics and sportsmen and women.

On the management of camps and production activities, there is a need to establish effective systems for controlling mis use of resources and abuse of power in order to ensure that the programme does not end up  as previously was. This goes with ensuring that the training programmes in the camps are well designed, structured and delivered to ensure the target groups obtain necessary skills while the programme objectives are met, without compromising their human rights.

It is my opinion that the National Service  could be a very useful programme in becoming an engine in supporting poverty alleviation strategies in country by providing adequate and necessary skills to the attendees who are later going to be deployed in various areas to support implementation of development programmes such as Kilimo Kwanza, education for all, improved health services and many others.
The writer Masozi David Nyirenda is a Specialist in Education Management, Planning, Economics of Education and Policy Studies; he is reached through 0754304181 or [email protected]

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