What you need to know:
- Some were underweight, had bilharzia or were high on drugs, while others had brown teeth and weak bones
Hunger, poor diet, weak bones, easily treatable diseases, drunkenness and drugs have locked out hundreds of youth from joining Kenya Defence Forces in the ongoing military recruitment.
Some counties in Northern Kenya could only muster a handful of recruits, who met the required weight of 54.9 Kgs— a problem attributed to persistent food shortages in the region.
In Mandera County, for example, more than half of those who turned up were underweight. Of the five women who had turned up for the recruitment, only two were of the required weight.
In divisions such as Lafey and Arabia, it was reported that of the four candidates who turned up, all were too light to be recruited.
Senior recruiting officer Francis Kiratu said more than half of the candidates in the county were locked out based on weight and height, even before going for the more stringent medical and physical fitness check-ups.
Reflect the health status
“The reports filtering from this military exercise are very illuminating and should be taken seriously because they largely reflect the health status of the youth, and mainly in the marginalised regions,” says Dr Vincent Onywera, a lecturer at Kenyatta University’s Exercise, Recreation and Sports Science Department.
But the problem of underweight and stunting among the youth seems to be more widespread, with majority of candidates who turned up in Naivasha for recruitment failing the two tests.
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Imathe, who led the recruitment, was quoted saying of the more than 1, 000 youth who had turned up, only 60 men and 14 women passed the first stage, most failing to meet the weight requirement.
According to the officer, some of the candidates could not go through because of coloured teeth, a pointer to the possibility of weak bones, most likely because of the high levels of fluoride in the area.
Naivasha also suffers from constant food shortages.
The majority of youth who turned up for the exercise in Malindi and Magarini lost chances because of what recruiters said were signs of bilharzia, which in prevalent in the region.
A significant number of candidates were also disqualified for being high on illicit drugs.
In Limuru, Kiambu County, majority of the youth who turned up were drank despite drinking hours being restricted to after 5.00 pm.
The recruiting team, led by Lt-Col Kelius Mwadimeare, was said to have been shocked by this development though they allowed them to participate in the exercise.
Dr Onywera said underweight and stunting is an emerging problem in Kenya because of worsening food security on one hand, while many urban youth are suffering from too much of the wrong food— and likewise they will lose out in careers demanding high physical fitness.
“My bet is that the military recruiters are likely to be confronted by too thin candidates from the slums and too fat applicants from other estates in urban areas.
“The double problem of malnutrition and obesity among the youth must be addressed especially by the country governments,” he said.
In a study Dr Onywera published last year, he predicted a career crisis within five years indicating that 16.7 per cent of town girls and 6.8 per cent of boys are overweight.
Most of these youngsters, he said, are likely to carry their obesity into adulthood, consequently undermining their competitiveness in careers which demand high physical fitness levels like the armed forces and sports.
“This coupled with stunting and underweight in a significant population of the youth also blunts the country’s capacity to compete effectively in top flight sports activities such as the Olympics.”
National statistics indicate that about 17.5 per cent of Kenyans suffer from chronic food insecurity and poor nutrition with up to 3.5 million in need of food aid during period of crisis.