DESPERATE TIMES, DESPERATE MEASURES

Graduate: I tarmacked till I said ‘Uhuru saidia’

Aspiring credit officer reached out to Uhuru to ‘fix’ him a post in vain

In Summary

• John Mwae, who got a degree 13 years ago, says misrule kills dreams of employment

• He urges graduates to upskill and freelance instead of complaining degree is useless

Image: STAR ILLUSTRATED

I read with interest the July 17 article by Nabila Hatimy in the Star, where she questions the value of a bachelor’s degree. She graphically describes how, as she looks at her degree from her desk, she wonders whether it is worth the value.

She sees emerging digital skills and online learning as better alternatives to traditional learning. In other words, acquiring highly specialised skills that often take a shorter time is the way to go. The question, however, is whether that is necessarily the case.

As a graduate myself, I can relate to her experience. There is nothing as frustrating as seeking a formal job after spending four years in university. So, I agree with her conclusion that in the face of the ongoing joblessness pandemic, over time, the effort, resources and time spent on acquiring a degree might not be worth the effort.

However, in my view, a degree is not useless for lack of intrinsic value, but due to poor governance and failure to adapt to emerging realities as a country. As such, the economic conditions created by chaotic and lazy governance make the effort and resources spent on acquiring formal education appear a waste.

Like Hatimy, I graduated in 2008 but could not get a serious job. I always envisioned myself working as a credit officer way back, and that is why I did agricultural economics. However, the big dreams soon started to fade as soon as I graduated and came face to face with the reality of the joblessness situation in Kenya.

The only thing I got was teaching high school as an employee of the board. However, in between teaching, I was busy sending resumes all over the place.

Eventually, I decided to stop applying blindly and change tack. This time, I figured out I need an influential person in government to “fix” me a place. That is how I tried to contact now-President Uhuru Kenyatta via his aides back in 2009, when he was the Minister of Finance. 

Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta during celebrations to mark Labour Day at Uhuru Park, Nairobi
Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta during celebrations to mark Labour Day at Uhuru Park, Nairobi
Image: PSCU

As fate would have it, however, that failed, too.

And so here I am in 2021, 13 years since I graduated and without formal employment.

TURNING POINT

After a lot of frustration, I found redemption in my reasonably good writing skills, and that is how I ended up being an online freelance writer, writing anything from gardening, reviewing tech gadgets and much more. There are many graduates like me who earn from online work.

Writing is not for everyone, but the good thing is that there are many skills one can learn online. For instance, graphic design and programming skills can be learned online easily, and there are many people all over the world looking for app or web developers and designers. So there is ready work.

From my experience as a freelancer for almost a decade now, those who have succeeded with online gigs and digital skills tend to be graduates or have formal learning. I think that is to be expected because when you have a degree, you are in a much better position to take advantage of online opportunities.

Formal learning is, therefore, useful and not a waste or useless. If you have a degree in computer science, for instance, you can easily pick application development skills in no time. 

Those who have succeeded with online gigs and digital skills tend to be graduates or have formal learning. Formal learning is, therefore, useful and not a waste
John Mwea

But online work is not the only thing there is. Technical skills learned in colleges are useful and in demand as well. My years without a formal job have taught me that it is better to acquire technical skills in a college instead of pursuing a largely theoretical degree in a university.

I reckon that the problem with degrees in Kenya is that the economy is becoming less formal over time, but our system trains people for an economy that no longer exists. Therefore, the focus should be on formalising the economy so it can create decent jobs.

When I talk of formalising the economy, I am thinking of industries such as the tea sector and its string of factories, which is the largest manufacturing concern in Kenya. Those plants have given thousands of people decent and formal jobs. However, instead of investing in formalising the economy, the government is doing the opposite.

A case in point is the milk and coffee industries and how the government and its operatives deliberately ruined them in the 80s and 90s. Today, we are also importing basic foodstuffs, such as eggs and maize. As our urban centres grow, formalising the agriculture sector can create good jobs for young people.

In terms of governance, look no further than the police and law enforcement agencies.

They spend most of their time harassing businesspeople like bar owners instead of tracking real criminals, such as land grabbers, those squatting on land that belongs to others, and so on.

WAY FORWARD

So, from my perspective, so many things are just wrong in Kenya. For me, if I was asked to propose changes. I would first decentralise power further and make tribe the principal unit of devolution or federalism. All the rich countries tend to be racially/ethnically homogenous, and that is why they are more meritorious. Ethnic or racial homogeneity shifts discourse from petty politicking to real issues.

However, as things stand now in Kenya, tribal competition crowds out everything else. In the meantime, we continue to blame politicians where they themselves are unable to do anything for fear of losing power, being outfoxed by their competitors from other tribes or alienating their core supporters.

My conclusion, therefore, is that education is important at the personal level. The nation also requires educated people to develop. However, to progress, our leaders need to think outside the box, but the first thing is what we need to embrace our differences and use that to create a nation.

For jobless graduates, it is time to pick new skills, so Hatimy is right on that one.

Edited by T Jalio

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