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Why ethics is leisure in the face of unemployment

Kenyans don’t watch the ‘Hunger Games’, they live them

In Summary

• We live in a world so brutal that we would do anything to survive

Hustler nation
Hustler nation

BBC News Africa recently posted a report on Kenyan ‘ghostwriters’, who do assignments and research papers for university students around the world. Although it is not illegal, the news segment tried to angle the featurette on its ‘unethical’ grounds.

The reporters interviewed several young Kenyans who were unemployed and used these online writing opportunities as a means for survival, even though they hold various degrees from prestigious universities.

What angered me was the fact that such reports are always one-sided. The story did not focus on the ‘lazy students’ from abroad, who are willing to pay any amount to have their work done for them. They did not focus on the owners of such platforms, who pay writers measly sums, yet the online writing industry is worth billions of dollars. The entire story was angled around desperate unemployed young Kenyans who did ‘unethical’ work to survive.

If ethics was a determining factor in our will to survive, then most of us would not exist. It is true that Kenyan are some of the hardest working hustlers the world has ever seen. A Kenyan can juggle several jobs just to make ends meet. It is not because we love to work this hard, but the unrelenting hand of hardship pushed us to extremes. It has not always been so.

I remember a time when I naively dreamt about the future. That feeling of the beginning of the rest of my life as I joined university. The feeling of starting the journey towards living the dream. Somehow, we associate what we study to fulfilling our dreams because we are told it is the pathway to achieving one’s career goals. We set our goals based on our education, i.e., we would graduate, work in the industry, rise to the top in a few years, settle down, etc.

These goals kept us focused all through school, waiting for the day we walked out with our shiny diplomas. And when the fateful day comes, nothing in the world will ever prepare you for it. The soul-crushing reality that awaits on the other side of the gate. The rejections, the high levels of unemployment, the desperation… Most of us have faced these challenges. The reality of adulthood has turned us into cynics of our own dreams. We have been hardened by the harsh reality of times we live in.

I left the country in 2014 to pursue my higher education abroad. Naively, I imagined the post-graduate degree would add value to my portfolio when I returned home. I spent four years learning, travelling and preparing to re-join the workforce so I, too, like my countrymen, could do my part in repaying the China loans.

However, to date, I make up part of the 9.3 per cent of unemployed people in Kenya. My colleagues came back from South Africa with their PhDs, ready to reassume their lecturing positions in universities, only to be turned away. Most of them returned to South Africa to continue studying on post-doctorial research grants. Is this unethical, too?

Yes, Kenyans have always been known to be hard workers; if there is a gap in the market, we fill it. No job opportunity ever passes us by. For young Kenyans, ethics is not the determining factor in our choices. We live in a world so brutal that we would do anything to survive. We don’t watch the ‘Hunger Games’, we live them.