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Tenets

Kenyans, You Can’t Eat GDP

Posted on 3 min read

Kenya is the poster child for economic growth in Eastern Africa. A democratic nation compared to Uganda where Museveni has ruled since the days of John the Baptist. A relatively peaceful nation compared to Somalia and South Sudan. A highly skilled workforce, better than Tanzania. An economy that is bigger than Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi combined.

We boast of having a relatively stable country when part of our neighbors is falling apart. Kenyans tweet about mega projects that are taking place. We consider ourselves a tech savvy nation where many international companies are setting camp.

Despite all that, something does not seem right. People are struggling to make ends meet. Young people are becoming poorer than their parents were. Inequality is on the rise and corruption has made it hard for everyone to survive, except the thieves. A look at some of the statistics below show that we are in a bad situation.

Gloomy Outlook

  • In terms of humans and their socio-economic capabilities, Kenya is ranked 147 out of 189 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index.
  • 40% of Kenyans live on less than 200 shillings a day.
  • The poorest 40% of Kenyans earns 16.5% of the income.
  • Average years of schooling are 6.6 years.
  • 40% of Kenyans lack access to reliable source of clean water.
  • 30% of Kenyans lack access to proper toilets.
  • Between 1 and 1.1 million Kenyans each year are pushed into poverty because of medical expenses.
  • 26% of children in Kenya under the age of 5 are malnourished/underweight.
  • Between 3,000 – 13,000 Kenyans lose their lives in road accidents in Kenya. (Government claims 3,000, other institutions estimate 13,000). A lot of these deaths are preventable.
  • 40% of all Kenyans aged 15 years and older are unemployed
  • Of all the employed Kenyans, 60% earn about 300 shillings a day.
  • Only 5% of Kenyans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
  • Kenya ranked 137 out of 180 in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.
  • According to the 2017 Human Rights Report by Amnesty International, Kenya ranked top in Africa for extrajudicial killings by the police.
  • Kenya was ranked 17th on the Failed State Index by the Fund for Peace in 2013, sandwiched between Nigeria and Niger. (Somalia was ranked 1, South Sudan 4).
  • Banditry: 12 out of 47 counties in Kenya are nominally out of the control of Kenya’s police/security forces.

More Gloom

What is the point of boasting about being a middle-income country when the future of the young people is not guaranteed? Where is the hope for the youth, who form 75% of the population? Why are doctors jobless, but hospitals lack doctors? Why are engineers jobless when we are importing some from China? University degrees popular yet jobs are not. Why is betting becoming a national economic activity? Why are people working hard, paying taxes, then missing the government services? Drought and famine is a consistent theme.

Unfortunately, a political solution is not near, for at the moment, Kenyans are about to vote for the same people who have been a problem for the last many years. We will continue to boast about growth in GDP as more loans come and the books are cooked, but no one eats GDP.

Wake up, Kenyans.

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Some People Die at Age 25 and Aren’t Buried until they are 75

I suspect that I have already grown up, so the question of what I want to be when I grow up is null and void. But this is one of the questions that reveals ambition and big dreams in kids. They are full of enthusiasm and zero cares in the world. Even for teens, life is just a bliss. And then they grow up.

In a short time, there are bills to pay, health to maintain, responsibilities to meet, social ladder to climb, status to build or preserve, or battles to fight or avoid. So many things rob one the ambitions and the great outlook that one had when they were young. Life becomes about trying to get bad situations not become worse.

The environment never helps because you are forced to act your age.

Lost Joy

There are rules and expectations for life. You have to act in a certain way in order to maintain your seat at the table of sane people.

Executives in suits and ties wish they could openly lick an ice-cream without losing their status. Others want to enjoy a bouncy castle but their status cannot allow them.  Boring routine becomes the norm, and life is lived in between paychecks. Soon, you are planning for retirement, and starting a business that will most likely fail. You are watching what you eat because the doctor says that you might not live long. You no longer take risks because you might end up losing your kids school fees.

So many little sources of joy are no longer available for those who grow up. Life takes a gloomy approach. That is the cost of growing up.

Benjamin Franklin said it, that some people die at age 25 and aren’t buried until 75. How true!

People lose all the good aspects of life. They are too tired to jump in excitement. They are too rigid to laugh at a simple joke. They are trying to act their age, yet there is no code of conduct prescribed by the constitution for each age.

Before they realize it, they are gone.

What a waste of life!

Learn from Kids

Maybe we should learn from kids. They are the epitome of happiness. Children find joy in little things – real joys. On the contrary, adults are always on a state of trying to survive.

Adults base their happiness on how well they are doing relative to other people around them, and thus feel bad when others do better than them. It is better to be paid 25 units when all other colleagues are being paid 20 units each, than to be paid 30 units when all your colleagues are being paid 35 units.

Kids rarely care what other people think of them. Adults are very much driven by what people think about them. They spend all their money trying to impress people who do not give a damn about who they are. They are always trying to impress internet strangers.

Kids are not afraid to cry when the world hurts. Adults must carefully conceal their feelings because the board cannot tolerate crybabies. Then they go ahead and commit suicide.

Kids do not hold grudges forever. Adults are trying to settle old scores from World War Zero.

Kids are not usually paralyzed by indecisiveness. They move forward with the available option. They are optimistic about life. They seek new experiences.

Yet, kids are happy, and achieve a lot. If you think learning to walk is a simple task, the best engineers the world has to offer have spent so many years trying to get robots to walk. AI can not match the natural intelligence of babies. Try learning a new language and you will realize that kids actually achieve a huge milestone.

Do not die young and spend all your life as a living dead.

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My Short Career as an Academic Writer

Posted on 4 min read

In 2010, I hit a jackpot that was too good to be true.

The previous year, someone had introduced me to something called academic writing, but I had ignored it. This time I saw how someone was making good money through academic writing and I decided to try it.

Background

Every Kenyan who was in college in the last ten years would know what I am talking about when I mention academic writing. For those still in the dark, it is a remote gig where one is paid to write assignments, projects or even thesis for students in UK and US Universities. It was said that these students had the money, but no time or competence to do their assignments. In Kenya, students had the time, and needed the money.

This interesting scenario brought in some middlemen who ran writing bureaus, mostly from Eastern Europe. They had online platforms where students would submit their assignments, and another interface where writers could bid to do the work. Such platforms included Uvocorp, Essay Writers, Academia Research and many more.

The industry still thrives to date. In fact, it has become more complex despite attempts to crack down on the vice. It is so common in Kenya that Kenya is considered a global powerhouse in the industry. Kenyans calls it academic writing. Elsewhere, it has the infamous name of contract cheating industry.

The Lure

Being a student in Kenya, there are very limited opportunities to make money. With a high unemployment rate, not even graduates are assured of jobs.

Finding a way to make money is always welcome. The good thing with academic writing was that it was appealing to a group of people who had the right skills, the time, and the need.

One other appeal of academic writing was the fact that it gave one an opportunity to explore interesting topics. You would write about engineering, law, history, medicine, philosophy or any topic that you found fit. This in itself was interesting.

The Start

I got connected to somebody who was in the industry and had accounts with one of these platforms. They would give some assignments, and I would be paid KShs 180 bob per page. That was the start, and I was just doing enough pages for extra income. In October 2010, I did 23 pages and the following month I did 24 pages. That was an income of 4,140 and 4,320 shillings respectively, just enough to feed a student.

Come January 2011, I had more time and more resources. By April 2011, I was doing 300 pages a month at KShs 200 per page. That was enough money to last me a few semesters.

Writing and studying needed some balance. When school was in session, it was hard to keep up with writing, only doing enough to keep me going. Many people had already discovered academic writing and there were enough support groups to assist when you were in a fix.

Ethics

No one really saw academic writing as something unethical. No one would call it aiding academic cheating. It was just work. Registered companies were offering the services and various players were making it possible, including PayPal, Skrill, and others.

I never gave it much thought, until one day I had a unique assignment. I did 12 pages of work on a certain topic in nursing that I had little knowledge about (I was studying Engineering). Neither the topic nor what I wrote made any sense to me, and I was very sure that the client would reject the work. To my surprise, the client was extremely satisfied and even wanted me to do their final term paper.

That is when I started to question the whole thing. Here was a nursing student who seemed to be an F student, and was banking on me to help them get good grades. What would happen when they graduated? How were they going to work in hospitals? Would I allow such a person to treat me?

I lost interest in academic writing, but I never quit fully.

Selling Accounts

I still went on with the writing, but by the end of the year I had shifted focus to something else. Instead of working with a middle man, one could open their own account with the websites offering academic writing services and build their own portfolio. The pay was also better, starting at $5 per page for beginners. I started creating accounts with those websites.

Creating accounts was the hard part. The tests were quite hard and it would take about 4 attempts to successfully get one registered. It involved a lot of hard work and preparation, but the results were worth.

I managed to open a few accounts which I sold to interested people. I remember that the last one I sold in September 2012, for KShs 25000. That was still good money. But I had had enough. I stopped dealing in anything to do with academic writing.

Today

More than ten years later, academic writing is still thriving in Kenya. Instead of working with middlemen from Eastern Europe, Kenyans have now set up their own businesses where they deal with the foreign students directly. It is a booming business.

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Social Media: The Fellowship of the Vile

Posted on 3 min read

While peace of mind is desired by most people, it can be elusive if you are constantly using social media. This is also the case if you follow the mainstream media, where negative news dominates the timelines.

I stopped actively following the news for this reason, because I do not find any benefit when my evening starts or ends with the information that a young man butchered his brother in a remote part of Kenya, followed by the information that a child died because a certain clinic in another remote part of Kenya lacked syringes. I know such things happen everyday but having to know about them every evening is not good for my peace of mind.

But I still use social media, and its effects seem to be worse.

Demons of Social Media

Social media has exposed some very dark sides of people. As soon as you log in, decency logs out, and you are exposed to some of the worst of human beings.

You are fat. You are short. You have a big forehead. I wish you were aborted. Stop using your head only as a cover for the neck…

Those are mean words to use in life, but not on social media. These are some of the posts that get likes and shares. People have pledged allegiance to violence and hate. They attack one another. They say mean things. They post profanity and insults. They insult innocent strangers and demean people they have no idea what they are going through.

They shame the poor, and the next moment, they promote mental health forums. It’s a paradox but who cares? That is social media.

Social Media exposes the lowest of the low.

Bloodthirsty

It is not just the demons of social media that traumatize me. It is the many applauders who seem to enjoy the violence.

There are people who are there only there to fan violence, then sit back to enjoy the wildfire. Those spewing venom end up with likes and followers. Because they cannot see and relate to the human beings behind the username, they find it easy to insult and attack.   

They join the hate wagons even when they do not know what is happening. If an influencer insults you on social media, their bloodthirsty followers will follow through and bring it to your inbox.

Intelligent and Arrogant

We also have intelligent people who seem to have everything but empathy. Armed with wits, superior knowledge and cosmic pride, they demean and shame. When they see foolishness, they go ahead to highlight it in order to clear every doubt that the person is a fool. They show little grace or empathy. They thrive by demeaning.

Making Social Media a Positive Experience

There are the good sides of social media, but it does not come automatically. One must use it objectively, but I am yet to figure out what counts as objective.

I can block, I can choose who to follow, I can log in only when necessary, and I can mute some topics, but it is hard when some of the work you do depend on social media. The worst part is when you start acting like the people you dislike on social media.

I can relate this with what happens in real life. You can choose a good neighborhood where you are isolated from muggers, thieves, noisy people or just the people you do not like, but you cannot completely cut off the world. It is impossible.

Some part calls for one to flee, another one calls for one to have a thick skin.

It is not easy.

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2020: A Lesson on Resilience

Posted on 3 min read

I don’t need to introduce the year 2020 to anybody on planet Earth because the year has done a pretty good job of announcing its presence. The rich, the poor, the famous, the obscure, the healthy, the sickly, the employed, the unemployed and every possible group of people has felt the fangs of the year pierce.

For most people, it has been a year of losses, failures, pain and all the bad things that we would not even want our enemies to experience. It would make sense to say good riddance to 2020, but the lessons are also big. It would be worse if we do not learn from the failures of 2020. Remember, he who refuses to learn from history are destined to repeat it.

One of the greatest lessons of 2020 is building resilience in an environment where failure is inevitable. The year taught us that one can fail in almost any sector, and the most important skill is to be able to rise up when the fall comes.

It could have been a job loss, stalled academic programs, closed business or a general loss of income. This nearly affected everybody.

When Losing a Job is Worse than never being Employed

One of the observations was that sometimes, people who lose their jobs end up becoming worse than those who never had them in the first place. Why does that happen? Because people without jobs usually develop mechanisms to cope with very little incomes, while those with jobs don’t. The poor adapt to living in almost any environment but the rich rarely do that. When disaster strikes, it is those who were unprepared who are hit hard.

While many of them are able to rise up again given an opportunity like a new job, the period with no job or income hits people hard. Their mental health takes a big hit and almost paralysis them. This is because they are not able to survive in a state of reduced incomes. This affected many people in 2020.

Is it possible for one to be immune from such setbacks? It is, but it is not easy.

Learning to Fall from the Toddlers

There is no better place to understand how we should react to failure than from watching babies learn to walk. They start by learning how to stand, then walk while supported, before they can finally start walking without any support. The initial phase involves walking for a short distance, many times targeting to reach a support object a few steps away.

During this process, the baby will fall many times. I realized that one of the key skills that they master early is how to fall. They figure out how to fall forward and how to fall backwards, safely. With this mastered, they are free to fall anytime since they can fall safely. They no longer fear the fall, and can safely try out walking which comes with many falls, and needs persistent attempts in order to master.

That is how we all end up walking; a simple skill because we all have, but a very complex skills if you ask the engineers trying to make walking robots.

Building Resilience

Whatever 2021 holds, we must build skills that will allow us to rise if we fall. We need to figure out how to keep moving with reduced incomes, how to still operate when we are grounded, how to achieve the most even when health is failing, and how to identify new opportunities that can lubricate life when the going gets tough.

How we achieve this may vary from person to person or situation to situation, but is definitely necessary.

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An Element of Risk

Posted on 2 min read

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.

Thomas aquinas (1225–1274)

When Covid-19 struck, the first reaction was some form of panic and extreme caution. Racial profiling broke out in China, Americans had a run on tissue paper, and Kenyans wanted the government to shut all borders and make the country an Island. A huge demand for masks kept the prices so high, and it is unbelievable that prices have fallen by up to 95% today. Then came the curfews and cessation of movements. Those seemed like they were very necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Six months later, it seems like we have majorly learnt to live with Covid-19. While the cases have not reduced to zero, and number of deaths seem to be increasing, everywhere I look I see people who have made peace with Covid-19 and opted to go down fighting, if necessary.

Schools are now open. Masks have been discarded. Public gathering have resumed full throttle. Public service vehicles are carrying full capacity. Cases of Covid-19 no longer make the news.

What changed?

Several things, including caution fatigue, and a better understanding of the virus (both accurate and inaccurate understanding). People also realized that Covid-19 is not the worst threat to mankind today, and while you are hiding from corona virus, an armed mosquito might send you under with malarial bite.

I had a conversation with my dad about how the perception and response to Covid-19 has changed and he had some very insightful words. He said that there has always to be a balanced between caution and risk, especially if the threat is long term. It is not logical to spend all your life running from one form of death, while the risk from other types of deaths exist. That is why it did not make sense to have an extended lock-down at the expense of livelihoods.

How Covid-19 unfolds is still a mystery, but one thing that is certain is that we cannot have an extended lockdown again. At least not in a country where malaria, cancer, road accidents and other simple illnesses pose a similar or worse threat.

However, Covid-19 remains to be a moving target. No one knows what exactly it will end. Only hope.

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