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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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Education Challenge in Northern Kenya

Posted on 3 min read

In an agricultural based economy, any area that receives low amounts of rainfall and lacks access to underground or surface water for irrigation ends up with very limited options. One such area is Northern Kenya which is characterized by annual average amounts of 150 – 450 mm, making it majorly suitable for nomadic pastoralism.

The Bigger Kenya

Northern Kenya houses 38% of the Kenyan population and covers 70% of total landmass in Kenya. The distinct characteristics of this vast land is the abundance of development challenges such as poverty, hunger, lack of quality health services, limited number of schools, gender inequality and many others.

With limited resources and options for improving the quality of life, one of the easiest ways to escape poverty is through education. However, this has always proved to be a challenge in Northern Kenya.

More than 50% of children in Northern Kenya live more than 11 km from a secondary school, making it very hard for students to make it to school and back home every day. Consequently, there are so many children who are out of school at any given point. A survey of 3 counties in the region once found that more than 50% of households had a child out of school.

There are many factors that contribute to low school enrollment in Northern Kenya and many of these would require multiple solutions cutting across different sectors. For example, the opportunity cost for education in the region is too high. If one enrolls in school, they miss out on being trained on the most relevant skill in the area – keeping cattle. Due to other factors, students may not do well in school and are not likely to get into the formal job market, thus they are neither useful in their home places and cannot sustain themselves in urban areas.

Thus, telling a child to go to school in some parts of Northern Kenya could be equivalent of telling a child from a working class family to venture into football instead of education. Success could come, but as an exception.

Although there is no silver bullet that can solve all the problems, one gap that needs to be exploited in the simplest way possible is use of simple digital technologies.

Mobile Connectivity

At the moment, Safaricom which has the widest network coverage in Kenya has 96% of the population covered with 2G network and 93% with 3G network. In Northern Kenya, the government has intervened to have telcos put up mobile networks in some non-profitable areas like very remote locations and majority of the population have some access to the network.

The area lacks access to electricity but receives a lot of sunshine with at least 8 hours of sunshine every day and this makes it ideal for use of solar power. Generally, solar power would be adequate to power most digital technology devices in Northern Kenya all year round.

With mobile network and possible source of power, what can be done to help improve the quality of education?

Some of the challenges that need to be solved are:

  • Low population density making it to have schools within the reach of every child.
  • Nomadic lifestyle that means families are sometimes on the move.
  • Poor infrastructure making it hard to provide and monitor services.
  • Social inequalities making girls less likely to attend school.
  • High opportunity cost of education.
  • Rampant insecurity and cattle rustling.
  • Shortage of teachers, and low quality of teaching due to many untrained teachers.

Most of these problems require government intervention and a long term strategy, but there is a place for engineers to design products that can fit people in these areas. This could be:

  • Creating apps that can help these kids learn English in a language that they understand, such as M-Lugha has done.
  • Creating digital mentorship channels to encourage young people to stay to school and show them possibilities in education – a sort of penpals.
  • Labs that are powered by solar.
  • Using content loaded tablets to empower teachers like it is being done by Bridge.
  • Using climate data and satellite images to predict where pastoralists will be moving to and thus plan appropriately to keep the children learning.

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Ravi Zacharias

Posted on 2 min read

If there is one man whose books I have read, watched his teachings, and listened to over and over, it must be Ravi Zacharias.

He passed on this month, and one lesson I learnt from him is the need to be compassionate and gracious to people even when armed with truth, or even when speaking from a point of power.

Let me share a few quotes from the man who is referred to as the greatest apologist of the 21st Century.

  1. We have a right to believe whatever we want, but not everything we believe is right.
  2. There is no greater discovery than seeing God as the author of your destiny.
  3. What I believe in my heart must make sense in my mind.
  4. Yes, if truth is not undergirded by love, it makes the possessor of that truth obnoxious and the truth repulsive.
  5. Unless I understand the Cross, I cannot understand why my commitment to what is right must be precedence over what I prefer.
  6. I am absolutely convinced that meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain; meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure. And that is why we find ourselves emptied of meaning with our pantries still full.
  7. I remember the time an older man asked me when I was young, “Do you know what you are doing now?” I thought it was some kind of trick question.
    Tell me,” I said.
    You are building your memories,” he replied, “so make them good ones.
  8. There can be no reproach to pain unless we assume human dignity, there is no reason for restraints on pleasure unless we assume human worth, there is no legitimacy to monotony unless we assume a greater purpose to life, there is no purpose to life unless we assume design, death has no significance unless we seek what is everlasting.
  9. With no fact as a referent, what is normative is purely a matter of preference.
  10. But life’s joys are only joys if they can be shared.
  11. If God is the author of life, there must be a script.
  12. For many in our high-paced world, despair is not a moment; it is a way of life.
  13. The truth is that whenever a fence is removed, it’s wise to ask why it was put there in the first place.

You can read his Eulogy on RZIM’s website HERE.

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