Written by Kenita Ochanda
She walks into the house after one of her random three-day “Tembea Kenya” expeditions and the first person she meets on the corridor shouts, “Umepata kazi? Eh? Have you got a job?” To avoid any violent response to that question, she runs to the bedroom, shuts the door and blindly dives on the bed but instead of the familiar soft pillow and clean beddings, she finds a stack of newspapers, all from the past three days, neatly placed on the bed and on top of them is a luminous pink sticky note reading, “You should check the vacancies section. You may find something.”
Can’t one get a break from all the phone calls, e-mails, text messages and notes suggesting possible workplaces for CV distribution? Will the judgmental side eyes after a day’s struggle with the side hustle and no definite paycheck ever stop?
No! Not in this economy. Not if you are expected to magically raise a happy family and still support 9 siblings and retired parents. No! Not if your parents have paid so much for your education and all they want is their ROI (Return On Investment).The pressure from potential dependants leads to desperation of all sorts and you will not believe what people are willing to do for a paycheck.
In Kenya, Uganda, and other sub-Saharan African countries, many seek opportunities outside their homeland. They jump at anything that promises a good life. They pay a lot of money to recruitment agencies offering employment opportunities in the Middle East and when they get there, they’re enslaved. They are overworked and underpaid and the worst part of it all is that they cannot get back to their country because after signing the contract, their passports are confiscated. Oh how they wish they’d never found these “greener pastures”! A devil they knew not of.
Then there are those women who believe that the white man is the messiah whose second coming they’ve always been waiting for. They will desperately hunt for them and have children with them in hope of getting married and living outside the country or getting a regular paycheck for “child support. A better life perhaps? Well, you’d think so, but it’s a plan that works for some, and fails for most. The mzungu is way ahead of them in this game and should they find themselves trapped, there’s always an exit strategy. The Chinese man has become the new Gold mine seeing that he is already buying household items and settling in.
Second hand careers are not an unfamiliar desperate move. A graduate will drive a taxi or wait tables for some time in the hope of somehow finding a breakthrough while at it. I once rejected a job offer because of the kind of pay they were offering, I thought I was being undervalued. I said I knew my worth and I wasn’t willing to be part of the 70% underpaid. Later on, a friend came screaming at me telling me that I had made a bad decision and that so many would kill for that opportunity to settle for anything instead of searching for better. I have never really learnt how to settle for less. So I shrugged and continued with the search.
“Soul for sale, any offer accepted!”
A friend once said to me, “I’d shove drugs up my ass for the millions.” I laughed… and laughed. Never really took him seriously but I now understand why he had thought about it. The depression from the confidence-sapping process of job hunting leaves no heart and soul to worry about what is right or wrong. “Anything to put food on the table,” they say. “Anything to pay the bills; beer bills.” Crime and prostitution have never been off the table for many.
Competition for the limited spaces is the cause of all the desperation. The pressure to find a formal job after graduation and the depression it causes many is worrying. Kenya’s unemployment rate is at 40% and in 2006 it was at 12%. Meaning, things could get a whole lot worse with time. I’m not sure whether to blame the education system for not encouraging entrepreneurship, or the people for not taking the initiative. I don’t know, but when we see countries like Zimbabwe, having the highest literacy level of 90% and an unemployment rate of above 60%…and Kenya, at 4th place in Africa, with a literacy level of 85% and an unemployment rate of 40%, the education system may be playing a huge role in this.
Maybe the desperation will force people into innovation. Maybe the disheartening process of job hunting will lead people to entrepreneurship. Our current economic status doesn’t exactly support creating our own jobs but it should encourage people to think more creatively. A strike of genius perhaps? Well, something should be done as we wait for the economy to be resuscitated and unemployment to be tackled by that political party whose promises were once widely believed.