An open letter to Kenyan graduates; the world doesn’t owe you anything for scoring As

Dear graduate,

A file photo of graduates at the University of Nairobi

I have written to you at this time when most of you are preoccupied with stories of graduates roaming in the streets of Nairobi without formal employment.

Last week, I read in the Nation the story of Samuel Gachini a taxi driver who considers himself jobless even though he is about to complete his doctorate.

Days later, I have encountered the story of Kelvin Ochieng - a First-Class graduate at University of Nairobi (UON) who is jobless and homeless. 

I have thought long and hard about this letter, knowing very well that some of you may not be pleased with what I have to say.

However, the numerous tweets I have seen labelled “First Class Betrayal” – have compelled me to speak my mind, for my own good and for posterity.

From the onset, I have to point out that we do not and should not go to school to get papers that will enhance chances of getting a job.

Part of this mentality was created by the colonialists whose education system valued book-smart students and groomed them to join the elite club of administrators.

Up to the mid-1980s, a university degree certificate would guarantee you an automatic well-paying job either in government or in the British multinationals that were an extension of the colonial state.

This privileged club of graduates got comfortable houses, work vehicles with drivers and other elite perks such as security guards, gardeners and cooks.

Naturally, an elite club can only fit a few people and very few vacancies have come up since the 1980s.

However, the status associated with a degree has not faded and even now those of you who are jobless feel somewhat special on account of the degree certificate given to you.

If you are employed and have one of those fancy offices, I can bet that you have your degree certificate hanging on the wall. The rest of you probably have a picture from your graduation day as a profile photo on one of your social media accounts, the world has got to know you are not a kinyangarika!

But moving forward, I want to break it to you that you are not special – avoid the temptation to feel that you deserve better than that mama mboga who has a dilapidated structure in front of your rented bedsitter.

The mama mbogas' taxes do not owe you an 8-5 government job and if anyone owes the other anything – you owe the society a lot more that it owes you.

This is because majority of you went to university on a government-sponsored scholarship that was paid by taxpayers – many of them who do not have degrees.

The villagers who came to your fundraiser even though they barely had enough to feed on did not do so because you are special.

They supported your education so that you could learn skills, ideas, formulae, recipes, and methods that would the society a better place - you would in turn benefit through a salary or a profit.

It is those ideas and skills that are supposed to provide value to our society but after thousands of you have acquired degrees, there is little innovation and outside-the-box thinking to separate you from the uneducated masses in our country.

I know most of you were forced to cram courses in which you had little technical or intellectual interest – like that marriage counselling degree with IT neatly stacked in your brown envelope.

My advice to you is, pick up the broken pieces and start making yourself – cease thinking that there are jobs that should not be performed by graduates.

If you are artistically gifted, apprentice at your nearby carpenter – make seats and use you marketing 101 and IT units to expand your market.

Read about online tutoring and use your First Class BSC Mathematics to teach American kids’ basic arithmetic – it will earn you a decent income!

Unless you are sure of the value higher education will bring you, do not invest your little resources to acquire another degree. It is a tragedy when a 35-year old PhD graduate is competing for an entry level job with zero experience to show.

Don’t let your Agribusiness degree go to waste by moving around from building to building here in the city when your parents are struggling with pest diseases and poor crop prices – move back to the village, improve your parents’ farming methods and innovate ways of creating value addition on their produce.

Whatever you do, keep moving and always remember – no one owes you anything for scoring As!

Sincerely,

Tony Mukere

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