OBWOGE MAGARA JR.
It was a comely, and serene mid-morning of the 24th day of the cold month of July. Contrary to expectation, it was rather sunny and warm that day.
I had just arrived from Kimbo. For those of you familiar with the Thika Super Highway, Kimbo is a small locality found along the busy highway, just a kilometer before getting to the Toll Station. I had, on the previous day, paid a courtesy call to my two sisters who have for long resided there.
Upon arrival at Juja, I called my friend Kelin (not her real name), to see if we can meet and talk about a few pertinent issues. It’s something we’re both fond of doing – especially when we have stayed for long without such sessions – where we engage in intellectual intercourse. This time round, I was determined to discuss the trending subject on Twitter #FirstClassBetrayal. It is a sensational conversation that began as a result of an expose of a graduate who had been living on the streets, despite graduating with a First class honors. This is a matter that has seen Kenyans (particularly those on Twitter) rise up to add their voice to the youth unemployment debate.
My friend Kelin picked up the call and informed me of her whereabouts. She told me she had visited another mutual friend of ours called Waihenya (again, not her real name), and that I should join them for lunch. Not being one to refuse a free meal, and not just any other meal, but that prepared by maidens like Kelin and Waihenya, I hurriedly said yes. After exactly thirty-three minutes past 12 noon, I had arrived at Waihenya’s door and knocked. She opened the door and immediately after exchanging pleasantries, I settled down onto a seat. My two lady friends made their way into a room that I immediately figured was a kitchen.
They emerged again after a few minutes and beckoned me to come and wash my hands. I obliged. My hands were clean and dry as I made my way back to my seat. Kelin, whom I’m fonder of than Waihenya, walked towards me holding a plate of white vegetable rice served with shallow-fried chicken. I had been served the honorary back part of a chicken, as traditional African customs demand. Waihenya almost concomitantly, joined us holding two plates, one for herself and the other for Kelin. Before we could pray and bless the meal, Waihenya’s brother joined our presence, holding and trying to fix what I believed to be the lid to a pressure cooker. Being an overly jovial and excited spirit, he cracked a few jokes cajoling my sense of dressing. We prayed and began devouring our lunch.
It was during this awkward moment of silence, where one could practically here the sound of teeth biting and crashing bones of chicken, that I thought of bringing up that subject of #FirstClassBetrayal. So, I asked, “does it mean that it’s okay for people with no first-class degree certificates to live in the streets, hopelessly homeless?” Waihenya was the first to respond. She expressed her disappointment at the high level of unemployment among the youth. Furthermore, she decried about how graduates with colorful degrees get shortchanged in the job market, and how it is nowadays, that for one to get a job, you have to know someone high up. That you must have a godfather somewhere. That Kenya is now riddled with corruption, nepotism, and cronyism.
Kelin decided to read us a Twitter thread that had been posted by one of the many users. It had been fashioned as ‘A Letter to Kenyan Graduates’. She read to us very serious and damning truths concerning employment, or unemployment thereof. The resounding lesson I picked from Kelin’s submission was that graduates needed to drop the sense of entitlement they currently have. That one thinks they deserve to get this job because they have this degree certificate. Such hubris! Secondly, graduates at this time of abject unemployment don’t have the luxury to be choosy about the kind of jobs they can or can’t do. Graduates are supposed to accept any decent job opportunities as long as it can place food on the table.
After chewing on both the sumptuous meal and our topic of discussion, I again posed a number of questions. “What can we do as the youth of this country? Can the situation be alleviated in anyway? For how long can we withstand this atrocity? What ensued after that is what disturbed me the most. It’s actually the reason I decided to pen down this op-ed. The arguments presented by my two lady friends left me extremely aghast at the level of hopelessness in the youth of this country.
My friend Waihenya retorted, “hii ni Kenya, inakuanga hivo tu. Watu watapiga tu kelele alafu tutaendelea tu na maisha. (This is Kenya, people will just complain about it, but nothing much will come out of it and life will move on). I tried to make a case for hope and optimism, but to no success. Personally, I am not a quitter. I am a fighter. I fight for what I believe in until I win. Ask my friends and they’ll tell you, I hardly back out of a debate that I could easily win. But this time, I just felt the flame go off inside me. So, I sat there quietly, lost deep in my head, as both Kelin and Waihenya ranted hopelessly about the sad state of affairs in our country.
Yes, I know corruption is endemic in this country. Yes, I know nepotism has reached the depths of the ocean. Yes, I know cronyism is rampant, but we cannot afford to give up now. We just can’t. We are supposed to rise up and face the problem, rather than trying to get comfortable around the problem. We should ask questions. We should challenge the system. Find out what’s working and what’s not working. We should not settle for less. We should not accept or tolerate mediocrity. We should fight, tooth and nail, to ensure that our society is a meritocracy. Where people are rewarded based on purely merit, fairness and equality. That everyone has a real chance at a better life. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations; to ensure that, once again, hard work and effort matters!
Giving up doesn’t reward anyone. It is just not enough to complain and lament. We should do something. However little and insignificant it may seem, just do it. Let’s start small. Let’s learn to reward values and principles. Let’s also call out vices for what they are. Let us be courageous enough, the country needs us to. And as Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada and then leader of official opposition in the Canadian House of Commons stated in a letter to his friends just before he died on August 20, 2011: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” We will one day defeat youth unemployment. Yes, we shall defeat it.
The writer is a Statistician, Thinker and Public Intellectual.