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HELB loan almost pushed me to commit suicide

Stressful mind
                                                            Photo: Courtesy

Thrice in my life, I have contemplated suicide. Twice as a child and once as an adult. Luckily, as a child, no one called my bluff, so I am here writing this column. As an adult, it happened a few months after I graduated from the university.

I had learned from friends that the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) automatically starts levying a charge of Sh5,000 on their loan one year after clearing campus, regardless of whether you are employed or tarmacking.

For a Kenyan who is not tenderpreneur, a thieving city council askari or a traffic police at a road block, Sh5,000 is a tidy sum. Now think of an unemployed young person.

On average, a graduate will take three to four years before landing a reasonable job. You normally start with insulting internships and thankless sales jobs that can suck all the White Blood cells out you. But HELB gives you 12 months to get yourself a proper job or they automatically start surcharging you Sh5,000 until the day you will start repaying the loan.

On the day, I nearly threw myself from the 13th floor of Anniversary Towers, where I had gone to negotiate for more time. I was sent to a middling, well-fed, dark woman in her late 30s. She looked motherly and I was in high spirits, hoping that she will accord me some motherly empathy. I had totally misjudged her. She turned out to be the most misanthropic person I have ever encountered in a public office.

“No, we don’t listen to such. You have to pay. The fine is automatic. Better get something and start sending us some money even through M-Pesa,” she told me, not once taking her eyes off the computer.

“I’m not employed. I have no means,” I said, swearing to God. She will hear none of it. She asked where I came from. I told her Kisii.

“What is the fare from Kisii to here?”

“Sh900,” I replied.

“Go load that in your M-Pesa and send it to us. Stop wasting your time coming here.”

I have never felt so murderous, so disappointed at the government.

Most of my senior friends were already paying the hefty interest without any complaint, characteristic of resigned Kenyans.

It was at the height of the Arab spring. Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian vendor who set himself on fire after being harassed by the Tunis kanjo, sparking the Arab spring.

I thought that if I threw myself from the 13th floor, I might trigger something like that in Kenya. Luckily, I know Kenyans. Hundreds have been murdered by terrorists and bandits, no one gives a damn.

Granted, HELB was the best thing that ever happened to me and presently proudly paying back so that another deserving student can benefit, heaping a fine on unemployed youth is a callous exploitation.

I started working with a debt of nearly half a million, a third of which was a fine for the two years I was jobless.

Whichever way you look at it, legally, morally, economically; it is wrong. And someone must step in here. Any MP or senator reading this? Martha Wangari? Anyone?

There are no jobs out here. And the government is doing absolutely nothing to alleviate the problem. Uwezo Fund and the Youth Fund are riddled with politics, are disjointed, and what they offer to groups is not even enough to bribe the lowliest city council official to set up even a fruit kiosk.

I know several graduates, my classmates and even those before me, who are still unemployed and the fines could be as higher as Sh500,000. They have done everything to get a job. But nothing has worked. These thieves in town selling impractical advice on start-ups and businesses, make it sound like it is their mistake they do not have a job, but really?

I beseech HELB, the president, the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders to see to it that this is stopped...or else create the jobs or an environment where business can thrive.

Otherwise, I will ask my old friend Babu Owino to set up camp outside Anniversary Towers and see to it that we are given the logic behind the punitive interests.

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