Why is it so difficult for PhD holders to get plum state jobs?
By Babere Chacha and John Wahome | July 20th 2021
The ongoing oral interviews for Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) posts have generated an interesting mixture of public interest and outrage. Having fallen short of the IEBC and some other plum government shortlists despite determined applications, we viewed these interviews as a unique opportunity to interrogate our own plights.
Albert Einstein’s definition of stupidity as repeating an algorithm which one has consistently failed before and expecting a different outcome must never apply to us again! In the spirit of patriotism, we shall not lose hope but plan to submit precise and winning applications next time such openings are advertised.
Otherwise, we were on the verge of wallowing in self-pity and despair, having recently observed with surprise incidents of uneducated applicants mysteriously frog-jumping into the final stages of job selections.
40 Phd applicants
Of the about 40 PhD applicants for a recent government opening, we observed that only one of them was shortlisted, alongside some folks with one degree, and a majority without any known formal schooling, but boasting experience in grassroots political mobilisation. Tribal lords and ethnic opinion setters, as usual, took the rest of the slots.
Our fathers fighting in the Burma war must have felt a rather perverse satisfaction on seeing colonialist soldiers and other ‘supermen’ capitulate under gunfire. There was admittedly a similar, fleeting satisfaction on watching Florence Jaoko-Simbiri, Rev Joseph Mutie, Harriet Chiggai and other interviewees exhibit the same foibles we would under duress, and particularly their obvious challenge in Kiswahili elocution!
Being university lecturers tasked with training young minds to take over the enterprise called Kenya in the days to come, hefty role-modeling is naturally demanded from us - not only in mere eloquence and intellectual indulgence, but also in some demonstrable conspicuous consumption, to assure our students that ‘milk and honey’ indeed exists in the intellectual ‘Canaan’ to which we purport to guide them.
As proof of its potency, education – ever so vehemently prescribed to Kenyan students as the perfect inoculation for success - should first help its professors and other connoisseurs safely cross the poverty line. But as of now, the success indicators are too scarce, and there is palpable pressure on our part to rationalise the hard labour we subject the students to in the form of endless lectures, continuous assessment tests, attachments and other matriculational ‘musts’.
Consequently, many university lecturers are buying expensive loans at a great personal cost in order to sustain ‘prosperous’ social images and to satisfy the expectations of students, neighbours and society at large, who inevitably gauge them against politicians - an alien class in the sphere of wealth and privilege.
The late historian Mosonik arap Korir could not hold his peace. Faced with similar desperation, he once said that if you want to be rich in Kenya the worst place to go is in the university, adding rather fatalistically that pick-pocketing was the way to go. Sardonically, he argued against going to school to get degrees when one could use that money to do business and to ‘bribe voters and get a lucrative political position’.
So, why, honestly, do plum State jobs keep eluding us? Are we unqualified? Maybe, given the subtle nuances of the word ‘qualified’ in Kenya, which sometimes means you are well-connected.
Indeed, between the two of us, we hold more degrees than a thermometer, including earned PhDs, besides sterling teaching sabbaticals in Oxford, University of London, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere, numerous peer-reviewed publications in areas as diverse as history, human development and applied mathematics, and even directorships in our home university. At no known point do we fall short of the specs for the plum State jobs.
So why do plum appointments in Kenya sometimes go to the least educated and qualified leaders, some even with known histories of running down institutions? Is this probably why government ministers have been espied comically carrying ghost-written speeches to read at nursery school graduation ceremonies? Yet in amazing defiance to the garbage-in-garbage-out principle, Kenyans still continue to hope for magical improvement in the economy and quality of life!
The perfect metaphor for Kenya’s labour marketplace is an automated queuing management system in a banking hall. It should work fine in an ideal situation, but it completely loses its meaning when corrupted clerks help their friends to jump the queue.
Our honest conviction is that we are ‘disqualified’ from ascending to top State jobs by a Kenyan social paradigm which long threw meritocracy out of the window.
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