Unemployment: “Kenya’s Favourite Pastime”

Unemployment Pig
A colleague of mine from the US was recently being outlandishly narrow-minded about the current state of affairs in Kenya. He said, and I quote: “One of the major downfalls of the country is the inexplicably high unemployment rate.” And you know what, in a textbook context, he may be right. About one in 2 able bodied adults are unemployed. Really, it’s about 4 out of 10, but when you take into consideration that most unemployed people are not featured in censuses and the likes, it may be significantly higher. So that makes sense on the surface. But dig a little deeper, I say.

I did. And after years of watching Kenyans and foreigners complain and working both here and abroad, I have decided on the few following facts.

1. The only people that apply for jobs are people who have jobs.
2. The people who have jobs and don’t apply for other jobs are subconsciously trying to get fired.
3. Most wananchi are resolved – no, determined – to remain unemployed.

There is a reason behind these mad statements. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago on the internets, I quite openly offered a very competitive job opportunity to whomsoever was willing to send me a CV. It was an IT job that paid in the range of 50-60k(net) a month and was open to any individual – degree or not. I’m sure most would attest that for a starting position, that’s not bad.

Yet, out of my 100 Twitter followers and my 1000 Facebook friends, I got exactly zero CV’s after one week of begging. That’s not counting all the other online services we used. So we decided that, hey, maybe online isn’t the best place to find IT people who need a job [/sarcasm] so we went the traditional route and put out fliers, newspaper ads and spread the word directly to our friends. From this, we got 2 CV’s.

But this is not enough. See, it’s a competitive position at a considerably respectable institution: 2 CV’s was far from our target of 20. But we were now fast approaching our deadline of 1 month to begin interviews so we got desperate. I went out and started poaching people at other jobs asking them to switch to this company with promises of better pay and benefits, while the HR manager started sifting through old job applications and current staff qualifications.

We ended up with a total of 7 Resumes. Of the 7, only 5 were even reasonable, 2 were grossly overqualified, 2 had previously turned down the job, so it was essentially down to the only 2 that had submitted CV’s.

Meanwhile, I meet IT graduates everyday who dare tell me there are no jobs out there. When I called them about this opportunity, not a single one of them rose to the occasion. And there is a reason why. But that didn’t dawn on me until after I watched a co-worker forcefully lose his job.


See, what happened was this dude, who sat at our reception, reported to work late, noticeably inebriated, several times. And by several, I mean he got a total of 6 warnings – 3 verbal, 3 written – and I know, for a fact, that there are times he was late and drunk and received no warning. Anyhow, on warning 7, he was sent on a one month suspension and advised to seek help with his drinking problem. He left without argument. A month later, he returned. And within a week, he was back to his shenanigans. As I write this, his bosses are deliberating just how quickly they can give him the boot without suffering legal reprimand. And his is not the only file on that desk. 3 other similar cases are being tabled for discussion.

And the only reason they aren’t being fired is because it’s so hard to find somebody new that’s actually willing to work.

Meanwhile, every night, weekday or weekend, more people report to bars than people report to work on Monday morning.

As Kenyans, I think we are genetically predisposed to enjoy having a good time. Hakuna Matata, Furahiday, Hanyeholics and all this. But we are yet to properly tap into a culture of hustling. I mean, those that grind, grind hard. Entrepreneurs and great minds are far from lacking. However, they pale in numbers as compared to idlers and jobless-corner dwellers.

But we have it in us to do well. So once we get a taste of what we can do, we strive for more. But if we fail to see it, we resolve to the default: which is loving life and not worrying about the consequences.

According to many a dictionary, in order to be unemployed, one must be able and willing to work but without work. I wonder if this really applies to 40% of Kenyans.

Able? Yes. Without work? Yes. Willing?

Well…..that’s really up for debate.

19 thoughts on “Unemployment: “Kenya’s Favourite Pastime”

  1. Am with you on this one, most people are quick to complain about the lack of jobs or are too choosy or have unrealistic expectations. People need to be willing to start from somewhere, you should participate in interviews and see the way people act. SMH!

    • I had to interview all 7 of these guys/gals. Shortlisting was so easy since some of them outwardly said they didnt want the job. Incredible, really. If my first salary was 60 a month, take home, I’d have been beyond elated. SMH.

  2. I have a job prospect for you. He hassled mpaka he gave up. Now he’s hassling in other biasharas in Kenya’s verson of outer Mongolia (perhaps I exaggerate). If still looking for entry level IT guy, perhaps you could give him a try?

  3. The line between work ethics and work culture of Kenyans is as wide as the gap between the rich and the poor. Our thriving informal sector is proof that poor and low-income earning Kenyans are indeed hard-working but contrasted with middle-income and high-income trust-fund babies who would rather “chill” or “get by” and do nothing to give back to society. And vice versa.

    Inculcating a culture of work needs to start happening right from childhood.

  4. Jobseekers are so entitled it’s amazing! I also announced for a position on Twitter, got two CVs (note CV not application) which were full of spelling errors and such. You know, it got to a point, I had to retrieve my applications from 4 years ago when I was job hunting, just to see if I was expecting too much. How much time does it take to put some thought into a job application?

    A friend got an application in sms speak.

    It’s gotten to that point where I’ve decided to train a team, and carry them with me everywhere I go.

    A 60k entry level job? That’s golden. Back in the day, getting 25k was a jackpot! Most of us started out with non paying jobs.

    • It’s gotten to that point where I’ve decided to train a team, and carry them with me everywhere I go.

      I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve decided to be self-employed and only dish out sub-contracts; leave the management headache to someone with a thicker skull than mine.

  5. Tell me bout it this ish makes me mad. People want to whine but think being a waiter while part timing Uni is beneath them or some @#$ like that. Its a job it pays the bills…oh wait they have no bills.
    On a more proactive move i think we need to put together a career advising booklet my uni has one (DR allow me to add link)
    Its sad to say but most graduates i know cant put together a CV let alone a cover letter. They are also not knowledgeable about the art of interviewing or hustling with a suit on we need to be proactive…so DR lets write something bout jobs n all that comes with it

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  9. In the early ’70s the Kenyan unemployment rate was 7%, in the 90s 20% and now 40%.
    From your article, there appears to be a growing culture of acceptance of low employment levels. This is the food of revolutions and war.
    Thank you for your thoughtful article. Interesting for me is that there are very similar comments in western Canada, but with unemployment in the range of 7%; higher for youth.

  10. Greetings from Ohio! I’m bored to death at work so I decided to check out your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m surprised at how quick your blog loaded on my cell phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, good blog! Appreciate it!

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