I am sitting at the greatest Writer’s Café and Lounge, the old cogs and wheels within my skull begin to screech into motion. Well, at this point I have to admit. I am growing old. Years back such imaginations would come and go without my noticing. Nowadays they take their time to the point where I ask myself what I am doing exactly. But that is a story for another day. Let’s talk about Academic Writing in Kenya. I am sipping this imaginary coffee and its bitter sweet taste takes me to a whole new world. In the middle of city of Nairobi. There is this tiny man living dream. I use the combination of words very carefully knowing that they are really cliché. This guy is literally living the dream because he is the 24 hour economy that we hear about in the news. When the city is filled with solid darkness, scary silence, except for the “madmen” in every town doing their routine club hopping, and a skin-piercing cold breeze, there is window that is almost always emitting bright light. Everyone knows it is that tiny single room that was meant for the caretaker of the 24-storey building. Being the Njoroge that he is, the caretaker had to sub-sub-sub-sub-sublet it to this young man from the village. I look around and see the light from the window that never goes off. Perhaps even during the day. I listen closely as if I have suddenly been consumed by an out-of-body experience. I listen. Unlike the outside world, this abode is anything but silent. Occasional sounds from email chat alerts compete with the snoring sounds emanating from the typing keyboard. When eye meets eye, I see and meet a sleep-depraved, but determined bloke, who’s doing what he does as if his entire life depends on it. But, come to think of it, this is true.
His life depends on it. Njoroge will soon come knocking with his tongue lagging behind combinations of syllables such as, wewe, umesahau ni kukusaidia nakusaidia tu. I see a man living the dream of the city in the sun. I see the man who has all the rights to claim his glory among the pioneers of Academic wiring in Kenya.
I am jostled from my evening reverie by the clattering feet of both new and old writers making an entrance into the justmanoe Writer’s Café and Lounge (Oh, Did I forget to mention it is the biggest and most sumptuous of its kind in the whole south of Sahara? Sorry. Now you know). Some swagger in waving their car keys in the air, others have their hands wrapped around the waists of the money-sniffing yellow yellows, others come in packs coughing out their recently learned “sheng” words as they explain to their newbies how to write in APA and the likes. Others support their grotesquely knitted eyebrows with punches through the air as if they just saw the invisible lurking enemy. The frustrations of a writer! Others just complain. About the shilling rising too rapidly against the dollar (patriotism ni wewe, as they would say), some complain of the “employers” who tend to pay very little. I drift my attention to one of the tables and I cannot help but eavesdrop. I hear words like “trade union,” “association,” “writers,” “better pay,” “recognition,” and “advocate,” albeit in no particular order. This is How far academic writing in Kenya has gone.
Well, who cares what they are talking and colluding about. I say to my imaginary audience.
No, that’s wrong. Let’s pretend we care for a moment.
These are people who have distinguished themselves as professional academic writers. They are part of a large population of a worldwide community of individuals who stare at their screens all day and all night seeking to make money in this place called “online.” Apparently, this is an industry that is gaining strides and is growing at rates beyond the imaginations of any (I don’t know what noun to place there).
But seriously, this conversation makes me reflect on the concept of academic writing in Kenya.
My mind starts a retrospective journey along the boulevard of memory.
One day, during one of my high school holidays, i was told to light up the jiko. You see, the good thing about being young is that you get the profits of not worrying without investing anything. All you need to do is to, dutifully, do what you’re told (like in this case, make fire so that lunch could be prepared). And you will always eat, sleep, play, watch TV, and, if you happen to be from Eldoret, hit the underground club for a little jam session. All the basic needs plus more!
So, charcoal, check! Match box, Check!
While going through the old newspapers I came across one piece that had a story about a university Student who was making money online by tutoring others from other parts of the world. The guy used to help the students with their mathematics, chemistry, biology, and research. In exchange for the service, of course, there was money, which was used to fund his schooling and upkeep. The paper was dated February, 2012. In my opinion, this was around the same time that the field of Academic writing was growing its roots in the Kenyan scenario.
The basis for this development can be linked and traced to other aspects of progress. The internet has become more and more accessible to many people around the globe. Kenya is not left behind in this. The availability of resources, quicker communications, and social media use have also emerged as the pillars of making money online as a writer. During that time, all I could do was use my Nokia 6070 device to look up information about tutoring, research, and writing, and after an hour or so of waiting for my 2G network to do its thing, I was disappointed to find very little information devoid of any important help. Today, by giving a voice command, or typing, or just touching any part of the screen, millions of insightful results pop up in a couple of seconds. Ultimately, the reasons for the rapid advancements could be associated, within the confines of reason of course, with the fact that writing is dominated by the youth and the middle class citizens, who struggle to escape the clutching dirty hands of poverty, unemployment, and day to day needs. Generally, the question of how to become an academic writer in Kenya is often driven by the success stories told by young people such as the imaginary guy in the middle of Nairobi. The pioneers. The icons. The dons. The Justmanoe.