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Virtual reality at work

By Dr.
 Wambui Mwangi


(Theme music for a news programme swells and then fades away. The news logo appears. The camera pans to a television news station. The news anchor looks into the camera and begins to speak):

The Kenyan Civil Service epitomizes the rise and rise of civil services in Africa. Well known for being streamlined, efficient, and responsive to the public, it has been commended by top world organisations as the exemplar of public service in the 21st Century.


Job satisfaction is rated by 97% of Kenyan civil servants as “high” or “very high.” The standard examination required of all candidates applying for Kenyan civil service “ is one of the hardest in the world,” making the Kenyan Civil Service one of the most prestigious employers in Kenya, and posing a serious threat to the private sector employers.


Regional chiefs of major multinationals have been heard to say that they are no longer able easily to recruit the best graduates for private sector work, as those with the top marks, best training and most talent always choose to work for the public sector.

“I have dreamed of working for the Kenyan Government since I was a little girl,” Mwikali, an honours graduate of Kenyatta University, Moi University, Cambridge University, University of Cape Town, the Sorbonne, Yale University and the University of Toronto, says. She is the holder of numerous masters’ degrees, two law degrees and a medical degree, as well as having PhDs in Chemistry and History. She is also a qualified pilot.

She is one of the thousands of young Kenyans eager to start at the bottom and work their slow way to the top of the highly competitive Kenyan civil service meritocracy. Mwikali, who has thrice been awarded prizes for academic excellence by different universities, is currently working as the senior tea-maker for the junior assistants at the Ministry of Culture. “It is an exciting opportunity and an enormous challenge,” Mwikali says with a smile. “Every morning I wake up and feel happy because I am contributing something to my country.


I am confident that if I could get an A+ in business administration, legal anthropology, modern architecture, economic history, bioethics, political science, neuroscience and aeronautical engineering, I will soon be making the best tea in the whole government. My tea, into which I always add a dash of chai masala, motivates the junior assistants who drink it to try even harder every day. My work makes me feel useful and needed.”

At the recent Wooden Teapot Awards, Mwikali won the coveted Senior Tea-Maker of the Year award, an occasion which was marked by a large tea party in her honour hosted by the senior janitor. “It was the happiest day of my life,” said Mwikali, holding the wooden tea pot tightly in both hands. In her acceptance speech, she thanked God for her good fortune, and her mother, who taught her everything she knows about tea-making. Her mother, who attended the ceremony, cried tears of joy.


Mwikali had just turned down an offer by Monitor&Risk for the post of Regional Manager, a job which comes with three houses, a beach villa with a private beach, seven personal assistants, a month’s holiday every other month, twenty household servants and between six to eight luxury cars.


The minimum monthly salary for the M&R position is KShs 61,000,000 and is paid into off-shore tax-shelter accounts. Mwikali, who currently earns KShs 4,000 a month as senior tea-maker, is reported to have turned down the M&R position because "it was not challenging enough."

Others are not as happy with the success of the Kenyan Civil Service. “It’s a dog eat dog world in the employment market now,” says chief head hunter of International Elites,(Kenya) Ms. Aisle Baiyu. “It has come to the point that we are now forced to recruit Kenyans as young as thirteen and fourteen years of age for possible future employment, on the basis of their primary school exam results.


In fact, we have invented the pre-application employment interview contract. We hope to sign talent on early, so that in ten years we have the first option on interviews with candidates. There is no other way of ensuring even the chance to hire viable employees for lucrative fast-track private sector jobs, as all school-leavers immediately start preparing for the civil service exams.


We get only the dregs of those who fail to qualify, and even they never stop dreaming of another chance to work for the civil service. It is very disheartening. Company records show that previously, unemployment in Kenya was so high that you could pick and choose your applicants. Now Human Resources departments have to treat potential employees like movie stars and unemployment is dangerously low.”

Many are pleased by the excellence of the public sector. Mr. Paul U. Turesources, chairman of Case Oil International was quoted as saying that the briskly efficient and welcoming workers of the Kenyan Government have made the country an investor’s dream.


“The workers are well-educated, highly motivated, and proud and happy to be working for their government,” he was quoted as saying. Countries around the world send their civil servants for training in Kenya, and Kenya has been generous in fulfilling its international co-operation obligations by sending teams to train civil servants in New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland and Canada, in addition to the most recent initiative in southern Sudan.

Yet, even the high-performance Kenyan Civil Service has its critics. “No one receives preferential treatment any more,” complained Hewge Ranch, of the Kenyan Melanin Deprived Landowners Association (KMDLA) recalling times when the rich and the influential in Kenya enjoyed a more familial and reciprocal relationship with the government.


“My father shot and killed at least two of his black servants every week for entertainment, and he had absolutely no problems.” Mr. Ranch went on to criticise the new labour laws, saying that “nowadays, you can’t even tell the bloody askaris wewe boy mjinga kabisa kama mlango na mimi enda kupiga wewe sawa sawa and I’ll knock your bloody nig-nog head off” without government officials and lawyers from the Ministry of Labour turning up with police, citations and arrest warrants and what-nots.


“I tell you, this country is completely spoiled for us now. The rich have become third-class citizens.”

Kenya is soon to celebrate its 30th National Civil Servants’ Day, traditionally the most important of its annual public holidays.

(News anchor shuffles pages, turns to another camera.): In other news, the war between the United States and Canada continues to…..


Wambui Mwangi is an assistant professor of political science at The University of Toronto, Canada. She blogs at the Diary of a Mad Kenyan Woman.


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