Engage communities, LAPPSET leadership urged

Two legislators urged the leaders of the Lamu Port and Lamu Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor project to consider working with communities for the fruition of the Vision 2030 flagship project. Ms. Shakila Abdalla, Lamu East, and Mr. Abdikadir Omar, Balambala, were speaking yesterday at a forum organized by the Rift Valley Institute to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the LAPPSET project.

Ms. Abdalla decried the apparent disinterest by the project leadership to address concerns of the host communities.  She cited lack of compensation of displaced families, and disengaging the local leadership in running the project as some of indicators of this ill-advised move by LAPPSET leadership.  

“Construction of the Lamu Port is depriving the people of their fishing livelihoods,” she said, and continued, “The project does not provide an access route for Lamu East people to reach Lamu West.”

While acknowledging the project’s potential for developing Northern Kenya, Mr. Omar underscored the need for the management to ensure that the project does not stall. Failure to address the emergent issues and work closely with the host communities jeopardizes the project’s success, he cautioned.

“Devolve the projects to the people and start dialogue,” he urged.

Dr. Ekuro Aukot, a legal practitioner, echoed similar sentiments. Terming the move by the project leaders as defeatist, Aukot said that disengaging communities is against the Kenyan law. He singled out leadership and land tenure system as the greatest challenges bedeviling the LAPPSET project.

LAPPSET project, Dr. Aukot said, could succeed in creating poverty amongst the people.  By failing to address land ownership, LAPPSET leadership is setting the precedents for conflicts and stalling of the project, he explained.

LAPPSET is one of the projects touted to develop Kenya by 2030. The project aims at opening up the hitherto virgin Northern Kenya and linking the country to the land locked Sudan and Ethiopia. According to Dr. Jonathan Lodompui, Assistant Director, Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat, LAPPSET is the most ambitious of the 124 Vision 2030 flagship projects.

“This project offers solutions to marginalized communities,” said Lodompui, before enlisting the components of the project to include Lamu Port, oil refinery, petro-chemical industries, a 1700-kilometer road stretch, standard gauge railway line, water and crude oil pipeline, and resort cities. “With its completion, it will take three days on a road trip from Lamu to Duala,” he offered, referring to a port town in West Africa.

Lodompui owned that it is natural for a project of the LAPPSET magnitude to face challenges, and stir emotions, before clarifying that the leadership is committed any emergent concerns. But is this lack of proactivity that concerned those in attendance.

Calling upon LAPPSET management to rethink its strategy, Mr. Omar said that dialogue and consultations with the host communities help the team in planning. Mr. Laban Omolo, Director of Natural Resources at National Lands Commission cautioned that sidelining the host communities could deny LAPPSET the much-needed funding.

Speaking in the same forum, LAPPSET CEO, Mr. Sylvester Kasuku dismissed claims that the project is detached from the host communities. LAPPSET is designed with a human face, he said. To underline its commitment to the community, LAPPSET has an ambitious capacity development aspect that benefits farmers, traders and the youth where the projects snakes through, Kasuku added.

Kasuku urged for patience, saying that plans are underway to compensate those affected by the 200-metre wide LAPPSET corridor.  According to Kasuku, the LAPPSET project team is careful on preserving the historical appeal of Lamu islands, something that he said is informing the development of an organized system for people to access the islands. He reiterated that LAPPSET’s development potential goes beyond the project’s corridor.  

“Upon its completion, LAPPSET will have a 3% impact on the GDP,” he explained, pointing to a PowerPoint screen indicating that the Lamu Port alone will handle 1780,000 containers annually. Asked whether the LAPPSET project could be a white elephant, cliché for a costly and useless project, Kasuku said lightly that Kenya is not home to that breed of elephants.

“I would rather you address the emerging issues now than when a bulldozer and a camel are in front of each other,” offered Omar.

 

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“Terrorism is a global problem” is defeatist rhetoric

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Abdul Hajj swings into action to rescue a kid in the besieged Westgate Shopping Mall. Photo Credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

When terrorists stormed Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall on September 21, 2013, it took the agility and bravity of civilians to evacuate would be hostages. The courage and dedication of Abdul Hajj and company, selfless civilians who braved grenades and gun shots and facilitated the evacuation of women, men and children from the besieged mall, will remain etched in the minds of many. This was commendable. Instead, the government chose to credit the performance of its security machinery, and ice it up with a defeatist “terrorism is a global problem” narrative. How unfortunate.

For fairness sake, it is important to understand the role of the Kenyan government in the Westgate rescue mission. Joining the operation hours later, Kenya Police Service, Police and the Kenya Defense Forces, KDF were unable to secure the lives of hostages. I am sure the Kenyans and foreigners who lost eyes, nails and nostrils at the hands of the terrorists must have doubted the existence of security apparatus in Kenya.

KDF, often oversold to the masses as competent,  trained its rocket propelled grenades on the jinxed up market shopping mall, triumphantly collapsing it and burying close to 70 people, an insignificant constituency, according to Joseph Ole Lenku, Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary, in the resulting debris. I developed goose bumps on hearing the technocrat term the victims of KDF’s incompetence as insignificant.

Does this shed light on the government’s resolve in hailing praises at its security machinery for its stellar performance?

“Terrorism is a global problem” is defeatist.  On the surface, it plays into the egos of the Mujahedeen, that they are unstoppable. This is exactly what the Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Ku Kux Klan want to hear. Besides exciting terror gangs, this narrative trivializes any localized initiatives to contain terrorism.

In the Kenyan context, it is an “accept and move on” of sorts. It lulls Kenyans into overlooking the gaping complacency of the security apparatus in particular and the government by extension. “Global” here is euphemism for gargantuan, insurmountable.

It reminds me of a folklore popular where I come from in which a squirrel, unable to order its senses in the wake of exposed grain, is crashed under a boulder trap. Before it breathes its last from injuries inflicted on its spinal cord and head, the folklore goes, the squirrel ignorantly reassures itself that what had befallen it is OK, for it also befell the rest of the squirrel squad. Purposed to promote individual responsibility, this folklore lauds the reassurances by individuals when they suffer the consequences of their folly. Just like the folklore, the “terrorism is a global problem” narrative speaks volumes.  

What the Presidency and Interior Cabinet Secretary are telling Kenyans is that Kenya cannot deal with terrorism. It would follow therefore that it is natural for the average Kenyan to realize that the government had stunned itself in its response to the terror attack. By the Police hurling teargas canisters in the direction of the clutch gun wielding Mujahedeen, repelling them into the rows of bread and hardware in Nakumatt, they deserved complements. 

Importantly, the establishment is telling the populace to understand when the Police, for instance, are complacent. That a distraught citizen can call the Police and, if lucky, learn that he should fuel their Land Rover, should be understandable. Increasing road carnage in Kenyan roads, in this connection, should be understandable.

With this statement, the government is telling Kenyans to understand when it is unable to tame corruption, insecurity, high cost of living, and food insecurity. Together with environmental pollution, these too are global problems.  This way, Kenyans should not question when the government unabatedly levies VAT on essential commodities such as sanitary pads, maize flour and milk. Instead, they should accept and move on.

Begging from this is the question on what “local” problems the Kenyan security apparatus deserves praises for solving. Taming cattle rustling and banditry? Protecting politicians from their electorates? Shooting poor Kenyans in post election circumstances? Congratulating them on job well done in any other undertaking is suspicious.  It zombifies Kenyans.

Zombified Kenyans cannot think hard when it emerges that the Police were privy to information of the impending terror attack on that Saturday. That the security guards frisking the hundreds of patrons at Westgate Shopping Mall had frantically phoned in vain Parklands Police Station to report on suspicious persons roaming the premises hours before the attack, too, should be easy to understand. This will certainly soil the nation’s public image.  

By peddling the “terrorism is a global problem” narrative, the Kenyan government is telling its people that they should understand when terrorists strike again and again killing, torturing, injuring and abducting Kenyans and foreigners in their wake. While Police and the National Intelligence Service trade accusations. While the KDF deploys inexperienced soldiers on the frontline and toys with careless strategies. While the government spews propaganda, supervises all these malfunctions, and pours undue praises, Kenyans should understand.

After all terrorism is a global problem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Keep Talking: Lessons from Malala Day

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Hours before Kenyans descended on each other in the infamous 2007 post election violence, the world lost a leader: Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto, the firebrand leader of the leftist Pakistan Peoples Party, fell to an assassin’s bullet as she addressed a political rally in readiness for elections slated for the January of 2008. From CNN, I followed this story closely.  

Unfortunately, Kenya’s post election violence swept away the story of Bhutto. Mainstream media was engrossed in the story of democracy gone sour. Recently enough, in May 2013, Bhutto’s story resurfaced, this time with the assassination of Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, the chief prosecutor in the 2007 murder case. The next time I would hear anyone mention Benazir Bhutto was during this year’s Malala Day. 

What is Malala Day? Malala Day is a United Nations day set aside to commemorate the call for educating children. Named after Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year old Pakistan teen activist, Malala Day is commemorated every 12th day of July. In this year’s event, that saw Malala address a UN youth assembly, the clamor for educating children was louder than it has ever been. 

Before the packed assembly, that had UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in attendance, Malala continued with her spirited agitation for empowerment of Pakistani children. She appealed to those opposed to the empowerment of young women to reconsider their hardline stances. 

“I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child. I want education for the sons and the daughters of all the extremists, especially the Taliban,” said Malala in the address. In October 9 2012, hooded gunmen almost killed Malala. They boarded a school bus in which the teenager and school mates were traveling, shouted her name, frightening the passengers to identifying her, then shot her at the head. 

These were the Taliban determined to silence pro-empowerment voices in Pakistan. To the Taliban, Malala reiterated that she did not harbor any bad blood. She owned that the pink shawl she was wearing belonged to the slain Benazir Bhutto. Malala is determined to talk of the challenge the Taliban philosophy. Unwaveringly.

Malala draws inspiration from Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Lord Budha, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. 

In this light, it is clear that nothing is stopping Malala from getting what she deserves. She has redefined determination across children in Pakistan. In a 2011 interview with CNN, Malala said unequivocally that she is fighting for the rights of children. Children, according to Malala, have the right to education, right to play, right to sing, right to go to the market, and right to speak up.

It is the last right, the right to speak up, that I prescribe for all across the age continuum. Everybody should learn to speak up. In any society, nobody should allow the subjugation of his right to speak up. By speaking up, individuals get their feelings, fears and aspirations known. Speaking up initiates discussions and fertilizes development. 

And it does not matter in what forum one is speaking. It does not matter whether the media is training its cameras on you. Do not wait for a UN assembly to start your speaking up. The wait may be long. 

Mainstream media has been trained to focus on the bourgeoisie. Issues affecting the haves in the society cannot pass the editor’s eyes. Obesity is more newsworthy than starvation. Forgive the commercial orientation of the mainstream media and the successful conditioning of the media consumers. With social media, everyone should just speak up. 

Social media gives individuals unparalleled power to speak up on issues affecting them and the larger society. This explains the need for exercising caution when judging on the diversity of topics, frames and orientations characterizing the conversations on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and blogs. 

Chief Francis Kariuki, for instance, a popular Twitter handle in Kenya, updates on topics that scores take for banter. If not reporting on lost cattle, this handle would be reporting on the triumph of villagers in Nakuru against a chicken thief.  Sometimes, the administrator would report on a lost and found identity card. Chief Francis Kariuki’s conversations land into some ears:  multiples of 22, 935 to be precise. 

Retweets often come from people finding the updates comical. Individuals are conditioned to believe that worthwhile conversations should wear a certain face. This is wrong. 

Conversations are relevant to the worlds of the initiators. Threads emerging from a single update can be informative and can influence decision-making. The implications to the audiences cannot be underestimated. They also give the initiators massive powers to define their destinies.   

Malala came to the limelight after she penned a blog bemoaning the challenges she was undergoing accessing education under the Taliban regime in Pakistan. She personally urged the United States to intervene in ensuring that children had access to education. She was 11 years old. She kept on talking. 

From this, comes the need for consistency when talking on any of the forums. 

Consistency is what those extolling the appointment of blogger Dennis Itumbi to the president’s communication machinery refer to as branding. It should be easy for audiences to associate an individual with a particular line of thinking. Malala would always speak along the lines of promoting the rights of children. It would not be surprising that even in her wildest dreams, Malala did not behave contrary to this line of thinking. 

Malala Day may be gone, at least for this year. However, it leaves behind serious inspirations. The determination portrayed by Malala Yousafzai would go to waste unless it is replicated in diverse forums. To make the world more habitable, to have children in school, individuals and groups should learn to keep talking.

 

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GADO caricature has gone overboard on appending stereotypes, rumors

This morning, as it is the norm, I stood by the newsstand alongside the railway line to catch a glimpse of the headlines in the dailies. I started with the Daily Nation, then the Standard before ending with The Star, obviously. Considering the messages of political alliances on the headlines, I did not spend much time on any of the newspapers. My eyes roved to the pages of the Nation a woman had bought and was busy scanning the pages, as I followed. Then GADO’s cartoon caught my eyes. On getting closer and begging to have a look at the cartoon, the woman complied. Immediately, I could tell that today’s was not an ordinary cartoon.

In a snapshot, the cartoon depicts male representatives of the United Nations, United States, European Union, Rwanda, Uganda and China in a boardroom with a wounded woman representing the Democratic Republic of Congo seated on the floor of the boardroom, apparently distraught, wailing. To add sense to the picture, GADO introduces some text in which the UN representative is advising his male counterparts “We need an agreeable formula for taking turns without fighting and hurting ourselves.” To me, this is the point the cartoonist has gone overboard.

The use of the phrase “taking turns” hints that GADO is insinuating that the men in this boardroom are raping the woman who is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ostensibly, the rapists have been doing their act haphazardly, until they realized that they are risking fighting and injuring each other, the point at which the UN came to their rescue by proposing a more systematic way of raping Congo. How sad. Nobody is blind to the happenings at the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially on the eastern side of the mineral rich country, and the speculation that neighboring countries could be fanning the state of anarchy.

Personally, I do not dispute the fact that should Rwanda and Uganda be contributing in the fighting in Congo, then the strongest terms possible should be used to condemn these neighbors. Besides, I agree that if the international community and the multinational organizations are doing nothing to end the situation in Congo, then they are as good as warming to the fire of the conflict. And as such the UN, US, EU, China deserve condemnation in the strongest terms possible. My worry is GADOs obsession with the use of the woman, and especially cognizant of the gender stereotypes forming the premise of the cartoonist.

Portrayal of the distraught woman in the cartoon indicates her vulnerability in light of the salivating men. This confirms the assertion that women are naturally weak, in relation to their male counterparts. More importantly, the cartoonist is implying that women are not smart enough to be in the same position as men in the society. In addition, the caption in this cartoon indicates that women are only there to meet the sexual desires of men, hence the planning of the raping ordeal.

Conspicuously, the cartoonist has depicted some countries as responsible for the situation in Congo. This confirms the rumors that Rwanda and Uganda are playing a major role in polarizing the borders with Congo so that they benefit from smuggled minerals. As much as this sounds possible, to me it does not sound realistic. I know for sure that warring forces in Eastern Congo are causing dismay to the Congolese by raping and killing civilians and looting property. The forceful disarmament of the FDLR by the Congolese militia, for instance, is a wrong and dangerous strategy. To this extent, it is common knowledge to understand that the Congolese themselves are allowing the situation to degenerate by failing to apply appropriate strategies in addressing their conflicts. If GADO wanted to capture this reality using the distraught woman, he should have shown her exposing some part of her thighs, perhaps an indication that she is whetting the sexual appetite of the lusty men.

United Nations has already send peacekeepers in Congo. But according to the cartoonist, they are not doing anything meaningful. Interestingly, the cartoon portrays the representative of Rwanda, perhaps, judging from the grandeur, the president, as a big facilitator of the conflict in Congo. This is by having him wear black. Such insinuations are untrue, but serve to confirm what the layman on the ground believes.

GADO is one of my respected cartoonists, and he will remain, for creativity and agitation for social courses. For instance, he deserves much credit for one of his caricatures in the social media that did not get past the editors of the mainstream media depicting a section of the Kenyan legislators taking turns raping an emaciated cow, representing Kenyans, after milking it dry. Perhaps because of the strength of the agitation, the changes that the legislators wanted to sneak into the Constitution did not see the light of day. Nevertheless, in today’s cartoon, even at the wake of the gravity of the situation in Congo, the cartoonist has gone overboard, confirming a stereotype here and a rumor there.

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The future of Nairobi commuting

The future of Nairobi commuting is here

Commuting in Nairobi is synonymous with stress. Traffic jams, unpredictable fare hikes and undisciplined road users are some of the attributes that great commuters in this city. However, there is some hope. Commuters from areas served by the railway line are waking up to the convenience of commuting. Thanks to the Rift Valley Railways, RVR. To many, the commuter train has become the most preferred means of getting to the city especially in the morning. The railway firm is investing in improving its service delivery. For instance, it has contracted the ticketing services of an independent firm, KAPS Limited. This is not only a shot in the arm of RVR’s efficiency in the collection of revenue but also it translates to increased confidence with the passengers. The rationale is that RVR is able to concentrate its energies on other core businesses, triggering the betterment and predictability of its services. Now with the proposed commencement of the Syokimau Route, more Nairobi residents will enjoy the thrill of hassle free commuting to and from the city. Stakeholders should hasten the extension of the railway services at least to all estates in Nairobi and major towns.

 

 

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Create counter smoking campaigns

Create counter smoking campaigns

            Does anybody notice the lull in the Kenyan media as far as cigarette promotions are concerned? After the banning of cigarette smoking promotions on radio and televisions, all the dust seems to have settled. Apparently, every stakeholder is now content with the status quo. Ironically, the consumption of cigarettes continues unabated, with giant marketers establishing larger markets every day. It is clear that the ban on promotions is not an effective remedy to smokism. Something should be done through the same media to counter smoking behavior amongst Kenyans.

Cigarette smoking is the only activity that is legally promoted and is highly lethal when used as the promotion directs. Cigarettes are addictive and those who smoke, researches have proven, are easily hooked and seldom change brands. Their number is only reduced by death from the complications associated with smoking. This has made those behind the promotions of cigarettes explore ways of replenishing the dwindling numbers of smokers. They are not targeting the already mature populations who are smokers already but instead they are recruiting school age children and women into smoking.

Tobacco advertising is done by using appealing attributes in the cigarette advertisements that are printed or transmitted through the electronic media. Cigarette advertisements use youthful healthy models full of energy and with no apparent worries whatsoever. Apparently, they send the message to the children and youth that the relaxation and success of the models is a result of smoking the cigarettes.

This misconception is totally wrong and dangerous. It is a desperate mechanism of the promoters to encourage children and the youth to get on board the smoking bandwagon. Children, the youth and women who are not yet convinced by these advertisements need to be wary of the wrong appeals in cigarettes packaging since the appeals are not true. They only mention explicitly that cigarette smoking is harmful to the user’s health and fail to give more information about the harms associated. When coerced they print that it causes bad breathe.

The truth is that cigarette smoking causes a plethora of ailments lung cancer included. It is also associated with impotence in the later years in life. This is the more reason why there should be a health promotion campaign targeting young women and children. The lull provided by the banning of cigarette promotions provides the right environment for this campaign.

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Why I keep missing important Employment Chances

Now I Know Why I Keep Missing Important Employment Chances

This was the second interruption into the Quantitative Skills discussion. In the second semester of the first year, Quantitative Skills is one the units, and perhaps the only unit after French for Beginners, that brought students at the Department of Communication Studies together. During this time, discussions were inevitable since the unit entailed the much-dreaded topics such as Record Keeping, Financial Mathematics, Budgeting and Taxation. The interruption, therefore, was unwelcome as it interfered with concentration required for such complex topics. Unlike the first interlude that went ignored, this time round some group members, three of the seven to be precise, resolved almost simultaneously to chip in with answers. Perhaps they were determined to help Lucy and this way succeed in keeping the discussion on track. This was not the case.

Perhaps stimulated by the discussion on Fringe Benefit aspect of Taxation, Lucy chipped in an observation that later turned into a personal experience.  Like any other youth and job seeker, after attaining her diploma, Lucy had had big dreams of making it in life. Little did she know that these dreams would fade by the day as she applied for various jobs unsuccessfully. She would later land and leave various jobs on grounds that they did not come any closer to her expectations. In one of them, working for a local media house located in Nairobi, she quit after the managing director made sexual advances at her, and threatened to ruin her life if she did not play ball. However, this was not the cause of her interruption to this valuable academic session.

“It always pains me when I see less qualified candidates land jobs while more qualified ones keep tarmacking. These more qualified candidates oftentimes land jobs that do not match their expectations,” she intoned. This drew the attention of each of the members in this group. Before I could decipher the synergy of her utterance and the prevailing discussion, and before any other person could fashion an appropriate reaction, she offered an explanation. “Corruption and nepotism explain this phenomenon.”

“The Kenyan job market today calls for one to know someone to land a job. If one does not have a godfather, he or she must you must have money to corrupt their way through the phalanx of authorities. Where will a poor person with the right qualifications and skills get the money for bribery?” she probed. At this point, she narrated a personal experience in which she narrowly missed an employment opportunity with a renowned parastatal that deals in intelligence.  She was amongst the 150 candidates shortlisted by Price Water House Coopers for the particular post out of the 6000 applicants who had shown interest by sending their applications.  “The short listing gave me every opportunity to celebrate. I was sure that the auditors in Pricewaterhouse Coopers had seen my potential for this job, hence the inclusion in the short list,” she said. This observation drew the attention of everybody in the group. This time, instead of looking at Lucy as hell bent to distract the discussion, members were passionate about providing incredible inputs. Ruth echoed Lucy’s sentiments.

“I know several people with bachelors and masters degrees who are jobless several years after graduation”, she offered. “A friend of mine talked of a friend of theirs who holds a doctorate and does some work that a high school graduate should do. This is discouraging,” she opined. Shocked in disbelief, I was about to ask Ruth if she knew of the disciplines these people were pursuing in their studies when Lucy interrupted. Jubilantly, she added that in the same job market, those connected to personalities end up landing lucrative jobs. This is the point where Naomi, who once worked as a secretary at the Public Service Commission, intervened.

“This is not the entire truth. I have seen job seekers who have no connection come, face the panel of interviewers and because they are suitably qualified, get the jobs,” she said. She said that corruption and nepotism are a thing of the past in the Kenyan job market. “This is especially applicable if you are looking at the public sector”, she added. According to Naomi, even if a job seeker were connected to one of the panelists, it would take his performance before the entire panel to be successful. It is naïve to assume that a single panelist can influence the decision of the entire panel as far as picking a candidate is concerned. “The only postings in the government where individuals directly influence the appointment of employees are postings such as those of personal assistants,” She added. Ochieng, an employee in the government concurred with her.

Ochieng confirmed that it no longer takes knowing anyone to land a job in the Kenyan public sector. He further brought in an interesting perspective: vetting. According to him, those seeking high offices in the public sector are expected to meet and perhaps exceed high moral standards. In this light, candidates go through thorough scrutiny before landing certain jobs. Some players in the private sector such as banks are emulating this trend. In the understanding of Ochieng, this could be what transpired in Lucy’s ordeal with the intelligence parastatal.

“Once vetted by the panelists, the employer further vets the candidate thoroughly. Apart from contacting your referees, some of the employers take interest in knowing the prospective employee’s social life: whom one often hangs out with, where one spends their weekends and how do one relates to people in general. There are many way of realizing this. For instance, new media such as the mobile phone are handy. It is appropriate to imagine that in some sectors of the government, someone would be tapping into the prospective employee’s mobile phone conversations.  With social media, vetting becomes very easy; one should not be surprised to know that someone could be tracking their movements physically especially when they are eyeing some key position in the government. Should one fall short of meeting the expected moral standards, then getting the job becomes a mirage,” he advised with an avuncular tone.

These sentiments were awakening to many of us on the reality of the recruitment process. It was clear that it takes more than just technocracy to land a job. It was up to Lucy, as well as everyone else, to evaluate their behavior prior to seeking employment opportunities with serious employers such as the government. It was getting late and we could not continue with the discussion in Quantitative Skills. Nevertheless, I went home knowing that I have to consciously evaluate my lifestyle from then if I am to impress any employers upon graduating.

 

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