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Kenya: Can a hashtag save the job market?

By Morris Kiruga, in Nairobi
Posted on Monday, 10 June 2019 14:01

Formal sector employment is hard to come by in Kenya. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

In a time of rampant unemployment, dwindling newspaper sales and enhanced democracy in sourcing news and avoiding adverts, can a hashtag save Kenya’s job market?

If you are advertising a job in Kenya (or targeting Kenyans) on social media today, it is an unspoken rule that you include the hashtag #IkoKaziKE in the posting.

 

#IkoKaziKE, which translates to “There is work in Kenya” in Kiswahili, is a common online space for job seekers, service providers, and employers.

Here, corporates and individuals share job opportunities, and people also share testimonials, and at times, career advice.

  • It fills a critical gap for corporates that need to increase their pool of applicants, which has become harder as newspapers sell less and more people get online.
  • It is also a much cheaper option to small companies and individuals that do not have the funds to advertise elsewhere.

About a million Kenyans enter the job market every year, but very few of them can ever hope to get into formal employment.

According to the Kenya Bureau of Statistics Economic Survey 2019, the economy created only 840, 600 jobs in 2018, with the bulk of them, 83.6%, in the informal sector.

The International Labor Organisation places Kenya’s youth unemployment at 11.4 percent, significantly higher than the overall 7.4 percent.

  • The formal job market’s growth is at its slowest in 5 years, with only 78, 400 new jobs in 2018 compared to a high of 137, 900 jobs in 2014.
  • The informal job market is struggling too, as as credit to the private sector has decreased significantly since the introduction of the rate cap in 2016.
  • A 2016 survey found that 2.2 million SMEs had closed shop in the preceding five years, an alarming rate of 440, 000 failed enterprises each year.

The unemployment crisis is a critical challenge for Kenyatta’s government, especially as the private sector falters and the public sector remains the biggest employer.

Left without options, some graduates advertise their credentials online in a bid to attract employers and clients. A significant portion of these are curated on the #IkoKaziKE hashtag, which has since spread to other social media sites.

Rose Munuhe, a marketer in Nairobi who started the hashtag in December 2016, told The Africa Report she never thought it would become what it is now. “I had just resigned from my job and reality was dawning, it is pretty hard to find a job,” she explained, “It solved a problem most job sites seem to have not figured out which is: Feedback gives job seekers hope.”

  • Munuhe has a similarly named career blog “…that features many youths and their success stories giving hope to the rest and sharing their career experiences for all those looking to know more.”

Mark Kaigwa, Founder of Nendo, a digital strategy & research firm based in Nairobi told The Africa Report that the hashtag is “a chance for the young and connected to use their social capital through social media to unlock work and support.”

  • An analysis of the hashtag by Julie Wakaba at Botlab, a software accelerator startup based in Nairobi, found that most tweets are from people looking for a job, followed by companies and individuals telling others to apply.

With more than a million Kenyans on Twitter, the hashtag #IkoKaziKE offers not just the chance to get noticed for a job, but also to advertise goods and services.

  • Such tweets are often accompanied by phrases such as “Please retweet, my customer may be on your timeline,” which works as a rallying call.
  • “It is a form of virtue signaling but also showing virtual support, thumbs up and high fives. A virtual referral system that says that your digital presence/platform may be where I gain my next customer and all you have to donate, even to a stranger, is an implicit endorsement, the retweet,” says Kaigwa.

Outside the hashtag, young Kenyans are also engaging in well-calculated stunts both online and offline to get noticed.

  • In 2017, a man made news after walking around Nairobi with a placard bearing his image, credentials, and phone number. He got a job, before quitting a year later over low pay.
  • At this year’s Labor Day celebrations, another man spent his time holding a similar placard. He later told reporters that he had decided “to put this banner on their faces so that someone can at least spot me.”
  • After 27-year-old Ruth Jemutai’s unsuccessful job hunt was highlighted by a media house, she got multiple job offers, eventually accepting a government job with the energy regulator.
  • A senior government official, Interior Permanent Secretary Karanja Kabicho, was ‘forced’ to settle a Shs. 40 debt that President Kenyatta owed to a hawker who sold him chewing gum in September 2017.

For Rose Munuhe, the hashtag expands information on the few opportunities available, and helps young Kenyans share stories of the job market. “Since #IkoKaziKE started Kenyans on Twitter help one another tag jobs, they use the hash tag to recruit, share testimonials and work related advice,” she says.

But, but, but: Kenya’s unemployment crisis requires structural solutions, she says. “A hashtag can’t save this.”

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