By Pauline Njoroge
If I were to advice every university (undergraduate) student and every college student who is participating in active politics this season, I would tell them not to lose sight of what really matters.
I have heard stories and I know others, of people who took a sabbatical from their studies to engage in campaign during such a period, and they lost focus while at it because once the period is done, one starts running halter skelter, here and there trying to position themselves. Before they know it, another campaign season arrives, and they find themselves caught up in a 5 year cycle of something akin to a rocking chair; a lot of movement but very little meaningful progress, because one lacks papers to move them to the next level. Under the circumstances, people also tend to peg their hopes on campaign money, which disappears as soon as it came once that season is over.
Some say papers are not important and believe that good connections may be all one needs. But I tell you verily verify my young brothers and sisters, unless you are going to certain private businesses, papers do matter especially if you plan to join public service or corporate Kenya. Connections can only take you so far, but if you do not have the papers, utafika mahali na utakwama.
Before April 2013, as a communication manager in TNA I was earning a salary of Ksh 100,000 plus other marupurupus here and there from the campaign. A few months after the campaign I joined an institution that sort for my skill in social media strategies. I was very good in this area and had grown so much in it, having been part of a presidential campaign. Problem was, besides the skill, academic qualifications were an important requirement in this job. So as much as I had the skill they found useful, I couldn’t get a meaningful contract. I was hired as a casual with a 3 month renewable contract, taking home about Ksh 40,000… which was quite a downgrade from my previous political engagement.
Right there I made a vow to myself that I would never again miss out on good opportunities or be downgraded because I lacked the prerequisite papers. I resolved to undertake my bachelors and masters degree when Uhuru was still president. Problem was finances. A few months before I had decided to prioritize my kid sister and support her university education. Keeping both of us in school was going to be an uphill task, but I just had to achieve it.
Where there is a will there is always a way, and I can be quite aggressive when I am determined to achieve something. In 2014 things started shaping up. With support of good friends, and with savings from international meetings that I was being sent to by the office or being invited to by some UN agencies and AU thanks to my social media skills and presence, I was able to enroll for my B.A in Mass Media and Communication. I entered class in January 2015 and never stopped until I got my Masters in International Studies, in December 2020. A straight 6 years of very many sacrifices. I could barely hang out with friends on Friday nights because I had classes ending at 8-8:30pm and others starting on Saturdays at 8am. I would be in New York or Johanesburg, and when my colleagues are going to enjoy city life in the evening after meetings, I would be in a hotel room catching up on assignments. I had to balance it all; classes, work, local and foreign travels and even the 2017 election campaigns. But I had resolved that nothing would come between me and completing my degrees on time. Sometimes I would forgo a trip because I have a CAT or main exam. When I look back, I can authoritatively say that it was worth every bit of sacrifice. I now have the papers and I have the experience even at the Continental level.
To every young person actively engaging in politics, I urge you, do not waste your education time when you still have it, because of a flitting moment. Just find a balance. And whatever you do, do not take a sabbatical from your studies because of political engagements. It makes one procrastinate, to a point of losing interest as you follow the seemingly exciting life of politics, politicians and the liquidity that comes with it. Jijenge na masomo kwanza, and this is one thing you will never regret.