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Kuna digital jobs ama ni stori za jaba? The story media refuses to probe

Brian failed to hit the headlines. Kenyans have no idea what he looks like, his voice or even full name. Yet Brayo ought to be the poster boy for the Kenya Kwanza administration’s campaign to get foreign ICT gigs for the teeming millions of jobless youths.

President William Ruto dropped Brayo’s name on February 13. “I went to a certain village in Kaiboi where I met a young man called Brian, a diploma student who, because of the internet and a computer, he now works for an AI company in Germany,” the President said.

“Mind you, Brian doesn’t have a passport and has never been to Nairobi, but because of technology he now works not for a supermarket but for an AI company in Germany.”

The media didn’t pick up this juicy story. Why? Stori za jaba?

While attending the World Governments Summit in Dubai, President Ruto said Tim Cook, the CEO of the American tech giant Apple, told him last year that the multinational employs about 23,000 Kenyans.

Like the story of Brian and other claims about digital jobs, keyboard warriors lampooned the President for this claim.

“Kenyans laugh off Ruto claims about 23,000 Apple jobs”, Citizen Digital reported. “President William Ruto’s claim that Silicon Valley giant Apple employs 23,000 Kenyans has been met with scepticism online with many Kenyans poking holes into the seemingly far-fetched assertion,” the story said.

Perhaps journalists could have asked the President’s communications team to clarify this claim? Could the Presidential Communication Service provide more details? Who are those employees exactly? What do they do? Could we have some names and faces?

There is no evidence on record anywhere that any journalist tried to find out these details from State House Spokesperson Hussein Mohammed or Government Spokesperson Isaac Mwaura The 5th.

Perhaps the government communication teams ought to have provided details of the alleged digital jobs to the media to clear the air? They are paid by taxpayers to do so. But as things stand the jobs remain a rumour.

Well, not quite. While the Kenyan media has generally failed to pursue this story, the Qatari international broadcaster Al Jazeera carried a report that appears to confirm some of the President’s claims.

“Rural Kenyans power West’s AI revolution. Now they want more,” Al Jazeera online reported on February 3. Reporter Anne Kidmose didn’t reach Brian in Kaiboi but met 30-year-old Caroline Njau from Nyahururu who lives in Naivasha.

“Seated in her living room with a cup of milk tea, she labels data for artificial intelligence (AI) companies abroad on an app,” the story said.

“The designer of the app – an American subcontractor to Silicon Valley companies – pays her $3 an hour.”

Njau is an annotator. Her annotation of data compiles the building blocks that train artificial intelligence to recognise patterns in real life, in this case with self-driving cars. The trained teacher has been doing this work since 2021.

“Kenya is emerging as a hub for such online work, rising to compete with countries like India and the Philippines,” Al Jazeera reported. “The birth of tech start-ups since the late 2000s, followed by the entry of tech outsourcing companies, along with business-friendly policies, skilled labour and high-speed internet have all led to an economy where digital jobs are the bread and butter for a large portion of the youth.”

But why don’t we see the stories of Njau and Brayo in the news? Why are the President’s claims of digital jobs left to be dismissed offhand as rumours and not properly researched to separate fact from fiction?

“In 2021, a survey by Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) showed that at least 1.2 million Kenyans are working online, most of them informally,” Al Jazeera stated.

Kennedy Cheruyot, 24, is an unemployed nurse from Eldoret. He opened a Remotasks account in 2021 and has continued to work online while looking for a job in hospitals.

“Previously, boys in our culture were supposed to go to the farm, herding the cattle. Now, they stay inside to do online work,” he said.

There’s nothing wrong with being sceptical about what the President says. He’s a politician after all. Brayo who is supposedly minting dollars from Germany may well be non-existent. Nobody is earning bucks in Kenya by clicking on their computer, as Ruto dramatically claimed. And so on.

But there is a difference between scepticism, which is a journalistic quality, and cynicism, which is lazy disdain, negativity, and whining. The media has treated the digital jobs story with cynicism instead of finding out and telling the truth – as Al Jazeera did.

See you next week!

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