In Kenya, the quest to make money and earn a living has led many youths into academic writing, an emerging and very lucrative industry with the mandate of doing school assignments online for college students in the United States, Britain and Australia.
There are many websites that allow people in developing countries to bid for and complete American assignments.
A cheating scandal reportedly exploiting Kenyan academics and paying them as little as $1 an hour to write essays for British and American students have been uncovered by a British daily newspaper’s investigation.
In its August 23 report, The Daily Mail gained access to the ‘secretive’ firms that have been described as a ‘cancer’ undermining Kenyan universities. “Slaving away in ‘essay factories’ in Nairobi, the highly educated experts earn as little as a dollar an hour while their millionaire bosses cream off the profits — and cheating Western teenagers take the credit,” the Daily Mail wrote.
“Like most people, I started my essay writing business while I was at university,” 36-year-old founder of Mambi Microsystems James Karuri told the newspaper.
According to him, he expanded his business into other markets and hired 80 freelancers and 15 administrative staff members. “I remember clearly when I made my first million, I felt a great sense of achievement, like all my hard work was paying off.”
The Daily Mail said 115,000 British students buy essays each year. The paper spoke to an undisclosed source, one of Karuri’s former colleagues, who revealed that “A Kenyan student starting this work might get 50 cents per page for a school essay when the original fee might be $50.”
Pay does go up as the writers gain more experience, but not before spending years working 12-hour shifts for minimal pay, the former employee said.
“After a few years, for technical writing at PhD level, an experienced writer could earn $2,000 per job – still a small amount of the total but very good money for Kenya.
“At that level, writers subcontract the work, paying peanuts and keeping the lion’s share. But on average, most writers just earn about a dollar an hour.”
Similarly, 33-year-old Kamau, an IBM expert with two degrees in computer science, told the Daily Mail he has been writing essays from his Nairobi home for two years and has paid tens of thousands of dollars to buy access to better-paid commissions.
“If you want to make big money, you need to pass academic tests and work very well for many years to improve your ranking,” he said. “It is all done online, like a computer game. When your rank goes up, better commissions are unlocked.
“The quick way is to buy a high-ranking account from a broker. But that is very expensive.”
Kamau told the Daily Mail he and six friends used their life savings to buy a top account for $2,000 that allowed them to pick more profitable essay jobs, such as masters dissertations and PhD theses.
Their account was shut down when they missed two deadlines, so they raised $4,000 to buy an even more profitable account. Again, Kamau and his friends missed two essay deadlines which led to the closure of the account by the online provider, he told Daily Mail.
Kamau and his friends have not given up, they now hope to break even in about five years. “It is a long road, but there is no other way to make money in Kenya,” Kamau said.
However, computer scientist and expert in contract cheating, Thomas Lancaster, told the newspaper that from his research, “Everything to do with cheating is more widespread than we know, Kenya rules the world in this type of work.”