Kenyan students sacrifice all for unpaid internships

23 Oct 2018


Students in Kenya have turned their backs on companies with poor reputations surrounding internships. Many have taken to exposing these companies on Twitter using the hashtag ‘#internshipswithpay, which has been trending on twitter for the past few months now. It was prompted by the news that most Kenyan companies were not paying their interns - interns that were overworked or working similar hours as full-time employees.

The students of Kenya turned to social media to express their frustrations on the ongoing situation which has now formed as a community hub for distressed students. 

Many compared unpaid internships to slavery, with some claiming that it was a method used by institutions to prey on desperation. Others used the hashtag as an opportunity to share their own experiences of going hungry just to ensure they have the money to get to work.

Precious Gondi, 23, who is a mechanical student from Nairobi spoke to Backbench about his frustrations with the lack of opportunities available for students after leaving university and the struggle faced each day by unpaid interns.

“I am a student. I need transport, I need airtime to communicate, and I will need something to eat at lunch time. We are not asking for too much, all we need is some little cash to keep us going”.

Most internships in Kenya in the industrial industry last for three to six months while others can span up to a year or more with no pay. 

A student with minimum two years' experience in any industry is seen as likely to get a job after their studies. But the competitiveness of getting internships leaves some children desperate and hopeless with no money and no job to help their household.


Gondi adds: “There is a desperation to get experience, for you to get a job they will always state in the requirements that they want someone who is experienced.  Some want two years, others want six. So, you will find that people are so desperate for experience they will take a step forward anywhere whether it’s a place of war or terror, they’ll do anything in the hope of getting a job in the end.  But many of us are still scratching our pockets.”

Over 1,000 students and young adults on twitter have retweeted a statement made by Lord Abraham Mutai, social justice advocate, which said unpaid internships is the new modern-day slavery and the label ‘internship’ was simply a sexy cover up.


“Slavery is too harsh. You cannot compare it to slavery, yes, it is painful to work for nothing, our parents are frustrated and we’re being a burden to them asking them for change all the time when they have nothing. But comparing it to slavery is too strong. There are some companies who have tried to help students to make life easier for them like Akirachix and uni leaver Kenya. Others may not pay you but will provide you with food. But the problem is there are very few of these companies and not everyone has access to them,” says Mr Gondi

Despite the supposed benefits of internships, with Kenya's unemployment rate dropping from 11.47% in 2017 to 7.4% this year, the question which many of the students are asking is just how beneficial it is to do these internships if there is no end reward.

When asked if he found these internships beneficial, Mr Gondi paused and took a deep breath: “One of the worries is whether or not we will actually gain any skills from these internships that will land us any jobs. We got nothing from primary school and secondary school. I did a number of subjects including agriculture, out of all of the eight I studied there is nothing that can sustain me.”


The situation in Kenya is one that needs real action. Social media campaigns are a good start but politicians need to step up and take action to solve the crisis. 

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