Kenyan graduates writing papers for foreign students to make ends meet

Online writing

So prolific are Kenyans in this trade that they caused a storm in South Korea in May 2022 when an academic paper purportedly written by a Kenyan became the topic of discussion during a parliamentary session. 

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Rather than suffer the agony of the almost hopeless pursuit of non-existent jobs, Kenyan graduates are finding refuge in the welcoming arms of academic writing.

The earning are sometimes so good that even those who already have full-time jobs quit and switch entirely to online writing.

Ms Sharon Nekesa, a former full-time teacher in Soi, Trans-Nzoia County, quit her job after three years when she started earning more than triple her teaching salary after learning the ropes of online writing.

"The essence of employment is to get money to fulfil your needs. That is what online writing has given me. I can now meet my financial obligations more easily and still have extra to save and invest," she told Nation.

Nation caught up with two other professional teachers who have also made the switch, their English literature training a much-needed skill for essay writing online.

So prolific are Kenyans in this trade that they caused a storm in South Korea in May 2022 when an academic paper purportedly written by a Kenyan became the topic of discussion during a parliamentary session.

The paper plunged the plenary session into a heated exchange between Korean lawmakers as the nominee for justice minister, Han Dong-hoon, was cross-examined by the House. Some lawmakers accused the nominee's daughter of using writers in Kenya to build a stellar resume.

"You said that your daughter did not receive any outside help in writing the paper, but there is evidence that a ghostwriter in Kenya actually wrote it," Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Nam-Kuk questioned the justice minister nominee.

In his defence, the nominee pointed out that the paper was written by a high school student and was not intended for university entrance.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) data shows that unemployment remains a worrying factor for the youth, who make up two-thirds of the country's unemployed population, and that the rate of increase in their unemployment has been particularly pronounced since 2020.

Further research shows that the number of youth who are unemployed despite not being in education or training has increased by 68 per cent since 2019.

Although ethically and legally controversial, those engaged in academic writing want to be left alone to continue the trade.

For Derrick Omusolo, who owns an online writing company, the work has been putting food on his table since 2015 when he was just a second-year student at Moi University and he has no regrets.

He earns between Sh1 million and Sh3 million a month, enough to meet his needs and pay his staff of about 54 young people.

A glance at his PayPal account easily confirms the figures he revealed to Nation. At the time of the interview, the account had a surplus of US$40,000 (about Sh5.6 million), with the trail of transactions proving how lucrative the business is.

His journey began when an older student introduced him to academic writing. His task was simple; to write academic essays on a variety of topics, including history and literature, earning him between Sh300 and Sh500 per assignment.

Within a year, he had mastered the art, saved some money and bought his first online writing account called "My Homework".

Through this site, he started earning Sh200,000 a month, which he still used to pay a couple of people who helped him complete the assignments.

As the months went by, he bought more accounts, including My Study Pool, and also looked for more opportunities to write research papers. Other writing sites include Essayshark, Writerslab, Edusson, Writersbay, Essaypro, Uvocorp, Writerszillas, Coursehero and many more.

There are also a number of innovative, tech savvy Kenyans who are now creating websites where expatriate students post their jobs and anyone suitable for the job is connected to them through the site, where they agree on payment terms. Some of the money is transferred directly to the website owner.

One such developer gave Nation a glimpse of how the account works, on condition that the identity of the website not be revealed for fear that the State could shut it down.

Assignments in the Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) earn more than those in the arts. For instance, a physics, chemistry or biology assignment can earn one as much as US$25 per page (about Sh3,540) compared to education assignments that earn one in the range of Sh150 to Sh300 per page.

"If the arts or education assignment is an emergency, meaning the deadline is fast approaching, you can charge between Sh350 and Sh400 per page," said Mr Dennis Onyango, who has been in the business for the past five years.

Mr Omusolo has six different online writing accounts. On one such account that he bought for Sh300,000 in 2020, he received so many assignments that he recouped his investment in less than two months.

Unfortunately, this account was shut down a few years ago after the US government flagged the website for being used to help students cheat in their exams.

As rosy as it sounds, the sustainability of this business model is under threat. One of them is the payment system, mainly PayPal, which is getting more strict and will close any account it suspects of making dubious transactions. Many online writers transfer their money through this platform and, if a transaction is flagged, all operations in PayPal are shut down. Sometimes it takes six months or more to access the money.

Apart from the payment system, the introduction of Chat GPT, which is now used by millions of students around the world to help them complete most of their college assignments, is another challenge.

It is also being adopted by progressive lecturers in the US, including one Ethan Mollick, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who in a January interview with the US National Public Radio alluded to a recent research involving over 20,000 Kenyans in an academic writing syndicate helping foreign students. The exposé showed how Kenyans were paid between Sh2,700 and Sh10,000 to write essays for students in the US and UK.

To curb the cheating menace, the lecturer adopted ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence bot that he says helps his students get hints and insights on how to answer questions and school queries.

"This ChatGPT is doing our work for us. It does exactly what our customers want us to do. We have to find a way to beat this thing or we will be out of a job," said Ms Claire Lokitan, an online writer based in Kahawa Wendani.