Something needs to give to reclaim ‘lost professions’

Aviation, law and education stand out as careers dogged by bureaucracy, retrogressive policies and unflattering public perceptions


Lanji Ouko

Kenyan institutions continuously contribute to the rise and fall of some of the most elite professions. It may be the government in general, private sector or even citizens but one fact remains: a number of professions are no longer viewed as prestigious as they once were thanks to bureaucracy, rigidity and institutional corruption! These three factors illegitimately weaken various institutions and professions, and the excuse of “too swamped” is irrelevant in most cases, if not in all!

Growing up, teaching, medicine, aviation and law were highly respected and were, without question, the most prestigious career paths. Today, in contrast, individuals pursuing these professions are among those faced by some of the biggest obstacles.

Teachers were once viewed as the smartest individuals in the community but now they spend their time begging the government to effect legitimately awarded pay rises! Belittling the people who educate the doctor, lawyer and even the politician is simply shameless.

In the village, a doctor cycling to the clinic was a view to watch in amazement. The clean Kaunda suit and a bag full of medicine strapped at the back of his bicycle had a reassurance to it. Everything a doctor said was the gospel truth, whether the prescription required one to roll in mud or eat worms. Doctors were the most educated individuals in any community. Today like teachers, nurses and doctors are constantly up in arms demanding pay raises, favourable working conditions and better facilities.


The scene of Leonardo Di Caprio in the 1960s movie “Catch me if you Can” where he acts as a pilot, walking down the street and the little children run up to him asking for his autograph, for the sole reason that he is a pilot, is iconic. Indeed, being a commercial pilot is a prestigious line of work. However, the state of affairs at Kenya Civil Aviation Authority may convince you to retract that though.

Cabin crew, flight engineering, flight operations, air traffic control and flight dispatch are all licensed professions. The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority only issues licences. If you have a license from the CAA of any other country, you will be required to convert it to obtain a Kenyan licence for you to operate on a Kenyan registered aircraft.

With that being so, no college in Kenya issues KCAA licences. Additionally, no employer will hire you and expect you to work without a KCAA licence. A number of Kenyan students study aviation in South Africa and the United States with the hope of being able to combine a degree course and a commercial pilot’s license. Others do so purely because they want to study in the crème de la crème of flights academies in the world.

So what’s the difference between the federal Aviation Administration in the United States, the Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority and the Kenyan one?

Shawn Bentley, an American who has been trying to convert his license since 2013 says: “At the beginning I knew it would be difficult… but I have over ten years’ experience, yet I keep failing this for three years. Is it FAA vs. KCAA? A subtle warning to individuals to avoid attending institutions abroad? The amount of money I’ve spent sitting this exam could educate another pilot locally… My wife is Kenyan and my daughter is Kenyan… I want to work and live here, but that is proving to be very difficult.”

Quite unexpected but it is more efficient to convert in Tanzania as it is faster and involves less bureaucracy and corruption. The Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority is known to do everything in its power to keep regional airlines out the Kenyan skies and is currently doing the same to Kenyan pilots with International licences. The cases have been in the media, but the feigned outrage is muffled and ignored stating they lack foundation and adequate evidence. The list of pilots from South Africa and the United States who are grounded and cannot fly in the Kenyan airspace is quite long.

Back to law, there was a time that members of the public would pack themselves in courts to hear the eloquent and obviously overly dramatic exchange in the courtroom. Law was indisputably the most prestigious career of them, so to say. Today the corruption and bureaucracy involved in the institutions has deteriorated the prestige of a law degree. An example is the shenanigans at the Kenya School of Law.

Dr Kulundu Bitonye was described as an inefficient but the eloquent Prof Patrick Lumumba does not seem to be any different! The Kenya school of Law still lacks integrity and public confidence. An institution training law graduates to be advocates should have no scandal of lecturers colluding with students to cheat in exams!

Thanks to globalisation and modernisation, the legal aspects continue to expand and are embraced throughout the world, but with the rigidity in the educational institutions, it appears Kenya isn’t willing to introduce these changes.

What policies may be put in place to uphold all these prestigious professions instead of running them down the drain? Other than an end to bureaucracy and corruption, it is meet for students to do adequate research before studying in international universities. On the part of the government and its educational institutions, it is time they evolved with the rest of the world instead of waiting to play catch-up.



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