My Induction into Corruption
Every time IPSOS releases the results of an opinion poll, I remember MIX MIX.
It happened way back in my days at university, and it is the reason I cannot pass the integrity test if I sought public office.
One of our professors [name withheld] owned a research firm [name withheld]; and he used us, his students, to administer questionnaires.
In one assignment, he was commissioned by one of Kenya's two mainstream newspapers [name withheld] to conduct research on newspaper readership. The objective was to analyze newspaper readership habits, find out what types of stories newspaper readers liked, and determine which between the newspaper and its only competitor was more popular.
That is how Jacquie, Rose, and I ended up in Nyeri town, each carrying 500 questionnaires.
Each of us was expected to interview 50 people every day, so we were supposed to stay for ten days.
It was the first time the three of us were conducting research, but we were not trained.
The only instruction Professor gave us was: "Talk to anyone on the streets and ask him or her the questions on the questionnaire."
"The questions are multiple choice, so it is not difficult," he assured us.
He promised to pay us 6K for the whole job, but he gave us 2K to cover travel and accommodation. The balance of 4K would be paid when we submitted questionnaires.
At that time, 2K was a lot of money.
We arrived in Nyeri on a Sunday, ready to begin the interviews on Monday. We divided Nyeri into three zones, and we agreed on who would cover which zone.
The first four people I talked to were uncooperative. The first one said he did not have time, the second one said she did not want to be disturbed, the third one insisted on being paid, and the fourth one told me to fuck off.
I got demoralized and returned to the hotel, and I found Rose at the reception.
She was crying.
"What is wrong?" I asked.
"I have given up. All the people I spoke to were abusive. I don't think it is worth it," she explained.
She said a lady she tried to interview accused her of attempting to con her.
"I am really sorry," I said, as I tried to comfort her. I shared my experience, and she calmed down when she realized she was not the only one who had problems.
Before long, Jacquie also returned.
"Doing research is shit, " she shouted from the entrance. "I am so pissed off."
We consoled one another, and we decided to take a break for the rest of the day.
On Tuesday, we each went out to try our luck, and the morning was not so bad for me. The people I talked responded well. However, at 3 p.m., I met a man who talked to me rudely, so I called it it a day.
At the hotel, the receptionist told me that Jacquie and Rose had checked out. There were no mobile phones those days, so there was no way I could find out what happened. However, I imagined their day did not go so well, so they probably gave up.
On Wednesday morning, I was preparing to go out to the field, but I found myself packing.
Back in Nairobi, I found some of my colleagues who were supposed to have traveled to other towns, and they laughed at me when I told them I had gone to the field.
None had left Nairobi, but they had completed all their questionnaires.
I asked them how they managed to do that, and they introduced me to MIX MIX.
"'What is MIX MIX?" I asked.
"It's simple," OJ replied. "Each question has five possible answers: A, B, C, D, and E."
"MIX MIX," he explained, "is ticking the box beside one of these answers at random; but you also have to mix the answers."
"What does that mean?" I probed.
"Don't repeat answers for consecutive questions." he replied. "If the answer to Question 1 is A, the answer to Question 2 should be B, C, D, or E."
OJ said that if I paid 1K, he could get me people to do it it by the end of the day.
We submitted the questionnaires after 10 days, and we were paid the balance of 4K.
A month later, the newspaper whose research we had MIX MIXED reported the findings in a screaming headline.
"Research shows we are the most preferred newspaper in East Africa," it said.
One sentence in the middle of the story captured the work Jacquie, Rose, and I had done in Nyeri:
"In Nyeri town," it said, "80% of newspaper readers said we are the most informative, most educative, and most entertaining newspaper in Kenya."
I was reading it from my room; and, moments afterwards, I put a sticker on my door. It read: "MIX MIX: WELCOME TO NYERI TOWN".