Category Archives: Grey Matter

Being Online Does Not Make Media Digital

Consider a newspaper.

Publishing a newspaper has certain constraints

  1. Size. Most newspapers are A4. This places some limits on content
  2. Pages. Newspapers have a finite number of pages per issue, usually constrained by costs of production. This places a limit on content.
  3. Frequency. Newspapers are committed to a timetable, usually once a day
  4. Static. Once it is printed, you can’t do anything until the following day
  5. To adapt to the above constraints, there needs to be prioritization when it comes to content. Typically advertisers, “hot news” and content conformant to the editorial policy (official and unofficial) wins.

Enter the advent of technology and the internet.

One would think that now, 2013, newspapers would have evolved to fully capitalize on changes on technology.

But no. Inexplicably, they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  • Online versions of newspapers have page numbers. PAGE NUMBERS. Why? This is for no benefit to readers. It is to artificially skew page hits.
  • Online versions of newspapers have the exact same content as the print version. Right down to the typos and grammar errors.
  • Online versions of newspapers as well seem to have a daily cycle.
  • All this despite the fact that there are no constraints of size and space on the web

To me, this is a HUGE missed opportunity.

Most media houses understand digital by having the newspaper online and slapping on blogs and YouTube.

WRONG!

Perhaps the issue is fundamental. Should it at all, in fact, be thought of as an “online newspaper”?

The world has evolved. Industry has evolved. Consumers have evolved.

The distinction between “online” and “print” is largely becoming an arbitrary one.

Perhaps the answer is media houses should think of themselves as content generation and delivery engines. How it consumed (print, web, audio, video, images) is a decision best left to the consumer.

Take for example a hypothetical case of EABL launching a new Whisky, Green Label.

In 2000, a media house would send a reporter and a cameraman to the launch. The reporter will listen to the speech from the MD. There would be the obligatory photo of the MD holding the new bottle. The reporter will ask a few follow up questions and do some research.

The reporter and cameraman will then return to the newsroom. Reporter will write a 2,500 piece on the launch and file his story.

The following day a 1,000 word piece would appear, after editing, in the business pages.

In 2013 what should happen is that the journalist should have a decent camera. And a voice recorder. He should start by touring the plant. Interviewing employees. Some on video. Some by audio. He should take photos. He should record the speeches. He should interview as many people as he can find, no matter how remote their connection to the launch. He should obtain an org-chart electronically. He should dig deeper. Why Green Label? What other names had they shortlisted? Who was involved in the product? Are there any more planned?

When he returns to the newsroom, he should have video, audio, photos and text. He will still then proceed to write his 2,500 world story.

However, the print paper still only has space for a 1,000 word piece. So it is edited.

Which is fine. But what should happen is that in the online portal, the 2,500 piece should be filed. Together with selected photos and video.

If the media house has a TV arm, they will have video and audio and photos to borrow from to run the story during news.

If the media house has a radio arm, they will have audio to borrow from to run the story.

And the final benefit is that the media house has a fantastic resource repository about EABL from this one story that will continue to be used for the immediate future.

If anyone is doing a story on EABL they are spoilt for choice when it comes to content.

That is what should happen. What happens now I bet is exactly what happens in 2000.

Notice that there is no distinction between digital and analog journalist. There is just a journalist. The content is just repurposed for delivery mechanism.

A media house that has digital and print divisions is likely on the wrong path. There shouldn’t be such a distinction, if the media house is to remain relevant.

The other issue is revenue.

I personally used to buy the Nation and the Standard daily. Until one day I realized that I was spending 100/- daily on newspapers. Auditing what I was paying FOR left me in no doubt I was not wisely using my money.

The newspaper essentially contains what happened. Seldom does the newspaper cover why it happened, or what it means going forward. This may or may not be due to the constraints I have talked of above. It could also be due to the quality of journalists. Or the interests of advertisers. Or quality of editors. Or any combination thereof. Point is, I decided 100/- a day on 40 odd pages, largely full of ads and short blurbs of news made no sense.

Especially given that the content was freely available online.

The Nation I remember tried to charge for online access to the newspapers and readership dropped like a stone.

This should have communicated that the problem is not the medium. It is the content.

With an online medium available, media houses should work hard on adding value to content, and not more content. I mean Analysis. Video. Audio. Maps. Electronic documents.

Media houses should realize that they are no longer the first port of call when things happen. People discover things faster on twitter and Facebook and all these social networks. Those not on social networks find out from WhatsApp and text.

Media cannot fight this. Therefore it should leverage it.

You may find out about events on twitter, but if you want to know why it happened and what it means, come to us.

Take something like Konza as an example. It is amazing that no media house has built a complete repository on this. Where is Konza? Here is a map. How will it look like? Here is a 3D model. Who started it? Here are their profiles and photos. What have people said about it? Here are some blogs. Which firms are working on it? Here are their company profiles and key staff.

Imagine all this in a single location. Text, video, audio, maps, blogs, documents. Together. Immersive.

I refuse to pay 50/- for political headlines, Pulse (no offence), ads and 500 word blurbs.

But for curated, immersive, complementary content? You bet your ass I’ll pay. And happily.

A smart media house should figure out there are people like me who have zero interest in socialites, scandals and shenanigans like pulse and prefer business and analyses.

Correspondingly there are those who have zero interest in business and analysis and want nothing more than scandals and socialite intrigues.

Why not have a concept of content channels?

  • News
  • Politics
  • Business
  • Entertainment
  • Sports

The problem today is that I am forced to pay for all 5 and only read one, and even that one I find wanting. So I stop buying the paper.

Suppose you were charged 10/- per channel? Now we’re talking. You only consume what you want. Everyone is happy. In fact, why should they all be 10/-? Charge entertainment 5/- and get volumes.

The problems media faces today boil down to three

  1. How do we effectively collect content (not necessarily ourselves)
  2. How to we add value to it?
  3. How do we retrain and repurpose our personnel to do 1 and 2?

I have much expectations of the new Nation website. Have they learnt anything or is the old emperor in the new skin?

It is too early to tell. I guess we’ll see

KRA, Safaricom & You

So, there I am, like a good boy, reading my morning paper. I come across this story in the Business Daily. And upon reading it come across this, that triggered the following reaction

The section in particular was this one

mining

Yes, friends. The Kenya Revenue Authority is / wants to data mine your transactional information.

Personally, this offended my sensibilities. And it should offend yours too.

Of course the question arises, what’s the big deal?

Well to understand, perhaps a shotgun data mining primer.

Data mining, to cut a long story short, is a fascinating discipline that I have spent a few years studying and designing solutions around. It is basically using transactional data to detect patterns and trends.

The technical details of how this is done are fascinating but I need not go into detail. But it is used by serious companies to derive insights from data. Have you ever wondered why your mobile phone tariff is what it is? Or why there are promotions with strange twists like free calls that on paper make no sense?

Data mining.

If you find, for example, a promotion where they tell you that free calls begin from minute 3, that is because call logs were mined and it was found that most telephone calls are shorter than 3 minutes. Ergo those that make 3 minute calls will pay for those what make longer than 3 minute calls.

Examples abound.

Let me be blunt – given enough of your data, I OWN YOU.

Back to the point.

KRA wants to mine our transactional records.

An mobile money transaction contains the following

  • Date
  • Time
  • Sender
  • Recepient
  • Amount
  • MPesa outlet

If you give me a large dataset with ONLY this information over say 4 months I can tell you the following with a pretty large confidence level. Which is not to say it is 100% gospel truth, but can be pretty accurate.

  • Where you live
  • Where you work
  • When you are paid
  • How old you are
  • Your gender
  • An idea of how well of you are financially
  • Whether you are married or not
  • Whether you have children or not
  • Etc

And no, this is not magic. It is a simple co-relation of data.

For instance, the MPesa outlets you go to are usually the ones nearby.

For instance we notice that John goes to the same 3 or so MPesa outlets between 8 AM and 5 PM, and then a 3 different ones between 5PM and 10 PM.

BTW am using MPesa because the numbers of Orange Money, Airtel Money, Yu Cash etc. are of nuisance value. But the principals still apply.

We know where these outlets are.

We can therefore infer that the outlets John visits during the day are those near where he works and those in the evening are those near his home. Given enough outlets we can triangulate with great probability where exactly he lives.

If we notice a sudden spike of transactions (payments) around 3rd we can infer he has received inflows of cash fairly recently. If the same patterns repeats every month we can infer that the income  is regular.

Analyzing the recipients can tell us a lot about John.

If his payments are mostly to bars, utility bills and ticketing to event websites we can postulate John is probably a young bachelor.

If his payments include school fees, salons, supermarkets – we can infer John probably is either married or has a significant other, and probably either has a child or is supporting one.

I can go on about how you can infer a lot from this data (believe me this is just scratching the surface) but you get the drift.

It offends me that KRA want do this all the time. Not because I have anything to hide, but I resent that government feels like it has the right to scrutinize me in this fashion as if I am already guilty of something.

So I of course asked our friends at @SafaricomLtd

And asked them again

Their original response was they didn’t have any information about it, and I forgot to take a screenshot as that tweet has since vanished.

Next was this

And then I asked

Last I’ve heard from them. And by the way that response is bana oil. Transaction infromation without send and recepient is ABSOLUTELY useless to the KRA

So there are two queries

  1. Is it legal for Safaricom to hand over our data for mining?
  2. Is it within their terms of service to allow this?

Let us begin with the second.

Since most of you I feel sure never read a word of the terms of agreement, here it is in its entirety [PDF]. In case it is accidentally lost in a site update, I have saved a local copy.

The relevant sections are two.

One is under Privacy, Section 4

image

The other is under Disclosure & Data Retention, Section 16

image

Now, I am no lawyer but handing our data to KRA to data mine does not strike me as being within “genuine inquiry or investigation”.

In fact, the only way genuine inquiry can be stretched to allow what KRA wants would be if KRA says “we suspect EVERYONE of tax evasion so hand over everyone’s data”.

Is Safaricom handing over our data in breach of their own agreement?

Lawyer types, please assist.

It should bother you that KRA wants to just mine your information, never mind that you’re not actually guilty of anything.

The other issue is the larger issue of what Government can do / does with our data. Our data protection bill has been stuck in parliament for stages but it simply cannot be that government can willy nilly mine citizen data for its own ends in a civilized society.

This simply cannot be.

Airport

I really enjoy traveling. Really. There’s just something about being in totally unfamiliar surroundings, surrounded by totally unfamiliar people speaking an unfamiliar language that just appeals to me.

travel 

Being unknown in unknown surroundings is pretty much equivalent to a blank cheque. You can, for instance, enjoy yourself thoroughly by speaking with an accent. Don’t be boring by using an American or a British accent. If you want to cause much puzzlement and head scratching, nothing beats the sight of an African speaking with an Indian accent.

But I digress.

Much as I love traveling, I HATE AIRPORTS, and especially JKIA. I had to use that establishment’s services for a couple of times last year and I assure you that there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. I wept.

airport

JKIA is big, poorly designed, stuffy and as comfortable as sand filled y-fronts. The broken, uncomfortable chairs in the departure lounges have to be seen (and sat on) to be believed. The facilities generally smell like a certain substance chemical symbol NH3, better known as Ammonia. The one time circumstances forced me to make use of the same (a litre of Coke, ladies and gentlemen, will eventually demand an exit) I went in a black haired man and emerged platinum blonde from the fumes. The security guards at the entrance are overzealous and have delusions of grandeur.

But despite this doom and gloom much merriment can be derived from the insanity.

Travelers by and large treat the 2 hour check-in period as an unnecessary and malicious complication. I freely confess to being one of these until a few flights have cured me of this foolishness. Kenyans will show up for a 7:30 flight at 7:20, fully laden with 3 bags, a ruck-sack, golf clubs, a baby and two teddy bears and expect to make it on time. Those two hours are for

  1. Allowing you to queue with the other 100 people on the flight, fill in nonsense forms and check in your crap
  2. Correcting the many issues that the airport/travel agent/airline/you have screwed up (no, dammit the flight is to Niger, not Nigeria!)

queue

Travelers additionally have a strange habit of dressing to the nines to travel. I remember a flight some years back where there were four of us traveling to Uganda for some reason I forget at this juncture. There was an uncomfortable silence when I showed up at the airport in my faded t-shirt, track suit bottoms and battered sandals to find my other colleagues in suit and tie, complete wit briefcases. Needless to say I was taken aback and inquired if there had been a change of plan from our itinerary that was to travel to Entebbe, take a cab to Kampala and check in to the hotel and proceed to get a night’s sleep. I was assured there was none. Todate I am mystified why some of us insist on suit and tie to travel. Or perhaps I am playing roulette with the latex glove?

image

Travelers additionally carry large amounts of crap in and on their persons when traveling. Again I freely confess I used to be one of these. Last year I was with a fellow Kenyan on a return flight from South Africa and at the metal detector she filled two trays with the contents of  her pockets, items ranging from money, sweets, biscuits, tulcum powder to sanitary pads and tampons. The male security guard did not shy away from examining the latter items in great detail.

tray

The metal detector is another item that still mystifies. A typical scenario is a feller, call him Bill, walks through the detector. It beeps. Guard asks Bill if he’s carrying or wearing anything metallic. Bill denies both counts and walks through again. It beeps Bill then empties the coins in his pocket into a tray and tries again. It beeps. Bill then takes the guard’s suggestion and removes his belt. Bill then walks through the detector with his belt in hand. Unsurprisingly, it beeps. Finally after removing belt, gold teeth, suspenders and assorted rings and putting them in the tray, Bill finally goes through, after wasting 5 minutes of everyone’s time.

What is the point of those ridiculous entry and exit forms? I don’t get it. They are a colossal waste of time. After all, the same information is scanned from your passport to why force us to fill them? I make sure I use my worst handwriting and if I can find one, a luminous green biro. If I have time some Morse code on the back in dots, dashes and pluses will keep immigration officers busy. Let their immigration and intelligence services earn their money trying to break my code.

Anyway, happy new year my friends. Here’s to 2009!

reliance

Kenya Is Burning. Stop The Fighting!

Vote Of Thanks

Many thanks to everyone sending all those emails and text of concern. I am alive and well and taking good care of myself. I am a bit flooded with emails but am doing my best to respond to everyone.

Special thanks to all those sending in news and information. Special thanks to WathiiFM for updates from the Buru Buru area and first class pictures

Housekeeping

I fondly believe that most of my readership are adults of sound mind with a modicum of maturity. In case you are not, allow me to tell you this. This is not a site to propagate hate and rumours. I have spent more time than I should moderating obtuse comments. I am tired of that. I have many other things to worry about. Henceforth if you post something even remotely advocating hate or violence not only will I delete it, I shall blacklist you from ever visiting my blog again. I shit you not. If you think this is a convenient avenue for your hate, think again. I have no time for your nonsense. We want solutions, not more problems.

My connection is not the most stable so henceforth I shall be uploading a huge combined post whenever I can.

News Update

  • Official death toll is now 300. Unofficial death toll is much larger
  • Yesterday there were skirmishes in Bahati, Maringo, Kangemi, Arwings Kodhek, Industrial Area and Thika Road
  • A man was killed on Thika Road when police fired in the air, severing an electrical cable that fell on him
  • ODM rally was moved to Saturday
  • At long last Mwai Kibaki addressed the nation in a lackluster speech long on hot air, ambiguity, vagueness and lethargy and short of concrete solutions
  • Archbishop Desmond Tutu arrived and met with the ODM leadership. The grapevine has it that Kibaki initially refused to meet with him. Subsequently it turned out that a meeting was indeed scheduled for this day.
  • Again proving that no matter how low the bar is, stupidity will always find a way to slither under, Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua, rose eyed lens firmly on, castigates the international community for interfering.
  • Flies on the wall allege that Kibaki himself is pretty amenable to negotiation. But as is the hallmark of his regime other elements in his administration are taking hardline positions.
  • Same flies say that Kibaki is willing to form a coalition government with the opposition. This I have to see to believe. 
  • Nairobi water company allays fears that the city water supply is poisoned.

Kibaki’s Speech Highlights

  • He is deeply concerned
  • He condemns the violence
  • Kenya is a peaceful country (Is it now?)
  • Justice abounds in Kenya. No one has ever been denied justice
  • He too, just like other Kenyans, was made aware that he was won in that same press briefing of the ECK
  • He has followed the law all the while and will continue to
  • Anyone with problems with the outcome should take it up with the court
  • He would seek solutions once the situation calms down. (WTF?!! People are dying while you wait!)
  • He had no time for journalists’ questions. If they had any they should come tomorrow. (People will be dying while we await for you to be comfortable with questions)

State House

Earlier today I drove past State House. A continuous flag like the one that is put on public holidays is very much in evidence. I took some very illegal pictures juggling camera and car. It is no idle rumour that the security personnel there are overzealous. A friend of mine once stopped outside one of the far flung entrances and within minutes a truncheon was being bounced off his amazed skull.

Personally I would take down that flag. It can be construed as a celebration of Kibaki’s new term. I don’t think there is anything to celebrate.

Here are the pics (Quality is not the beast because I was driving and some were taken through windscreen)

State1 
Road heading towards State House, adjacent to the grounds

State2
The State House Junction

State3
Approaching the main gate

State4
The main gate

The Rally

I’ve been roving here and there to capture developments on the ground just after the skirmishes took place. The pictures are sobering indeed. My heart breaks when I photograph what some Kenyans have done to others. Scarred indeed are our weary souls.

The following set is from a looted Coca Cola distributor on Arwings Kodhek. I spoke to the proprietor and the owners of the adjacent stalls. The angry mob repulsed by the police in Hurlingham wreaked havoc. The vendors lost their fruits and vegetables. Hooligans would bite a mango and throw the rest at cars, buildings, etc.

At the depot they broke bottles from some 300 or so crates.

Rally1
A destroyed adjacent vegetable stall. They ate the fruits and took or destroyed the vegetables

Rally2
Another looted vegetable stall

Rally13
A torched stall

Rally4
Broken glass on the road

Rally5
A closer view of the glass. They broke 300 crates

Rally6
Pile of shattered glass

Rally8
A closer view

Rally9
A still closer view

Rally11
The distributor

Rally12
Attempts to recover

 Rally7
Uprooted bus stop

The following set is from the Engen Petrol station further down the road

Rally14
The empty parking bay

Rally15
The looted quick shop

Rally16
The broken door through which they entered

Rally17 
Thrown stones litter the parking

Rally18
Entrance to the adjacent restaurant

Rally19 
Windows of the restaurant

Rally32
An ignored plea in the restaurant window

Kenya Burns

I weep.

Riots1
Rioters burn tyres behind a locked gate

I need not tell you that as I write this our country is on fire. Flames stoked by the ineptitude of the current regime and outright tribal polarization by politicians have finally exploded in a shocking turn of violence and destruction. Neighbours are turning against each other. People are suddenly afraid.

Riots2
The rowdy mob makes its presence felt

Myself included. As I was driving to visit the missus who lives in an area that happens predominantly of a single community I wondered what exactly I would do if I was stopped by a mob and asked to identify myself. One of the names given to me by my folks happens to be Luo, and it is proudly there on my ID. The fact that I am not actually Luo would not help be because assumptions would probably be made on the strength of my ID, as is happening in many places in Nairobi, let alone Kenya. I have two friends in hospital who has “the wrong names” on their IDs.

Riots3
An unfortunate is arrested

However I refused to succumb to this situation. I refuse to be a victim of the greed of the political elite.

Riots4
GSU personnel run after a mob

The fact of the matter is that the political elite is very comfortable in their homes. I drove by State House this morning and not only is the road clean and uncluttered, there are flags all over presumably to celebrate the Kibaki victory. Unlike my hood where there is debris and ashes and broken glass and stones all over.

Riots5
A GSU office reloads with tear gas

Our politicians are not suffering. They have running water. Milk, eggs, bread, meat and even cake are delivered to their doorsteps.

Riots6
Reloading

It is me and you, my friends, who risk being beaten up by mobs and shot by the police as we look for milk and bread for us and our own.

Riots7
A GSU officer ready for anything

The political elite are enjoying cartoons and soap operas and football on their DSTV and GTV. It is only me and you who are watching KTN and K24 and Al Jazeera and NTV to see the carnage being visited on our country. (KBC is not a serious news station. They’ve been showing cartoons and comedy clips as the country disintegrates)

Riots8 
Fully reloaded the GSU set off after rowdy mobs

The political elite sleep soundly in the peace and quiet Kitusuru and Thigiri and Riverside. It is us unfortunates who have our sleep interrupted by screams and shouts and gunshots.

Riots9
The press in the thick of things

The political elite have access to fist class air tickets to fly out of the country. It is me and you who have nowhere to run to. If Somalis and Rwandas and Ugandans and Sudanese flee here, where o where are we to flee to?

Riots10 
Still reloading

And while our brothers and sisters and cousins and nephews and nieces are dying, pseudo-leaders wallowing in crass stupidity appear on TV to grandstand, blaming the chaos on each other.

Listen, nitwits. We are not interested in your grandstanding and finger pointing. We want solutions. Alfred Mutua, we have no time for your foolishness Kenyans are dying. We need all the help we can get to contain this situation. Accusing the international community of interference is nothing short of obtusely crass stupidity. This is not an episode of your half baked pesudo-thriller Cobra Squad! This is real life!!!

Riots11
The GSU at work

We’ve had enough of nonsense press statements from comfortable hotels and the State House lawn. Come and make those inane gestures from Kibera or Mukuru or Thika Road or Kangemi. I dare you. Come down like me and other Kenyans who have no security detail and do your grandstanding!

What Should Be Done?

  • Every politician and their offspring should have their visas canceled and should be denied new ones. Let you and your children experience the Kenya that you created! Let your children come back from the US and Australia and Canada and England and live with the consequences of what Mama and Papa created like the rest of us!
  • The grandstanding between the government and ODM should stop. We are not interested in your foolish finger pointing games. It is we, not you, who are suffering. Shut your mouths and give us solutions, not problems. The media (local and international) should give the ilk of Alfred Mutua a total blackout.
  • Kibaki and Odinga should visit the affected areas and make their statements for there. If they are so sure they are right then there should be no problem in facing your people.
  • PNU and ODM must negotiate without pre-conditions. This is no longer about you.
  • This is not merely a matter of getting peace. We need to treat the disease, as well as the symptoms. The disease is justice, or lack thereof. If we don’t sort out this root cause then the violence will just flare up again later.
  • Recounting the votes and re-checking the tallies I fear is no longer an option. It would seem that some form 16As have been conveniently stolen from the safe in which they were stored. Presumably ballot boxes are being stuffed with votes as we speak.

The ideal solution I would think, would be along the following

  • Kibaki and Odinga agree to a government of National Unity, with the former as president and the latter as vice president. The cabinet would then be split between PNU and ODM
  • In 6 or so months, fresh elections to be held
  • Neither Odinga nor Kibaki should offer themselves for election. They are even more polarizing than they were before. We need a completely new shift in governance. Those political fossils still in power need to go before they sink us all
  • The election should be overseen by an imported Electoral Commission. I would not trust the ECK to hit the water if it fell out of a boat
  • Usage should be made of all the TV footage and camera pictures. Neigbourhoods and communities should be called upon to identify the murderous and destructive fools that have been the instruments of destruction. They should be dealt with ruthlessly once identified.

As with most ideal solutions this one has a fatal flow. Neither Kibaki nor Odinga have demonstrated putting the welfare of the nation above their own.

What can we do?

Stop the fighting.

Go into your hood and talk to people. If you’re waiting for someone else to do it you’re part of the problem. You have youth groups and fellowships and estate committees and outreach programs and tuition groups. Go and talk to them. Go into the community and preach peace.

People in the slums do not have TV to watch the televised campaigns. The most powerful voice is yours. The people know you and they probably trust you so they’ll listen to you.

If I do that and you do that and the people you talk to do the same pretty soon we’ll have covered this country.

Stop the fighting. Why are we losing our lives while the elite, who don’t care, are comfortable?

Show them they no longer have power over us. Show them that they work for us, not us for them.

Show then their days of lording over us and using us as cannon fodder are over.

Stop the fighting.

Stop the fighting.

Stop the fighting.

What Really Happened, Part 2: Exodus

News

  • In a show of crass stupidity, Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua and Lands Minister Kivutha Kibwana release statements accusing the ODM of organizing and funding genocide. I am stunned at the foolishness of this gesture that can only further fan the flames and erode the remaining goodwill (if any)
  • 7 killed and dozens of houses burnt in Huruma and Dandora. There was a standoff between two rival gangs and skirmishes that lasted for hours
  • Jamhuri Park has been set up as a refugee center. My heart is heavy to report that there are refugees in Nairobi that are from Nairobi

AOB

I’ve been round a bit to check out what’s happening on the ground. Things are slowly creeping back to normal, in some sections of Nairobi though given tomorrow’s rally, or lack thereof, one wonders.

Exodus

In What Really Happened #1: Genesis, I outlined what I thought was the kindling for the situation we are in today. Here is the conclusion.

Tour1
Capital Center

Between the knowledge that they were unpopular all over the country and had polarized other communities against their own, and the irresistible taste of the trappings of power and wealth that come with incumbency, a decision was probably taken that the State House was to be retained at all costs.

Tour2
Main Entrance, Capital Center

It is here that I postulate something that might raise an eyebrow.

I do not believe that Mwai Kibaki intended to run again.

Tour5 
Milk Shelves Before Stocking

Yes, I don’t. Why? Because of the following

  • Kibaki did not seem to take the elections seriously until 2 months to the event
  • The decision to cobble together a new political party at the last hour, instead of using the already established NARC Kenya is unlikely to be grounded in wisdom
  • Much, if not all, of the campaigning was done by lieutenants for most of the year
  • Extremely strange liaisons developed at the 11th hour, which included
  • Former President Moi
  • KANU
  • The campaign was largely disjointed to the very end. Having affiliate parties field multiple candidates is an extremely poor strategic move

Tour6
Restocking Milk

However powerful forces around him convinced him that it was incumbent upon him to run again. And the more he thought about it the better it sounded. Which led to ludicrously absurd scenarios like

  • A sitting president attending the delegates conference of the Official Opposition, singing the infamous KANU party slogan KANU yajenga nchi (KANU builds the nation)
  • Said sitting president proudly and happily waving the finger salute of KANU
  • Said sitting president appealing passionately to opposition delegates to give him their votes
  • Sitting president breaking bread and proceeding to meet regulraly with his predecessor, Moi, the very man he humiliated in more ways than one, least of which was thinly veiled insults in his inauguration speech, sending his lieutenants to court and threatening to prosecute Moi himself

Tour3
Milk, milk everywhere

However,as I have said, after all the rallies and politicking, the reality began to show itself and the bitter truth was that it was unlikely to win the elections.

Tour10
Meat Shelves, almost bare

Contingencies were laid to improve the odds

  • Campaign consultants were imported (Never mind that ado that was made of ODM’s Dick Morris. On that note even today I have always been suspicious of ODM’s move in parading Dick Morris. The quintessential red herring if ever there was one)
  • Formidable state machinery was brought to bear. A cursory look at the movements of the campaign teams over the latter half of the year ought to make some interesting reading
  • Significant amounts of funds were injected into the campaign. The strategic targeting was questionable, but the sheer quantity was there. Idle banter with individuals in the know have led to the floating of figures to the tune of a couple of million. Per constituency.

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Skumawiki (kale) shelf, clean as a whistle

And just to make sure another set of contingencies were put in place

  • A good chunk of the sitting Electoral Commission’s commissioners were replaced with new ones. With the knowledge that one of the new commissioners is the President’s personal lawyer, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to divine the fact that they probably were loyal to the President.
  • The knee jerk reaction to replace the chairman as well was overturned at the last minute to give the commission the perception of independence. Kivuitu was largely trusted by both sides. Then, at any rate. However I’m inclined to think some form of hold was gotten over Kivuitu.
  • Days to the election the president swore in a new set of beaming judges

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Well stocked shoppers at the till

That last point in particular is why I am deeply skeptical that election petitions will be of any value. Asking judges appointed not a fortnight ago to expel their benefactor is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. It was not lost on many that a beaming Chief Justice and the ever smiling Attorney General were delighted guests at the inauguration. The old adage of a rooster appealing to the justice of a hungry crocodile comes to mind.

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South B Shopping Center

The final contingency was the one that was to be a last resort. This happens to be the one that has put as where we are today. It was not executed as envisaged due to a number of factors

  • Kenyans turned out to vote en masse. En masse
  • Instead of going home like good little boys and girl, Kenyans remained at the polling stations and watched the ballot boxes like hawks
  • The convenient inability of the ECK to procure ICT systems to have a live tally of results was overridden by the enthusiastic coverage and tallying of the TV, radio and press who kept the public fully appraised of the results
  • An assumption was made the Kenyans were somewhat gullible and liable to agree with anythng that sounded official. Boy was that a null hypothesis!

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Vendor selling vegetables

The strategy was simple.

  • Stuff ballot boxes where possible. This largely proved impossible thanks to hawk eyed Kenyans at most polling stations. However it was executed at some constituencies where observers were denied access.
  • Through willing proxies like Nyachae (Nyanza), Kombo (Western) and Mwakwere (Coast), secure at least 25% of the vote in the provinces Kibaki was not going to win on his own (besides the inevitable Central and Eastern)
  • Move with speed to publish results of the opposition’s candidate’s presidential votes, while at the same time holding back the tally of the incumbent. It will not do to inflate the incumbent’s tally and turn up short. Or overshoot by several million.
  • At ECK headquarters, have a series of “technical issues” that result in incorrect figures being published of the incumbent’s totals. Invariably, these would be larger, through means like judicious addition of zeroes to totals  or surreptitious injection of the odd 20,000 votes. Inadvertent reduction of the opposition candidate’s totals would also not hurt. This would be courtesy of those ECK commissioners that so recently gained employment.

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Fully loaded handcart sets off

The last plan hinged on the fact that there were no hawk eyed Kenyans watching the national tallying. Ergo if action were to be taken, it would be taken there. Much has been made of the fact that the various observers were at times denied access to the tally room.

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Nakumatt Karen

The looks in the eyes of the likes of William Ruto and Charity Ngilu when totals they know to be 35,000 in some constituency were announced as 100,000 were truly priceless.

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Nakumatt Karen Entrance

The problem with the master plan was that the average Kenyan is not as naive and as gullible as the political elite like to think. Kenyans put two and two together and got not the 22 that the elite was expecting, but a resounding 4.

I knew what was coming the instant the paramilitary General Service Unit cleared the KICC of journalists and additional armed men arrived and sealed it off.

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The supermarket

The rest, as they say, is history. Kibaki was declared winner. Needless to say, the reaction came thick and fast

Breaking It Down

I was not the least bit surprised that things degenerated into violence.

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Maize flour sells like hotcakes

Think about it.

Much ado has ben made over the right to vote, and the empowerment of the voter. Kenyans were told that they had the power to shape their destiny and choose their leadership. And so they turned out in colossal numbers and they voted. They were told that they had a voice and that it would be listened to.

And when it came down to it their voice, the ballot was ignored. And so they had only one voice left — protest.

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Lengthy lines at the till

Make no mistake. I have ZERO support for destruction of property and shedding of blood. As a matter of fact if you threw stones or raised arms against your brother you should be dealt with ruthlessly.

It is extremely naive for PNU supporters to gloat over such a tainted victory. Because it is indeed a tainted victory. And if you support a tainted victory it would be the height of hypocrisy to object if for instance, Moi won in a similar manner.

I am stunned that Kibaki conveniently forgets the election petitions revolving around the 1992 and 1997 elections. My how the memory is selective!

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The end is nigh!

Supporting this travesty because it favours someone you like is a dangerous and foolish precedent.

What we have lost, my friends, is our voice. The power of the ballot. The right to determine our leadership and our destiny. The very thing our forefathers risked their lives fighting for.

So if you are celebrating because Kibaki ‘won’ or you are bitter becauase Raila ‘lost’ my friends you need to wake up and smell the coffee.

You need to be better because your voice has been stolen from you.

I Cry. My Country Has Been Robbed

UPDATE: 11:00 PM

Rumours going round are to the effect that Raila Odinga and William Ruto have been arrested, and William Ruto has been shot. Reportedly this is after ODM announced their intentions to name a parallel government, a move, I must confess, is not entirely wise given the current situation.

More as I get it.

I have just been watching President Kibaki been sworn in, amid applause from his cabal of powerful friends and cronies. As far as I can tell it seems to have been a private ceremony for himself and his friends.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that Kibaki’s friends and minions were already gathered and ready for swearing in minutes after the announcement was made.

People Awaiting News
People awaiting news

I refuse to call him and his ilk honourable. They are no such thing.

While he and his friends are sipping tea and eating crumpets in statehouse I find myself at crossroads.

I question the very beliefs I once held true — that democracy at the end of the day triumphs.

I feel outraged that Mwai Kibaki can with a straight face tell me how he feels “humbled that the people have elected him” and how he urges his opponents to “respect the electoral process”.

Pensive2
People reacting to the news

I feel mad that Samuel Kivuitu is cracking jokes at State House while my country falls apart because of him and his puppeteers.

I feel that the people of Kenya have been completely robbed of everything they have gained over the last 40 years. We lacked few things but at least we were generally a fair people.

I feel that the change we thought we had in 2005 was just an illusion.

I feel that all the time (3+ years), love, devotion and attention I dedicated on Mzalendo.com, sleepless nights sacrificed, hours of my time and resources have been pissed away in just a few days.

I feel that Kenyans have been robbed of something that can never be valued — their electoral process.

I feel challenged even now to respond to the question I had been asked earlier in the day — “Is there any point voting?”

Pensive3
Fracas begins to develop in my backyard

I feel cheated because the same cabal that has been in power since independence is still in power.

I feel cheated that an administration rejected by the ballot can somehow find itself into the presidency.

I feel sad that Kenyans optimistically queued on the 27th thinking they could control their destiny and the very people they entrusted spat on their good faith and goodwill.

I feel angry that my house has just been stoned.

I feel angry that my friends’ shops have been looted and burnt.

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Shops Looted and burnt. FYI the burning kiosk is the left most blue one in the first photo

I feel shocked that on comparing Kibaki to Moi, Moi comes out on top because he actually walked away when he lost.

I feel amazed that the ruling party in no way shape or form is representative of the country.

I feel insulted that people can rig the elections and believe that we are dumb enough not to see through it.

I cry (literally) at realizing that we have been robbed of our peaceful, friendly homeland, where our camaraderie made us famous worldwide by power hungry power barons.

As I sit here in my room sick to my stomach and hear the breaking glass outside my house and see my friends watch helplessly as their shops are looted and burnt I again ask myself …

What have they done?

UPDATE

The Government has just issued a directive via the Ministry of Information & Communication banning all live broadcasts, or broadcasts of anything “inciting”, presumably the reaction to the ECK announcement.

Try harder. You can’t silence the truth.

Attack Of The Literati

* Long Post. Take Bathroom break now *

In every village, in addition to the village madman and the village idiot, there invariably exist the village’s literati. These would be the folk who gather under the biggest tree, and fueled by an array of potent brews, churn out the village’s literature — poems, skits, stories and of course unbelievably filthy songs and skits.

It goes without saying that literature, oral and otherwise, is an important constituent of society.

The post I did, On Reading, drew a variety of interesting feedback, most of it offline. Apparently my choice of eclectic reading material wasn’t “literary enough”. Someone actually put it precisely like that.

It reminded me again why I view critics, and people who purport to critique literature, with a highly jaundiced eye. Why? Because if no two people are alike why on earth would two people derive the same enjoyment and grasp from a poem, or a song, or a novel?

“I’m quite surprised at your choice of books,” a resident of the Ivory Tower told me. I’m very sure said resident was smoking a cigarillo at the time. “Stephen King,” resident confided in the next line, “doesn’t do real writing. Not true literature.”

Well!

Even now I’ve been unable to come up with a suitable response to that outrageous statement.

Along with Government of National Unity, this without a doubt is one of the most ludicrous things I have heard all year.

What makes a good book?

I would say some books are good because they have

  1. Good writing
  2. A good story
  3. Both of the above

Good writing again is a very subjective thing. Everyone has their own ideas as to what well written prose is. Some people enjoy a heavy use of metaphors and allegories. Others prefer the flowing use of seldom used words, the sort of reading where you don’t actually know what the words mean, but you grasp their meaning as you soldier on. Others thrive on similes and onomatopoeia. Others on simplicity. And so on.

The same thing goes again for stories. Your combination of likes and dislikes and ideas and aspirations leaves you best placed to decide whether or not a story is good.

And so you can find a book that has good writing and absolutely no story, a book with atrocious writing but a riveting story or if you are lucky, a book that has both.

And so I find it rather pompous for someone to pontificate that Stephen King doesn’t do “real literature”. Why not? I happen to think on average that he is a brilliant writer and he tells excellent stories.

The look whenever people discover that Stephen King wrote the Shawshank Redemption AND the Green Mile is still priceless. Priceless.

In school I deeply resented the literature courses, English AND Kiswahili. You read a short story and spend precisely three weeks dissecting every nuance of the story, making impossible connections and conclusions that would surprise and amaze the author. You spend hours and hours extracting “themes”, “stylistic devices”, “plots” and all sorts of things from a 5 page narrative.

You do the same nonsense for the 20 or so short stories and by the time you are through you have completely forgotten what the original story was about. And then  you move on to the plays and do the same thing.

Based on one line a character a student proudly writes in his exam

Kamau is dishonest, and not truthful. We see this when he says “Fine” when asked “how are you”, despite him coming from a funeral. It also shows that he is polite, because he answered a question when he was emotionally not ready. It also demonstrates his emotional strength.

Or, the exam paper says the following:

Identify 3 categories of stylistic devices used in this story, and give 3 examples of each.

As Tony Soprano would say, Whadhafaak?

After four years of subjection to this our reading youth are released to the wild with a somewhat interesting take on literature.

Writers who don’t make use of metaphors and allegories and all this stuff is somewhat less literary than his fellows.

Really? I beg do differ!

I ask you, Why can’t we just read for the freaking story? Isn’t the story, after all, the aim of the game?

If you read the Sunday Papers, and particularly the Sunday Standard from cover to cover you will have come across the section called the Literary discourse.

If your reading fare is fast and furious ping pong between pompous pontification and indignant outrage, this is the page for you. During the course of the year a variety of individuals, self anointed as authorities on literature have attempted to tell us mere mortals what does and does not constitute literature. Some of the slugfests that I remember off the top of my head are. Some of the more spirited ones I remember pitched the Kwani camp on one end and a bench of the local literati on the other.

The literati objected to Kwani, how it was spelt, whether it was literature, its use of sheng, its use of sheng poems, the length of pieces.

The Kwani Camp, needless to say, gave as good as they got and objected to the literati, their qualifications to be the same, their mandate to question them, and the challenge to their ideas.

Needless to say it was fascinating reading the skirmishes every Sunday.

But one of the things that came way from the debate was a challenge to the idea of literature in the traditional sense. The established literati were seething at the idea of poetry in sheng. POETRY IN SHENG!

Personally I love the idea. As you no doubt know by now I am all for breaking the mould that restricts literature to printed books filled with long winded metaphors.

If people express themselves best in sheng, by all means let them!

I am all for increasing the realm of literature into new fields like stories in sheng, poetry in sheng, poetry in music, powerful lyrics, multimedia and last but jolly well not least, blogs.

A fortnight or so ago, I occasioned to end up on the same table with three gentlemen from camp Kwani. Reading from left to right they were as follows:

  1. African Bullets And Honey, complete with a cigar
  2. Binyavanga Wainaina, complete with notebook
  3. One Potash, complete with … er …. self contentment

Potash was very taken, and absolutely had to touch ABH’s cigar the cigar ABH happened to have with him.

In true Hemingwayesque fashion, a short skirted waitress was summoned and dispatched to get three beers and one coke. After several years of stares ranging from puzzled to downright incredulous, I am quite thick skinned and I feel quite nothing ordering sodas in a bar.

Needless to say, discussion flitted from issue to issue on literature as a whole, its form and perception globally and locally. Blogging of course threw itself into the mix. As the publishing press for the common man its pretty hard to beat.

Just think of the scathing reactions from Africa over the Live 8 Debacle. Had this been 5 years ago Bob Geldof, Jeffrey Sachs and the rest of their ilk would have been in blissful ignorance of just how fine disdain the whole thing was held by many.

The whole concept of writing and publishing must evolve around the blogging phenomenon. You can get yourself read by millions without going anywhere near Simon and Schuster or Bantam Books.

Of course the question is, how do you get the denarii, the chumes, the cash, the iron men outvof it?

Will blogging become the new writing? Granted, you can’t quite take your favourite blog into the throne room after a heavy meal, but suppose you could?

Kwani is currently hosting The Kwani Litfest  starting today and ending on the 28th. All sorts of famous names that I cannot pronounce will be in attendance. The brochure talks about something called barbecue poetry that I am very keen to find out more, especially the barbecue part.

If you can make your way there, fashionably late of course, please do. The more voices there are the better. Many great names in literature will be in attendance and it would be a fantastic forum to discuss literature in all its current and future forms.

Click image for a bigger version. Click HERE to go to the official blog.

Kenya should be able to export more than just miraa / khat / gomba (Delete as appropriate)

Henry Mancini – Baby Elelphant Walk

Get Real: Poverty Eradication 101

There a number of fields of industrial development that create quite a number of jobs and bankroll billions around the world. The better known culprits include oil, computers, mobile telephony and pharmaceuticals.

The identity of one of the biggest players, however, is secreted away in our collective ignorance.

There is no shortage of keen eyed, breathlessly enthusiastic ladies and gentlemen with grand ideas of world peace, lions laying down with lambs, no war and no hunger. They look through life with rose tint glasses, fondly envisaging an Eden on earth.

What holds these people in common are beliefs in nebulous ideals like foreign aid, strategic papers, Jeffrey Sachs, Live Aid and other such.

One of the biggest of these is the concept of poverty eradication.

A couple of weeks ago I was enthusiastically informed over lunch that poverty eradication was inevitable. The choking noise I made was not the food going down the wrong way but a superhuman effort to check what was undoubtedly going to be a very long burst of laughter.

Anybody with any rose tinted ideals about the possibility of poverty eradication had better get them out of their heads because

Poverty is one of the biggest employers, and what’s more, has created some of the biggest gravy trains in history

Poverty has created a proliferation of global bodies, departments, companies, organizations, boards as well as a host of jobs that allows millions of people and dozens of governments to butter their bread.

Poverty has created opportunities for everyone, no matter what field there are in. Poverty has allowed characters who would have otherwise faded into the yesteryear like Bob Geldof to get their vaguely belligerent countenances on televisions around the world, and his own tele-documentary, Geldof in Africa, where he managed to pass through Africa with fleeting contact with technology and architecture.

Poverty has allowed NGOs to proliferate all over the world, purporting to be working round the clock to deliver man from his poverty and deliver him to a world of manna, wine and cake here on earth.

Continue reading Get Real: Poverty Eradication 101