Category Archives: Hubbub

I’m Having Illusions

For many years I have been a fan of what most folks these days would call an obscure rap group. Boooo to those folks!

Cypress Hill.

Their music surprisingly mirrors a lot of what I observe in our political dispensation today.

When I read that the China Road And Bridge Corporation, ostensibly a Chinese State Corporation, has directors rejoicing under the names Maingi and Ndungu, (popular names, apparently, in China) this comes to mind

Or when you read that one of the companies tendering to supply laptops reveal with surprise that the figure they put in their tender is lower than the one that was read out, this comes to mind

Yesterday, I read this, an OFFICIAL TWEET from (ostensibly) a human of sound mind and body

And this came to mind


Even Damian Marley has to chip in on this one

Really? That’s why innocent men, women and children were killed, maimed, injured and terrified? Our war against poverty and inequality? Some people need a hug and kind words.

Jackie Chan, take it away …


C’mon son!

Jubilee Student

Headmaster: Ah, Jubilee. There you are. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your term project …

Jubilee (Smiling): Let me stop you right there headmaster. My commitment to my project is steadfast, unwavering and consistent. Ever since we began the semester I have always believed in the delivery and successful execution of my Vision

Headmaster: Indeed. But there’s the small matter of actual work  …

Jubilee (Standing upright): The importance of my project to me cannot be emphasized enough. Students before me have made lofty promises about their projects and failed to deliver. I however, stand head and shoulders on a firm foundation of sober leadership

Headmaster (Flustered): Yes, but I need to see actual progress on the project …

Jubilee: Many students have come before me and promised to hand in successful projects. I believe passionately in my potential, acumen and grit to deliver on my project. I am 100% committed

Headmaster: Er … yes, that’s right, but you see, I need to see …

Jubilee: A project is not something to be undertaken lightly. As I said at the beginning of the semester, the time for work is now

Headmaster: Yes …

Jubilee: Now! As you have seen in my preliminary pre-project draft, planning and execution is key

Headmaster: That’s true, but we are almost at the end of the semester and I haven’t seen …

Jubilee: Many a student when faced with such obstacles would undoubtedly bow to the pressures of responsibility. But I am pleased to affirm my continued and total commitment to my project

Headmaster (Desperately): But Jubilee, I need to actually see something …

Jubilee: I think you can agree that my communications strategy is top notch, delivering timely and continuous updates on my strategic tactical roadmap

Headmaster: Yes, but I also need to see actual …

Jubilee (Takes seat): Communication, headmaster, is paramount. I deeply urge you to appreciate the importance of timely, continuous and holistic communication

Headmaster (Grabbing top of head): Jubilee! Have you or have you not started on your project

Jubilee (Leans back): Headmaster you raise a relevant and poignant question. What is to start? Let me assure you headmaster, that my start is like no other start in the history of this school

Headmaster (Brusquely): So have you started or not? Where can I see …

Jubilee: A lesser student would be overwhelmed by the prospects of a project but not I. My unwavering commitment is second to none, and I believe you will be satisfied with my delivery

Headmaster (Loosening tie): Stop. Stop. Answer yes or no. Have you actually started your project

Jubilee (Smiling ingratiatingly): Sir! One of the lessons from this fine school is to refuse to confine myself in the pedestrian path of absolutes

Headmaster (Gritting teeth): Answer my question!

Jubilee (Looking surprised): Anyone who has known me and my methods can testify to my rigorous work ethic, passionate approach to responsibility and unflinching determination to do my duty

Headmaster (Grabs top of head): Dammit boy …

Jubilee: Sir, you look like you could use some quality quiet time.

Mining MPesa Data For Fun & For Profit

If you haven’t already, read KRA, Safaricom & You. Go on. I’ll Wait.

That post has raised quite a bit of interest, and so, a follow up.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with data mining. If you are a serious company you hire a guy like me to crunch your data and give you new, non-obvious insights. You will get insights like

  • How to target your products
  • Which to discontinue
  • Which to invest in
  • Whether an advertising campaign is working
  • Usage patterns
  • Purchase patterns
  • Customer patterns
  • etc

What I OBJECT STRONGLY to is government mining our transactional information because we might be evading taxes. And so should you!

Now, let us get back to MPesa. I would like to discuss data mining in a bit more detail.

Again, I’m using MPesa because the numbers from the other providers are of nuisance value.

An MPesa transaction has the following information

  • Date
  • Time
  • Sender phone number
  • Recipient phone number
  • Amount
  • MPesa Outlet

To register for MPesa, or indeed to get your line you provided a raft of information about yourself. The interesting bits are

  • ID Number
  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Gender

Let us look at that MPesa outlet. An MPesa outlet, obviously, must register itself. Therefore the following information is available

  • Outlet name
  • PIN Number
  • Physical Location
  • Owner name, ID number
  • GPS Co-ordinates *
  • Opening time *
  • Closing time *

The starred items are what I am not sure Safaricom collects, but if i were them, I would.

Now, 6 months of this data is data mining gold. I’d frankly be astonished if Safaricom did not mine this database.

There are some quick, obvious things that you can derive to improve service delivery.

Which MPesa outlets open on time

Given an outlet that claims to open at 8, if the earliest MPesa transaction on a daily basis is between 9 and 9-30 over a continuous period, it is likely that outlet does not open on time

Which MPesa outlets close on time

Same as above. Only for closing time

Which MPesa outlets should be closed

Given you have the GPS co-ordinates, you can position the MPesa outlets on a map. If you find there are four next to each other, A,B,C and D, and A,B and C do on average 30 transactions a day but D just does 5, you can probably close D

Where do you need more MPesa outlets

Example as above. If you find A,B,C and D are processing transactions continuously from opening to closing time i.e. there are no hourly spikes, cross references with the average number of processed transactions across outlets, it is likely they are working flat out in which case you might need more outlets to absorb the load

Which MPesa outlets have a demographic profile

This is more interesting. Since you have the sender’s details you can derive things like what is the modal age of customers at a particular MPesa outlet. By modal age I mean get the age of the sender, and find out how frequently that age occurs.

In other words, you can find in a particular outlet, most visitors are between 25-30 and in another most visitors are 18-23 and in another 40-50.

This is useful information for any competent marketing person. Or a practical person e.g. in the place where most visitors are 40-50 Safaricom can advise the outlets to get chairs for customers to sit on as they wait.

Which are the peak times for transactions

Self explanatory. You might find for example on average an outlet does 10 transactions an hour but at lunch time it spikes to 200. Then it drops back to 10.

You find this outlet cannot handle the spike so customers have to queue.

Dilemma. If you open a second outlet, it will likely be idle. If you do nothing – customer dissatisfaction.

Solution: something like a portable MPesa outlet (a van or something) that can go there at lunch time, absorb the load and then leave)

What is the average time it takes to complete a transactions

Self explanatory. If you remember the initial forms to fill they collected a lot more detail than they do now. Someone must have analyzed these numbers and optimized the process.

And so on. There are tons of other things that you can look out for but those examples should suffice.

Let’s move on to the transaction themselves.

Remember this information is at your disposal

  • Sender name
  • Sender ID number
  • Sender gender
  • Sender age
  • Recipient name
  • Recipient ID number
  • Recipient gender
  • Recipient age
  • Amount
  • MPesa outlet name
  • MPesa outlet location

Armed with a bit of mathematics, economics, psychology mining this information will yield a GOLD MINE of information. Let me re-iterate – anyone with access to both this data and data mining expertise OWNS YOU.

If that alone is a gold mine, Safaricom is sitting on a gold mine next to oil and platinum deposits for the excellent reason that they also have access to your call records.

In other words, they can cross-reference your call and your MPesa records and mine that bad boy still further. Add to this the SMS database and this is paradise.

You can derive a treasure trove of information from this, over and above the examples I gave in my previous post

Over and above who are you sending the money to, there is a lot of context to be gleaned if we can guesstimate why you are sending the money.

Let us take an example of how end to end mining would work.

Let me again repeat– data mining is premised on PROBABILITY, not certainty. Some of the assumptions may be wrong. But usually, you can derive pretty good confidence levels

0721 000000 sends 5,000 to 0722 000000 at 2.00 AM, via his phone.

Let’s get started.

First of all, let us build a profile of both sender and recipient.

0721 00000 maps to John Kamau, aged 37. He has been a customer since 2000.

0722 000000 maps to Jamie Omondi, who is not a male as first thought, but a female, aged 32, a customer since 2003.

Next, let us analyze the context.

A 2.00 AM transaction is unusual. This is unlikely to be paying for something. Let us hop over to the phone logs database. Aha. John and Jamie have in the past made calls to each other.

We can therefore infer that they know each other. Therefore that transfer was probably either some emergency or Jamie had a pressing bill that she needed to pay.

The next bit is to check if there are any subsequent transactions where Jamie is the sender.

Oho! Lipa Na MPesa till number 000000 received a payment of 4,500 from Jamie 5 minutes after she got the money from John.

Have there been any other payments from Jamie to that till number? Yes. On average, twice a moth, over a 6 month period.

From the till number we can determine the business it was registered to. Turns out it is Sky Lounge, a swanky bar.

Have there been any other payments to tills belonging to bars? Yes! 6 other bars / hotels over the same 6 month period.

We can then infer that Jamie probably drinks. Given the profiles of the outlets she drinks at, she probably doesn’t drink Senator, but more likely spirits and cocktails.

So, if Safaricom were decide to license targeted customer profile databases and KBL requests and pays for that, guess whose details would be on that database?

Or if Safaricom decides to do context sensitive advertising. Once Jamie logs in to her Gmail via her Bamba modem, Safaricom can tie her traffic to her number. And can therefore serve appropriate ads (Smirnoff, etc)

Relax, I said IF!

Going back to John.

What other transactions has John made?

John has made at least one transaction every month via Pay Bill to a hair salon. The average amount is 5,000 which means it is unlikely he is paying for himself. There is probably a lady in his life, who he accompanies to the salon.

It also urns out he has used Lipa Karo to 3 different schools. Ergo he either is a father with 3 children or he has 3 dependants he pays school fees for.

John also pays DSTV via MPesa. Premium package (7,000) without fail on the 3rd of each month.

John also pays Access Kenya (10,400) for his home internet connection, also on the 3rd of each month.

John also pays Kenya Power an average of 4,000 a month in power, which says something about where he lives – he likely does not live alone.

His bills say a lot about his financial abilities.

In fact, none of his bills is paid earlier than the 3rd.

Looking closer, on the morning of the 3rd of every month John makes a 30,000 deposit into his MPesa from his bank which he uses to pay his bills. This suggests that likely he has a regular income that clears on the 3rd.

John also makes many payments to Steers. As frequently as 3 times a week, averaging 700. The payments are always in the evening.

This suggests that John eats a lot of take-away. Thus it is unlikely he is living with children (no one feeds kids burgers 3 days a week). This is supported by the fact that his spending at the Steers (700 is pretty much a meal for one).

There is also a payment of 3,000 at the end of every month to a number that does not appear in any of his call logs.

This same number also received the same 3,000 from 4 other different numbers, with the same pattern. No calls.

Who do you send money to but never call? Either some nefarious criminal enterprise or much more likely, a some sort of housekeeper.

But let me not belabour the point. A lot of insight can be derived for data mining, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Safaricom probably uses this number crunching to derive things like

  • New products e.g. tariffs
  • Promotions e.g. free calls from minute x
  • Pricing & price adjustments
  • Optimization of infrastructure
  • Competition containment (what is the highest we can charge for inter-network connectivity while still making money, staying clear of the regulator and blacking the eye of other networks)
  • etc

What horrifies me would be government having direct access to that information. That cannot be a good thing!

Here are some tweets i’ve exchanged with the Director Of Corporate Affairs this morning

BTW any lawyers care to chip in on the previous post?

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


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


The other is under Disclosure & Data Retention, Section 16


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.

In Vino Veritas

So the other day there was an … incident … at the hotel.

There we were, sitting on the settees, minding our own business when a stocky gentleman, portly of girth and bald of head appeared before us, complaining bitterly.

We were surprised and amazed. His complaints seemed indecipherable. So i rose to inquire from that gent exactly what bee was in his bonnet.

He took that as a cue to turn on his heel and depart.

I looked to my colleagues in amazement and returned to my seat.

Not five minutes later our friend was again amongst us.

This time I caught a snatch of his rant “… first borns should not touch each other … “, as well a whiff of alcoholic breath that could sterilise surgical instruments.


We were amazed and surprised. Talk about from left field.

I again rose and asked him which scoundrels where these, touching each other.

He again took this as a cue to depart.

Once bitten, I remained on my feet and within minutes our old friend joined us, now foaming at the mouth.

This time the disturbance caused some consternation. Guests looked disapprovingly at us over their assorted meals and drinks.

This time our friend was objecting to the presence of the Indian community at the establishment.

Worn out from all this foolishness I asked him what business he had with first borns, as he was neither God nor Pharaoh.

He did not have any response.

At this point the hotel concierge appeared at my elbow, as if by magic and asked delicately what the problem was.

The problem, I informed him, was alcohol and the youth, personified in the unsteady gentleman before me.

The concierge made a discreet motion and two large security men appeared and firmly escorted my protesting friend from the premises. His beer and glass sat forlornly upon the table.

Effusive apologies were offered and accepted.

We sat down. Life went on.

The Cane Of Abel

Road rage I feel is a problem that many Kenyan drivers grapple with daily. The first step, of course, is admitting that one has a problem.

Contrary to popular belief, I am not one of these. I have Job-like patience on our roads. I keep my cool 11 times out of 10. Unless of course some misinformed jackass attempts to overlap and then try and force an entry before me.

This I will refuse on principle.

But I digress.

A good friend of mine, who we’ll call Abel, does have a road rage problem. He further has a rather unique way to deal with errant motorists who cut him off or hoot at him. He especially hates being hooted at.

If you hoot at Abel while within earshot, the following will happen.

The composed mien, smile of bonhomie modeled on Santa Claus and air of reserve go straight out the window.

Like Stevenson’s Mr. Hyde, Abel will emerge from his Mitsubishi wild of eye and disheveled of hair. His right fist will be wrapped around the handle of those Somali swords peddled by shifty eyed swarthy gentlemen in Eastleigh and its environs where the Kenya Police Service subcontracts security.

His left hand will be wrapped around the end a beautifully engraved cane that looks too elaborate to actually discharge its duties.

Vein pulsing in his forehead, and lower jaw jutting threateningly outwards, Abel will seek out the errant hooter. He will leave his engine running and his door flapping pathetically open in his determination.

The hooter, shocked at first and then descending into a panic will look around frantically for escape. Seeing none, the hooter will do the next best thing and roll up the window.

In no time Abel will be at the window. Things will develop as follows

  1. If you hooted, Abel will knock on your closed window with the end of the cane and smile encouragingly for you to open
  2. If you cut him off Abel will knock with the haft of the sword, and smile encouragingly

When I say “smile encouragingly” I do not mean that smile of SpongeBob Squarepants or Johnny Bravo.

That is the smile Abel intends to smile. What comes out is that of Chucky or Samuel L Jackson when he is in a bad mood.


Things invariably get very tense.

Reliable witnesses have informed me of grown men depositing their digested lunch in their cotton undergarments in the presence of a wild eyed man who clearly means business.

I once witnessed Abel very casually informing a terrified matatu driver that the next time he (the driver) cut him (Abel) off, he (Abel) would slice the soles of his (the driver) feet into tiny boxes that he will proceed to feed to his (Abel) cat.

This no doubt is a later refinement of filet of sole.

Just last month en route to his Church where he leads worship sessions, Abel encountered another errant matatu driver.

As his friend and mentor even I quaked as I heard Abel cheerfully inform the catatonic matatu driver that the next time he (the driver) cut him (Abel) off, he (Abel) would locate his (the driver) children and eat them with lettuce and a nice Chianti, with strawberries in sherbet for dessert.

Never a man for empty threats, Abel then leaves his mark. This ranges from a scratch on the paint from his sword to hacking off the radio aerial. Mutual friends inform me of a particularly intense event where a matatu not only cut him off but dented his fender and the driver gave a speechless Abel the finger.


Well, that vehicle had its side mirrors lopped off in two clean strokes from Abel’s sword as stunned onlookers watched.

Likely having never read Henry IV, the matatu driver arrived at the same conclusion about discretion being the better part of valour and effected a speedy exit through the window on the passenger’s side and disappeared into the night like an MP’s common sense.

And so friends, try not to overlap. You might cut off Abel. Then you will get the full Cane experience!


Boycott Irresponsible Media

Working at that farm, lovingly and tenderly inserting my right arm deep into the hindquarters of a constipated pig is growing more and more desirable than having to listen to another breathless journalist pontificating to me about the Ocampo 6.

I stand unsure whether to weep or laugh at the absurdity of Kenyans celebrating the return of possible perpetrators of the election violence. These same Kenyans for some reason don’t give a rat’s ass about the victims who lost family, friends, property, homes and livelihoods!

Please, using well annotated diagrams, in which parallel universe to we celebrate the perpetrators and not the victims?

Yes, my entire torso is covered with bird seed, chicken droppings and feathers. This is because I preferred to lie face down in a chicken coop that accommodates six dozen chicken suffering from acute diarrhoea than have to listen to another second of blasted ‘Live Coverage’ of windbags returning to the country.

I am forced to conclude that the media’s insistence on perpetuating this farce is a start reminder that perhaps the media is missing among the Ocampo 6.

Helping broadcast innuendo, tribalism and hate speech as far as I am concerned makes the media just as guilty as the perpetrators.

And to add insult to injury these guys are being covered in such detail I am reminded of a movie I heard in some obscure movie

Your head is so far up his arse you can see daylight

I mean, c’mon! Media has a responsibility to the people of this great country.

How I wish for a vibrant, responsible media with the brass cojones to collectively decide:

You know what? This story is fracturing this country right down the middle. As patriots and fellow citizens we refuse to participate in this.

But no. We are getting blow by blow description of the very personifications of impunity. It is just a matter of time before we hear

And after that colossal dump, His Excellency {bleep} {bleep} has now proceeded to wipe his backside with Rosy (2 Ply) in pink. He will then flush the toilet, belch and walk over to the corner where his discarded, slightly soiled y-fronts lie

Journalism indeed.

My resolve in relocating to the farm and spending happy periods in the presence of belching and farting bovines grows stronger as I listen to KBC talk about these Muppets as ‘heroes’. As my good friend David would say



In preparation for my move I am quite simply boycotting any local media I see happily rushing this country to it’s doom.

Starting with

Citizen TV

The Standard



Capital FM


Quite simply I am going to boycott these media houses in every way, shape and form. This includes

  • Not buying their newspapers
  • Not watching their broadcasts
  • Not wrapping chips in their newspapers
  • Not polishing my shoes with their newspapers
  • Not cleaning my windows with their newspapers
  • Not wrapping meat with their newspapers
  • Not expressing amazement at their stunning range of Mexican Soaps

I’m hoping many of us will follow suit. They will definitely hurt if enough of us do this.

Given a newspaper is 40 bob, and I buy two every day, in a week that is 200 bob and in 53 weeks that is 10,600/-

Suppose just a million of us refused to buy the Standard for a year. That would be 10,600,000,000.

That they will feel.

Or if we refused to watch KTN/Citizen/KBC.

And the nail on the coffin – no eyeballs – no advertising. No advertiser will advertise with them.

Is it just me who is seeing the parallels between what is happening here and what happened before Rwanda exploded?

What say you?

Stop The Madness. #isupportocampo6mediablackout