Category Archives: Opinion

Talking Shop

I am technologically challenged.

After decades of an old fashioned phone I finally got a smartphone six months ago. It has only being eight weeks of instagram and my relatives and friends are now holding vigils for me to join Whatsapp.

Despite my stubbornness and yearning for the past I do realise that the world is changing and tech is the present and future.


I am also insatiably curious and thus the the title African Futures – “Technology: Means or Curse?” piqued my interest.


Before I fell off the bandwagon ten years ago, I was part of the Nairobi art scene. Kwani? is home for me and thus attending the talk which they were curating was a sort of homecoming.

Got to Goethe at 4.50 since the talk was to start at 5pm. It started at 5.50pm. Time in Africa is obviously an elastic concept. The delay gave me ample time to observe and people watch the creatives. The dreadlocks, the colourful attire, the fancy hairdos, the afro bracelets were still how I remembered them.

Being an introvert my default was to sit at the back and avoid small talk. So imagine my horror when someone from my past remembered me and come to seat with me. To add to my horror I could totally not remember her name. Since asking would have seemed rude she talked and I listened.

She is a creative who became a biologist and who is now a new mum and also setting up a biotech lab. So in the near future Kenya may not need to take DNA samples abroad. She was also reading the Black Anthena. Surprisingly the highlight of my evening!

Finally the talk did begin and I took shorthand notes.


Dr. Kamau Gachigi.

A Materials engineer. Runs Gearbox which deals with Hardware side and is basically quipment for lease. Think of it like a gym. Previously run Fablab at UoN. A scion of MIT. Newest course is How to grow anything. Amazing that this is normal now. Where is your mind most of the time – that is your religion – is tech a religion? Is internal tech a thing – telepathy, premonition – can be explained how?

Prof. Karin Harrasser.

An academic. Author of Body 2.0. Tech has to be looked at as an ecosystem. Tech births new worlds. Rise of black box tech – just use devise and do not care what is inside device. Tech has taken away consent in that you will be dragged kicking and screaming into the brand new tech world.

Jimmy Gitonga.

He need not introduce himself or what he does. He devolved straight into it. Defined tech as useful art that must meet a need. Pace of absorption is phenommenal. What is in smartphones is mind-boggling. And for the young ones it is the normal. Internet has thus democratised. All can access the ‘promised land’. Posed question of whether Africa is a country. Internet and tech have birthed mediocrity and innovation in equal measure. 1st world – I think therefore I am. In Africa – I relate therefore I am.

Marie Lora-Mungai.

A journalist turned producer.  Tech and media are wedded. Tech has drastically personnel need for multi-personnel. Internet in Nairobi has changed drastically. 10 years ago to send a 3 minute story it took 4 days and one had to split it in 15 second parts. Founded XYZ show 7 years ago inspired by a French show. Made everything themselves. Thus creativity/media met science as they needed a cold room to manufacture puppets. Ventured across Africa. Need for distribution led to birth of BuniTV. Urban Africans have smartphones. But slow internet and expensive data means promise of internet is a dream.

Some Q&A from audience:

1. I f tech is too much should we wean ourselves out of it?

2. Content is there but it is not accessible. So how do we bridge gap?

3. Should Africa be a country?

NB: There was a moderator but felt she was superfluous to the whole event.

Remember I attended the talk as a technologically challenged person seeking to reduce my tech illiteracy.

Walked away with very little in that regard. The talk had four panelists two who were scientists and two who were creatives. This dichotomy obstructed rather than aided the debate. The moderator did not quite guide the talk or seek to drill down the issues so the panelists went round and round. The audience also got lost early on so by the time it come to Q&A there were still navigating the daze.

Underwhelmed was the over-riding emotion I left with.


Projecting forward and a look at Nairobi Now shows an increase in Talks, Seminars, Conferences being held in Nairobi.

A Talking Industry has emerged with being a panelist, moderator a sustainable side-hustle what with seemingly a deluge of donor funds for folk to TALK.

Respect the hustle but I am reminded of Rabbit’s line in his song Swahili Shakespeare – “….talk haipiki rice…”.

Smart spaces for smart people to talk and talk is all well and good but after all is said and said folk have to actually roll up their sleeves and work.

talking shop



Eyeing iHub

I am the first to admit that I am quite tech-unsavvy. Totally under the rock. Feel nothing for gadgets. I am not on Instagram, whatsapp, etc. Do not use a smartphone. Tune out when folk spew tech-speech.

So this post is venturing into unknown territory. Possibly into a minefield.

Oh well…here goes…


Many people, even tech-unsavvy me know of iHub but ask folk what it is exactly and not many can give sentence long answer.

In my 2015 quest to at least move a step out of from being under the rock I paid a visit to iHub which is located on Bishop Magua building on Ngong Road.

Practically Kenya’s Silicon Valley.

Through my conversations with folk who work at the iHub and members, I sought to get the essence, the spirit of the space.

My walking “tour” began on the second floor, through to third floor and finally fourth floor. There are many tech companies in the different floors.


Sat at Pete’s Coffee. Rose is real and cool. Drank the House Coffee, freshly brewed, just as good as kahawa tungu ya Mombasa. Drank it sugarless. Got buzzed.

Many working tables and chairs. There is a seven-sitter sofa with a coffee table. A ping pong machine. A bookshelf with books that look like no one has ever opened. 4 rocking chairs which seem out of place prpos. Signage on the walls declares the piper payers: Hivos, Omidyar, etc. A wall with everyday Nairobi street signs which feels like an attempt at Watu-nizing the space.

The crowd on the fourth floor is young, nerdy-looking, no suits, no ties, every pair of eyes glued to a laptop with earphones in ears. The atmosphere is sterile, deathly quiet. Very male-centric. Too few women.


Apparently iHub was born out of Ushahidi money.

So let’s define Ushahidi. Long story short it is traditional 9-1-1 call in text form. SMS-based platform for missing persons, emergencies, elections. Helps with crowd-mapping, helping engineer response. Started in Kenya, has gone global.

So from Ushahidi, techies felt there was need for a community for and by techies. That was five years ago.

That idea has birthed:

iHub research – which researches on tech ecosystem in the East African region. Focus is on Education, Hatespeech. Funded by foundations. Great in theory but lacking in dissemination of information deduced.

UXLab – which works on quantifying user experience, testing apps on users. So it is a great space for techies.

IHub consulting – this is where community meets opportunity. iHub using its clout can pitch for big jobs then subcontract to community members. So it is a great space for techies.

BRICK – Long explanation. What I got – UPS for the bundus.

mLab – mobile apps creation space, mobile apps testing space. Home of M-vitus. So it is a great space for techies.


Having gotten this for dummies break-down my immediate thoughts were:

– Kenyan techies are quite well sorted by iHub.

– Funding this, funding that, funding, funding and more funding. There is clearly a lot of money in tech in Kenya.


– What are the actionable tangible useable in real life things out of iHub?

– How does MKenya wa kawaida relate to, benefit from iHub?

– It appears to me that five years into the iHub experiment at first glance there is not much to show for it.

Word on the street has it that iHub started as a community but with time it became individualistic and cutthroat. That obviously has diluted the original ethos. Coupled with techies getting poached by corporates thus killing the ‘open-concept’ of the space

(Techies, before shooting, please free to enlighten me further…)

Flipping script…

Chatted an entrepreneur who has had company up and running for two years. It specializes in men’s fashion, making accessories and shipping them to USA.

Entrepreneur joined iHub three months ago and a chance conversation there has lead to getting kick-start funds of over a million bob. With that Entrepreneur plans to set up own plant to make the fashion accessories.

Entrepreneur reckons what iHub offers is the networking opportunity available and the sense of shared experience which gives hope and aids smooth-en common challenges.

Entrepreneur raised a valid point upon my asking why he only joined 3 months ago – how can you be part of something you do not know?

Entrepreneur also pointed out that not everyone can be a techie and even as tech is embraced there is need to make tangible things, need to grow real industries, need to get off the tech bubble and into the real world.


Food for thought, no?


(P.S – all images courtesy of iHub or Google.)

Nairobi Restaurant/Kibanda Week

Setting: In a formerly middleclass estate in Nairobi.

Mum: A lady in her thirties, who was in a hurry with a daughter in tow.

Daughter: A girl of 8 or 9 years old.

Daughter: Mum….mum….mum…

Mum: Nini? Harakisha…

Daughter: Mum, ushawahi kula pizza?

Mum: Hapana. (harshly) Kwa nini?

(The two then walked past my earshot.)


This exchange which happened awhile back got me thinking. On food, experiences and economics.

It has been cooking in my head ever since and the on-going Nairobi Restaurant Week has triggered this post.

For those clueless, #NRW2015 is an annual event where high-end restaurants reduce prices and enable more people enjoy fine-dining.


Our local cuisine as Kenyans is pretty basic and it is mostly dependent on where you come from. Rice – coast, Ugali fish – Nyanza, Githeri (mashakula) – Central. Food in Kenya is not cheap and thus folk mostly eat what they farm or readily access.


In the urban setting, food one consumes is dependent both on economic capability as well as exposure.

How old were you when you fast tasted pizza? If you are in your late twenties and above chances are that it has happened in the last decade and losing your pizza virginity was a big deal. Back in the day, kuku quarter and chips and soda was the epitome of cool. Pizza come with the South Africans outlets and it did not quite get traction.


However, in the past decade Nairobi’s middleclass has balloned and with it has lead to an avalanche of trendy food joints.

Through social media into the mix and being with it now involves KFC, Pizza Inn, Cold Stone and other foreign food joints that have opened up in Nairobi. For a few the cost is not prohibitive but for a majority a meal at these cool joints is a cause for major personal budget realignment.

cold stone

So I feel for the daughter who wants to be cool but I also get that the mum has to think of the family budget and thus talk of pizza is unsettling.

To counter the #NRW2015, folk have tweeted and posted on Facebook in jest about Nairobi Kibanda Week.

Underneath the jesting is a bit of harsh reality. There is a Nairobi for Kibandas and one for Restaurants.

Many years ago, Kitu Sewer of Ukoo Fulani Mau Mau rapped, “nikitaka kujua story ya economy ninacheki price ya kaquarter kwa butchery.”

Clearly, food is a great indicator of national, local and personal economy.

Then there is exposure or readiness to embraces new experiences.

Many people who can afford it, have never eaten Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Thai, West African? Why? Comfort zone.

And on the flip side many people have never enjoyed the thrills of Mama Ntilie food in a kibanda. Why? Uptightness.


My people say he who has not travelled thinks only his mother cooks well.

Maybe as Kenyans we need to broaden our palate and maybe, just maybe, there is room for both Nairobi Resturant Week and Nairobi Kibanda Week.

Bon appétit.


(PS: All images courtsey of Google.)

#LifeSnippets – Happily Married!

Setting : At a shoeshine on Dubois lane. Off River Road. In the line of sight of Kampala Coach.

Man 1 : Shoe shiner who looked in his mid-30s. Well-put together, well-fed.

Man 2 : His skinny looking pal who looked 25.

Music playing on the background – Umenikalia chapati by Sauti Sol.

Not kidding!

Conversation was in Kiswahili and Kikuyu.


Man I (starting to shine my shoe): Say hi to the neighbors. And this story of living alone is not good.

Man 2 (walking away from shoe shine stand): Have I told you I am gonna marry this year?

Man 1 : You should! You are what 25? Time is running out. Me I did it at 25. Best decision. When you do your life will be sorted out.

Man 2 : Really?

Man 1 : Look at you. Your trouser is falling. You don’t eat do you? With a wife at home you will be well-fed. You will have to eat her food. If you don’t you’ll tell her where you ate. Look at me (Pats round belly), I tie my belt up here (pats top of belly).

Me : Laughs.

Man 2 : I have heard you. I’ll put effort.

Man 1 : Good. See you kesho.

Man 1 : (talking to me) He’s a nice boy. I try push him onto the nice path. You know its hard to find a nice boy what aint wasting his life with alcohol/drugs. So that’s why I am on his case. Someone who is deep in the drugs you can’t tell him to marry, you tell him to quit drugs. Our men are getting lost and a woman can help ground a man, direct him in the right path.

Me : Aha! (Nodding with freshly shined shoes)

married 2


Alcohol is wiping away a generation of men in Nairobi and across the country.

Men have lost hope and are drinking for a living. Or more importantly drinking themselves to death. Wines and spirits are the biggest business in every hood selling cheap kill-me-quick liquor.

As we focus on the girl-child the boy-child is falling through the cracks.

Quite a huge chunk of men are getting left behind by women in the cycle of life. A woman is working, getting her ish together while a man who grew up with said woman or is even 5years older is neck deep in drink with no plan for today let alone tomorrow.

Little wonder that women are resorting to single-motherhood and the cry around Nairobi is ‘where are the good men’?

It may seem an individual dilemma but methinks its a societal one. The imbalance of men and women is a threat to the societal fibre, an affront to the natural order and just at the basic level two are better than one, no?


married (1)

Food for thought.


#LifeSnippets – Guilt Tax (Kenyan welfare)

Setting : A middle class estate in Nairobi.

Cast : A group of men are seated at the ‘base’. Chewing mugoka, drinking spirits and smoking as they ‘escort the sun’.

‘Base’ is the name for where jobless, hustling guys seat in Nairobi estates passing time, abusing drugs, taking in the sights of the neighborhood and debating anything and everything.


Me: (passing in front of Base, waving)

Cast: Come for a bit!

Me: (walk over wondering wsap)

Cast: We need to talk.

Me: About?

Cast: Ever since you moved on up and started working there is something you have not done.

Me: What?

Cast: Blessed the Base

Me: Ooooh!

Cast: You need to buy us drinks till we drop. Do not think of us drinking your money but more like you pouring liquor on this base and the base thereby blessing you and your money.

Me: (laughs a lot) I have heard. (Walks away)


Unemployment is huge in Nairobi. You may think its only prevalent in the slums and lower class estates but even the so-called middle-class estates are not immune.

Its effect is worse in the middle-class estates as the unemployed are children of retired bankers, civil servants, teachers. They saw their parents work their butt off to secure their education but now that education is redundant as job search becomes the job. Their parents being working class also limits their entrepreneurial spirit as all they were conditioned to aspire to is employment.

No job leads hopelessness. Hopelessness leads to life apathy. Life apathy leads to a drug-full life. Whiled away at base.

Simplification? Yes. Reality? Yes.

If you are lucky enough to get a job and you are from the hood then you will at one time or another pay guilt tax.


Guilt tax is paid when you are walking/driving through the hood and someone asks for a ten bob for a cigarette or you are in the local and someone hustles you for a beer or for additional cash to buy a drink.

You pay the guilt tax not because you are rich or because you have to but because you know but for the grace of God there goes you.

You are not special just lucky.

Away from the hood setting, the guilt tax is also paid in family, extended or nuclear. We all have that uncle who texts asking for an MPesa donation because he has new wife, new child or new cow.

In retrospect, the guilt tax maybe Kenya’s version of welfare.

Plugging the gaps and pushing the broken societal wheel forward.


So maybe I will bless the base after all.


Spinning the ICC, Governing by PR

Let me let you in on a little secret.

I lined up to welcome private citizen Uhuru Kenyatta who returning from his Hague date. Ssssssssh. Keep it between us.


As a schoolboy lining up for retired president Moi – who prophesied that KANU would rule for 100 years to much derision (Who is laughing now?) – was normal. He seemed to always be on the go and he (or his handlers) felt that school children should either be lining the road waving or singing for him at different forums. Moi also said “now you are saying Moi must go but one day you will say Moi must come.” And the hullaballoo at Moi’s birthday did somewhat validate his statement.

So Chief Chef Lenku’s circular requesting for peace-loving Kenyans presence along the roads which the private citizen/President was not a shocker. After all the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Curiosity and my continued study of human nature fuelled my ten minutes walk to Makadara along Jogoo Road. And my timing was impeccable. Fifteen minutes upon my arrival the motorcade made its appearance.

It is common knowledge that Uhuruto used ICC case and astute PR to ascend to power. Communities which felt under siege came together to protect their sons using the tyranny of numbers. And spin or PR if you like whitewashed the picture (and eyes).

Just how much this ICC and PR narrative sold is now unfolding.


The mass of people at Makadara was positively buzzing. These were not rent-a-crowd folk. These were people sharing a common unshakeable belief. Not subject to reason or logic. It is because it is kind of belief. It felt like a stadium or a church.

Young and old. Male and female. Seated and standing. All waiting. Happily. Anxiously.

Snippets of conversation in the alternative national language floated around me. “He is ours.” “God-given.” “He is our blood.”

One side of phone conversations was overhead; “I am here. I could not miss it for anything. Where are you standing?” Also, “Where are you?….you can’t make it…he is almost here.”

Then the outriders’ zoomed past signalling the much awaited moment was near and the buzzing crowd became alive. Screaming, chanting and dancing. The junction into Buruburu from Jogoo Road was blocked as the frenzied crowd demanded an address.

Before I walked away I caught a snippet of Uhuruto and their astonishment was clear. The narrative gelled together around ICC and PR had worked beyond their wildest dreams. More conversation snippets floated around me. “See what we voted for?” “See the fruits of our labour?”

The ICC case and astute PR has managed to turn Uhuru support into a fanatical undertaking. The support is more than political. It is something akin to religion. And religion is now being woven into the narrative. Uhuru is viewed as the Chosen One. A popular chant of Uhuru supporters is “Si nguvu/si uchawi, ni maombi.” (It is not our strength/it is not witchcraft, it is prayer.) Songs have also being composed to that effect. Uhuru’s presidential victory is touted as an answered prayer.


Another by-product of the ICC case and PR is flag-waving patriotism. Most of the crowd at Makadara had the flag. Matatus and even private cars flew the flag. The flag being used was Kenyan but is the Nation Kikuyu? Put another way, to the crowd at Makadara is the Kikuyu nation synonymous with the Kenya nation? Or another way to ask the question is did the challenge mutate from personal to communal to national? And now international?

Articles 147 and 134 are in the constitution. Ruto is a Deputy not Vice. It follows then when principal is absent the deputy acts. But politics is about perception. And Uhuruto use of PR is phenomenal. So amid much fanfare President Uhuru became a private citizen while Deputy Ruto became Acting President complete with trappings of power.


A fact that one following the ICC case may found hard to believe is that post election violence actually happened. The Kikuyu bore a substantial brunt of the violence. The Uhuruto bromance aside, the hoi polloi still harboured a grudge. A Ruto presidency was unfathomable. Too much blood under the bridge it was said. But after ‘the handing over power’ show a Ruto presidency is now somewhat discussable. Which given numbers tyranny, then a ten plus ten Uhuruto reigns may not be fiction.

Remember the 100 years prophesy? Tingisa kabisa.

So what do all these variables portend for mkenya wa kawaida or for Kenya?

Is the ICC case good for mkenya wa kawaida or for Kenya?

Is the management by PR good mkenya wa kawaida or for Kenya?

I have no idea.



p.s – ALL images courtesy Google.

Fragment of a non-existent diary


Posted  this on the 1st of July 2oo9 on a different blog. Five years later who would have thought gossip blogs, socialites would be a phenomenon :-).

Re-blogging here to remove the cobwebs from this blog.

Writing here will resume soon. Hopefully.



I am a 2nd year student of French at the university. I plan to be a radio presenter and became a celebrity. I know all these people and if they can hang with me then they can work with me, right? I have an interview with that hot male presenter tomorrow at his house and I need to look hot for that. What to wear, how to look? But that is for tomorrow. Today, do I go to school? Hmmmm, let me call my best friend and classmate and find out if she is in school or has got plot.

Let me tell you about me…Am 22years old,life is bliss, credit, hair, men and of course the rave and drinking on any given day is all I am about. I have no source of income but since I am pretty and hot then that is no issue. My parents provide for the basics and then the rest is up to me. Have a steady (or not?) boyfriend who lives in the right side of town and drives the right kind of car. He thinks I am The One but clearly he is mistaken. Still have places to go, people to meet and things to do. So marriage or any commitment is in the very distant future if ever. And again this body is not ready to push let alone carry a baby for nine months. That’s why after I got my accident three months ago, I got one of my service providers to pay for a procedure and flush out that problem. Oh,by the way I had quite a scare this weekend..i was three days late and thought I had had another accident but they finally came so now I can rest easy.

As for the steady, I rather like him and he is able to support my lifestyle so for now it’s all good. But as for love and all that mushy feeling, no, that’s not me! Apart from the steady boyfriend I have a couple of other fans or should I say service providers because their purpose in my life is to provide what I need when I need it. They are all at my beck and call and when I call they run. After all don’t they all hope to get a piece of this fly ass? If only they knew! But disposable income they got and so clever they think they are, so it’s all fair games, no?

I had a fight with my steady over the weekend and I need some TLC which for me is alcohol and a crazy night out. Let me start texting the various options and see who comes up fastest with a fun plot.

My best friend gets back to me and says she has no plot but she is skiving the rest of her classes and idling in town and I should call her up when I get plot. My pal is not very pretty but she got a fine body and brains. So she is good for dancing and conversation which all these service providers seem to want a girl to provide. She hangs around me a lot as am better socially connected but since she is better academically then we both gain.

The texts are coming fast and furious and I pick one. He has been asking for a drinks date for two months so I reckon he has waited for long enough and his wallet will be easy to open as he will want to impress me.

After calling up my best pal and telling her where we should hook up I flash the lucky (or unlucky?) service provider and once he calls back I tell him where I want to meet him and the time. Me and my best friend meet up and after window shopping-oh my! we just discovered a great place to buy shoes-we finally strut in one hour late. The guy is all smiles even though he must be seething inside. A softie he is. So much potential to fleece him I think.

We give our excuses and order for our drinks. Today we are not taking our usual Smirnoff Ice Reds, we are taking Famous Grouse on the rocks! Small talk is provided by my best pal and I just seat there and look innocent and desirable. I off course pop up occasionally and ask the lifestyle questions…where do you work? As a what? Where do you live? What do you drive? The guy has no idea of my intent and answers all these questions without guile. Poor man!

After a couple of hours and a pity story of me been sad I come up with the idea of going for Karaoke at a trendy out of town pub. Guy tries to wiggle out but I flash him a smile and my bedroom eyes and he is toast. We take a taxi and off we go. I am already on phone texting to find out who is at the pub we are heading to.

Getting there, the pub is kicking and the karaoke is in full swing. My best pal also can sing beautifully and the “offer is sing and get free sambucas ” so of course she will sing but the service provider still has to buy Famous Grouse on the rocks.

As my best pal sings, dances and small talks the service provider I do my lap of honor. You know how it is, a girl has to be seen and see people. How else will I prove tomorrow I was at the kicking pub last night? Lap of honor consists of checking out the potential service providers and also touching base with existing service providers and thus getting dates for all of next week! Every so often I go back to the table and chat up the original service provider, can’t be seeing to be a lousy date because one thing I have learnt is never ever burn bridges.

After one hour of my technical appearances the original service provider decides he has had enough and says is time to leave. This is when the party is really getting to climax so I tell him he can go and leave us. He clears the bill and gives me money for a cab. Of course I am a bright girl so I ask him for money for my best pal’s cab too, the fact that we are next door neighbours notwithstanding! Still trying to impress me, the guy off course coughs up and leaves us to jienjoy.

To be continued…
(Disclaimer – This is just me having fun with words. All characters and occurrences are fictional. Any resemblance to anyone or anyplace is wholly coincidental. The to be continued is fictional too!)


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