Category Archives: Technology

Tech for Governance

These are notes taken at the Code for Africa event in November 2016.

The panel was made up of @roomthinker and @gathara with Catherine Gicheru moderating.

**It happens under the hashtag – #hhnbo

The conversation largely unfolded as follows:

Mzalendo – Started as a database for parliament. Evolved over time
Most active constituencies were rural
Tech is Nairobi centric, how do you give voice to Wanjiku
Info is everywhere. We are just desensitized.
Tell the story in a way that engages the person
Are we digital warriors. Just talking and talking?
Digital conversations are valid. You don’t have to go to the streets. Kitambo we went to bars, whispered in the different spaces. Now we talk online
MPs are getting on Twitter
What of the people who ain’t on social media?
How do we give a majority of Kenyans a voice through tech?
We have come from far where there were gatekeepers. But social media has made more gatekeepers.
Danger is democratisation of truth where everyone has their on truth and facts
Another danger is folk talk to folk they agree with so create an echo chamber
So how do we link the groups?
Objective of mzalendo is to give public a voice
Knowledge is a genie which once it is out it can’t be put box in a box
Mzalendo gives you a diverse info – minister for health in 1970, Hansard for a long time, etc
How do you change narrative to be for more people?
How do you tell a story away from from the hard facts and into digestible bits?
Egovt has grown in a big way.
Info is there for folk to read
My car was hit, went to a cop station, the cops chucked an exercise book to write, shock on me.
So how do we use tech to help this? Because egovt is there but the basics aren’t there.
Tech is there but it is not helping
How do we complete tech process?
Illusion of information, illusion of participation
We need to craft systems to fix this
How did NTSA arrive at 50kph. Zero engagement
Do you think govt uses any of its social media to communicate
Empower – a way to show that there is a problem. An app that enables you to take pics, description, then upload. Through tech I can be able to share the pic with people in power. Then it can be used to fix.
So response happens but then the fix is superficial.
Impact – as a journalist you are looking at impact. How do you measure impact. Kanjo kingdom aired. We talked and talked then nothing happened.
Democratisation of free speech. It gives an insight into spaces.
Click-bait  is king
How do we devolve information, civic duty?
Why should I care?
So what?
Tax clock – shows what how much of my tax is used for x.
It is sobering that most money goes to debt payment
taxclock.codeforkenya.org
What is tax on a beer
Pay for nhif but still pay aar
Pay for cops but pay for g4s
How do you formulate policy
Public participation can be vague
But how can we tell people about when the interactions are there
Can we get an app for when things happen
Can we break down the information numbers
Uraia is doing stuff
How do you make people govt literate through tech
Representation being bettered through tech.

Code for Africa has come up with:
biscuitindex.codeforkenya.org
pesacheck.org

Questions that members of the audience had but were not addressed:
How do you hold folk into account?
Is it to get good people or to make the system good?
Can we tell both the bad and good stories?
How do I keep them on the straight and narrow?
****

***After here I kinda zoned out.***

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*****My thoughts after the entire event.*****

1. As a content creator I loved the digital tools on offer to enable me to tell stories.

2. I have written about Talking Shop before.

3. It is a feel good opportunity to come together, talk amongst ourselves as folk interested in governance but it is an exercise in futility if we are just preaching to the converted. How do we get the information out to the mwananchi wa kawaida? How do you get the masses involved in the civic conversation?

4. It is great to talk about tech for governance/accountability but less than an year to an election the plan, focus has to be geared towards a) enabling folk to make good decisions at the ballot b) having credible folk on the ballot. c) ensuring the polls are free and fair.

5. Kenya’s problem is a crisis of values. Folk see leadership, being in government as an opportunity to enrich themselves not to serve. How do we fix that?

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If you have read all the way until here them you are a serious person who deserves a treat :-).

Someone more serious than me, wrote about the event in a more fancy way. Enjoy!

GOD BLESS KENYA!


Saving the Railway

When you think the railway you think of something old. A relic that belongs to a museum and whose time is past in this age of smartphones and driverless cars.

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Tayiana Chao is a stunning contrast to that thought.

Tall, slim, with long dreadlocks, afro jewellery and an infectious laugh she would pass for a uni student who moonlights as an model.

I met her in in a gallery but rather than her being the subject it is her photographs that are under the limelight.

Still in her early 20s, this retired computer scientist has a story to tell and she has already written her first chapter – Save the Railway.

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Save the Railway is an exhibition that is ongoing at the ShiftEye gallery.

It is the fruit of Chao’s 3 years labour of love.

Chao was picked to go to JKUAT and study Computer Science but instead of Juja she was sent to the Voi campus. Her first instinct was to say no but as a history buff and introvert, Voi won her over.

Being away from the city was heavenly and in her weekend exploring she stumbled on the Voi Railway station.

The picture of the Voi Railway station is stunning. A house built with red bricks, with a tree on the side and with the horizon endless. It stands bang in the middle of the exhibition taking pride of place as her first love in this project.

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Chao puts it brilliantly “…it takes you to a different time…the station exactly as it was..not in the present time..grand… antique..

With that a dream was born. To tell the story of the railway. Not as an item in the history books but rather as a living being.

Everyone knows about the railway start in Mombasa and end in Kisumu but what of its impact? Basically, what did the railway do for Kenya and Kenyans?

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Through her journey across Kenya searching for and photographing railway stations Chao learnt just how much the railway was part and parcel of people’s lives.

It was not history for the people who lived next to the railway but rather a living breathing thing.

She felt the emotional aspect of the Railway. The lives touched, the grievances, the poverty, the lingering hope. And she learnt that the Railway mattered. Life for many Kenyans revolved around the railway and you can not put a value on the Railway’s importance.

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Chao’s journey is curated in the Save the Railway exhibition that runs from the 19th of August to the 2nd of September at the ShiftEye Gallery at the Priory building on Arwings Kodhek Road.

What started as a hobby has taken a life of its own.

“..someone come all the way from India to see this! I felt so honoured…” gushes Chao.

She graduated as a computer scientist but she has taken time off being a programmer to think of the way forward.

She wishes to write a book on her experience chasing down Kenya’s forgotten train stations. She also wishes to complete taking photographs of the off-road train stations.

But that is just the second chapter of her book.

Computing for heritage is where her book will anchor next. As a techie Chao wishes to do culture tech and believes that restoration of history through tech is the way to go. Chao envisions a day when Gedi ruins will be mapped and one will be able to relive the 13th century.

With Kenya in the middle of the SGR hype, I had to ask if she has plans to photograph the current history being made.

“..why did the old railway fail? Even as we do SGR let us ask ourselves that. Development is great but we need to learn from our past..” was the deep response.

Chatting with Chao feels like taking a walk down memory lane as well as how the history looks at the present.

What made her achievement even more amazing that is that this was mostly a solo-project with Kenya Railways chipping by providing permission and transport for the first phase of the project.

The bodies you would expect to be involved the National Museum, Brand Kenya and even the government ministries were not.

Now to the twist to this tale of Kenya’s railway.

Hilary Ng’weno is Kenya’s best known historian. A nuclear physicist turned journalist turned historian Ng’weno has curated much of Kenya’s history. Makers of a nation anyone?

His daughter, Professor Bettina Ng’weno runs a production house and she is working on a Hollywood style movie – Last dance in Kaloleni.

The movie which is in the funding stage will look at life in African railway quarters in the early 1920s-60s.

How the railway as one of the biggest employers in the colonial time impacted in the urbanisation, the arts, the politics, the music of Kenya.

Chao is also involved in the movie and when I asked her if she will be an actress, she laughed her infectious laugh and said maybe as an extra.

My gut says that when Kenya’s history in the next 5o years is written, Tayiana Chao will be a name worth noting not least because she will have photographed, written and technologically curated it.

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Be sport. Go check out the Save The Railway exhibition.

 

GOD BLESS KENYA!


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.

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

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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.

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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.

under

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

Ama?

GOD BLESS KENYA!


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…

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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.

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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.

ihub

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.

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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.

But:

– 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.

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Food for thought, no?

GOD BLESS KENYA!

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


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