Monthly Archives May 2019

Children and Screen Time

Posted on 3 min read

They say that you shouldn’t get high on your own supply. Nowhere has this statement been truer than when it comes to electronic devices. Bill Gates did not allow his children to use cellphones until they were teenagers. Steve Jobs would not let his young children use iPads, and current Apple CEO Tim Cook said that he would not let his nephew use social networks.

Those are not just exceptions. As reported by New York Times, many techies from Silicon Valley and elsewhere have set strict rules that regulate or restrict the use of electronic devices by their children. Some have gone to an extent of requiring their nannies to sign an agreement that they will not only disallow children from using phones and tablets, but also they themselves will not use phones in the presence of the children.

Why is there such a radical approach by the techies when it comes to use of electronic devices by kids? There are a number of reasons. The actual effect of screen time on children is not clear. It has been said that there are no known benefits of screen to children under 18 months. There are a number of reasons to believe that it is harmful. With such, it is better to err on the side of caution, and this could be the reason why the Silicon Valley veterans are turning extremists when it comes to screen time regulation. Screens are addictive, and they can have a negative impact on early childhood which is a time of rapid development. This is the time when healthy lifestyle patterns should be developed.

Screens have become great pacifiers for children. A restless toddler easily calms down when they are given the glowing screens. Others will spend hours watching baby shark videos over and over again. I find babies very intrigued by phones, and the rife temptation is always to give a child a phone while you catch a nap. Since the advent of smartphones and tablets, screens are able to capture the attention of both the young and the old, and they have changed from limited use feature phones to powerful computing devices.

While it is said that introducing kids to electronic devices early in life will help them become tech savvy, that does not seem to be the case. When it comes to learning, electronic gadgets are simply tools just like text books. This is very well illustrated with the life of a friend of mine who never encountered  computers until first year in campus. Four years down the line, he turned out to be one of the best software developers in his class. The skills required to produce a software developer had been honed in day to day activities while away from computers.

The truth is, when we give a baby a phone, we are not trying to help them. We are usually trying to help ourselves. We just want some peace of mind, or some quiet time, and so we find an easy way to distract them. We fail to give them one thing that they really need; attention.

Possible solutions

What can parents and guardians do in order to protect the young ones and ensure that they are bringing up a resilient generation that will thrive both in online and offline world? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. As much as you can, allow no screen time for children under 18 months, and utmost 1 hour of guided screen time for children between 2 and 4 years.
  2. Avoid sedentary screen time. Let every moment spent in front of a screen be spent actively engaging with some content, not just sitting and staring idly.
  3. Ensure children get good exercise and sleep, which are vital for human development.
  4. Prioritize human interactions over electronic devices. Let kids get creative with traditional toys, games and one on one interactions.


Scaling up lessons from M-PESA

Posted on 3 min read

Building a good product is hard. Getting people to use the good product you have built is even harder. I have seen the careers of many developers come to an end because they thought that having the perfect product would mean mass adoption, only to realize that no one was interested in their apps. Why does this happen? Because it takes more than a good product to sell. It takes skills and effort to market, it takes marketing research, it takes money to advertise, and sometimes, it takes chance.

M-PESA was launched in Kenya at just the right time. First, it was a perfect product for a market where sending money to someone in the next town was as unreliable and as slow as sending a letter. M-PESA promised to change all that, and they did exactly that. But how did it get mass adoption in Kenya? Safaricom had made the onboarding process very easy, where one needed just a National Identification card. They also made it a big show, where everybody got to hear about it and curiosity was rife. With a good budget and advertising team, it was possible to enroll some people. However, past that Safaricom needed two things:

  • A critical mass of people to register for M-PESA
  • M-PESA agents being available everywhere

Safaricom had two genius techniques to achieve these two.

Getting the masses to register for M-PESA

Safaricom allowed one to send money to both the registered and unregistered M-PESA users. It was cheap to send money to registered M-PESA users, but expensive to send to money to people to people who had not registered for M-PESA. The implication of this was that before you sent money to any person, you had to confirm if they were registered or not. If not, you would ask them to find someone nearby who was already registered and send to them instead. This idea of receiving money through a proxy was not appealing, and this would be enough to make someone to register.

With that, Safaricom turned M-PESA users to M-PESA evangelists.

Getting agents in every corner

The success of M-PESA was pegged on availability of agents in all places. This is currently the reason why other mobile money platforms have failed to gain traction in Kenya, because you cannot find their agents. With M-PESA, you probably need to turn around to find an agent, that is if there is no M-PESA agent right in front of you.

How did M-PESA manage to get so many agents? The first thing was the revenue sharing model. When one sends money through M-PESA, they are charged some transaction fee. This fee is shared between Safaricom and the mobile money agents involved. For this reason, people realized that they could actually make money by becoming M-PESA agents, and soon every shop and stall added M-PESA agency services on the sideline.
Safaricom followed up by providing the necessary branding merchandise. An M-PESA agency outlet looked cool. With that, they now needed to vet who wanted to be an agent, as too many people were trying to jump into the train.


It was not that easy, and Vodafone cannot replicate the same fete elsewhere. The most sure way to know if your start-up or business will scale is simply to try it out.


Internet Shutdown in Kenya

Posted on 3 min read

African governments are known to shut down the internet when faced by protests, elections, or even national examinations. In the last few years, internet shutdown has been experienced in Zimbabwe, Cameroon, DRC, Somalia, Ethiopia and several other countries. Here in Kenya, the question of whether there would be an internet shutdown during the 2017 general elections was very much rife, but that never came to be. But the question still lingers, will the government shut down the internet one day?

One can never be sure if the government will one day shut down the internet, and governments have interests, not policies. If the government’s interests are threatened, we can expect any action to be taken. However, there would be many implications. Kenya is a country with a high internet penetration rate, and we have many services that rely on the internet to function. First, the shutdown can be total or partial. Total shutdown involves blocking all internet services, while partial internet shutdown is where parts of the internet or certain applications are restricted.

Whether a total or partial shutdown, the following would be the implications on Kenyans.

  • Transport

While it would be possible to use most of the public transport, some parts of public transport would be paralyzed. This include popular taxi hailing apps like Uber, Bolt, Little and others. Thousands of drivers would be rendered jobless, while the people who rely on them would be stranded since they would be unable to contact them.

Many public bus and air travel bookings happen online. This would not work

  • Start-ups

Many startups in Kenya are internet oriented. Most of them would have nothing to offer without the digital technologies that they very much depend on. Most of incubation hubs in Nairobi would grind to a halt.

  • E-commerce

Kenyans are very dependent on e-commerce services, which would be affected in terms of sales and also logistics part. Jumia and Kilimall receive orders online, and also depend on the internet to have their delivery people get to the right destinations

  • Online payments

This is where it gets murky. Card check out require an internet connection. Even M-PESA payment need an internet connection for those automated payments to work. Even check out at the supermarket using M-PESA might be impossible without internet.

  • Education

E-learning would be disrupted.  Educational institutions largely depend on cloud hosted systems to monitor transport, progress and plan activities.

  • Logistics and supplies

Most organized forms of supply chain networks and logistics systems depend on the internet. Manufacturers would find it hard to keep goods and services flowing in the market in the right quantities and at the right time.

  • Utility payments

Utility payments depend on automated systems to generate invoices and effect payments. You might find yourself unable to pay for water and electricity.

  • Tourism

Tourism is a major foreign exchange source in Kenya. Most of tourism activities such as accommodation booking and travels depend on the internet. The industry would suffer greatly.

It seems like an internet shutdown in Kenya would almost cripple the economy. What else would be affected? Share your thoughts.


China-US trade war is just a global gang violence

Posted on 3 min read

In 2012, a Chinese company completed the building of the African Union headquarters at a cost of $200m, which China had funded. This was a welcome gift to Africa, and the result was a landmark building that ended up being the tallest building in Addis Ababa, as well as a landmark signifying the Chinese-African friendship. Five years later, there was a near crisis when it was discovered that China had not only bugged the place with hidden surveillance equipment but also configured the AU servers to send data to Shanghai everyday sometime past midnight. It turned out that China was on an espionage mission, carefully wrapped in diplomatic benevolence.

This was not the only time Chinese products were being questioned. In 2017, it was confirmed that Hikvision, a popular Chinese CCTV camera brand (the biggest surveillance products manufacturer in the world) had a backdoor that allowed for anyone with limited technical knowhow to access the products and reset the login credentials. This meant that the devices had been designed with a backdoor for unknown reasons. Already, Hikvision products had been partly banned in some countries which limit their use in critical installations. Various countries like UK had already questioned the use of these Chinese made surveillance systems in critical installations. The action reinforced the belief that Chinese hardware manufacturers could be cooperating with the government in some obscure ways. With that, the company lost crucial markets.

Huawei seems to be following a similar path with their 5G network equipment being locked out of some select markets. Networks are vital for communication, and 5G networks will carry even more data than other technologies have been able to carry. It is assumed that if Huawei builds the bulk of worlds 5G networks, it will have access to too much data which it could share with the Chinese government. The US government

All this majorly stems from the Chinese legislation that says that “…any organization or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law” The law also promises to protect any individual or corporation that does that. The law also requires any individual or organization to truthfully and willingly give data to state agencies that are investigating situations of espionage. With this in mind, the US government claims that if Huawei is allowed to deploy the 5G networks in the US or among its allies, it could be a backdoor for the Chinese government to monitor world’s communication. Huawei is also being blacklisted for alleged involvement in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interest. It is for the same reason that Huawei’s CFO is being detained in Canada.

While there could be some legitimate concerns about Huawei, this is the classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. The US is guilty as charged when it comes to spying on foreign citizens, and also supporting and propping some world leaders who have very poor human rights records. The US has previously been accused of phone tapping world leaders, including 125 top German leaders who included the Chancellor. Besides the federal government, the US has several corporations which are primarily data companies, and Facebook Inc has been accusing of selling off user data to third parties without the users knowledge. What we are experiencing is not a trade war based on principles and values, but a global gang violence.


The Anatomy of a Betting Nation

Posted on 3 min read

A few days ago, I spent the day in a client’s office where I was doing some work. The office was manned by four young people, three ladies and one guy, who seemed to have graduated from college within a period of one to five years. I noticed that they spent about two hours going through the sports section of the dailies, doing some writing on their notebooks, and check some online sites while taking notes. It had not occurred to me that they were looking for betting tips, checking for odds and placing their bets online. Four employees spent two hours each trying to place bets for the evening’s games, at the expense of their employer’s time, resources and space! Welcome to Kenya, the betting nation.

The betting craze has taken Kenya by storm. The young people bet. I have seen a 70 year old betting, and old women in rural villages bet. Graduates bet and uneducated people bet even more. A research by Geopoll showed that Kenya leads the rest of Africa when it comes to betting, in terms of the number of people betting and the amount of money invested in betting. It is no wonder that 20% of adults in Kenya consider betting to be a reliable source of income. When I tried to analyse Google trends results for the keywords ‘betting tips’, the results were amazing, almost shocking. The leading countries in the world are Kenya at 100%, Uganda at 53%, and Zimbabwe at 24%. The traditional gambling nations like the UK do not feature.

The growth of betting in Kenya is best highlighted by the growth of the Kenyan betting companies. SportPesa, a Kenya betting firm already took the world by storm. This betting firm is the main sponsor of the Kenyan premier league, as well numerous other sports in Kenya such as rugby and boxing. Its impact is not just felt in Kenya. Among the big and mighty sports team that it sponsors include English Premier League Everton FC and Hull City. It also has a partnership with Arsenal, as well as Torino in Italy. The moneyed betting firm recently joined formula One and is the sponsor of SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team. No other Kenyan startup has made it this big.

But why all this betting craze? Like many other African countries, Kenya has a youthful population with a median age of about 19 years. Joblessness is high, and the number of people who live in extreme poverty stands at 29%. Advertisements by the betting firms majorly tell stories of rags to riches, and end up enticing many to bet. With these conditions, betting is a reasonable chance of escaping poverty.

Even the rich bet. In the same way that prosperity gospel is enticing people to give money with the promise of more reward, betting also seems to sell hope in the same way. Other factors have also made betting easy, such as high penetration of mobile money which allows almost anybody to do transactions online and make payment. Online lending apps also come in handy with reports saying that many people will quickly borrow money in order to bet.

It is hard to quantify the impact of betting on a society. By September 2016, 400,000 Kenyans were already blacklisted with Credit Reference Bureaus for mobile loans of less than KES 200 (USD 2)! Most of this borrowing is attributed to betting. Many employers have also lost money in terms of wasted productivity as young people spend time analysing bets and fantasizing on winning big. Gambling addiction has been said to cause problems such as family breakdown, violence and crime, debts and emotional instability. One wonders what will be the impact on Kenya in the next 15 years.

In an attempt to slow down the practice, the government recently announced a ban on advertising of gambling between 6 am and 10 pm. It also banned endorsement of gambling by celebrities, in a ban that will take effect from 30th May 2019.


The Launch of M-PESA and Challenges it Faced in Kenya

Posted on 6 min read

When M-PESA was launched in March 2007, we did not know what impact it would have on our lives and the World in general. I was just out of high school, waiting to join college, and this was a good time to experiment with anything new and promising. I heard about M-PESA, but I did not care an inch because I did not need it. I neither had a phone, nor an ID card or a passport that was needed to register, nor money to send. I lived with my parents and therefore I had no money to receive or send. Nevertheless, I had a SIM card which I could use whenever I borrowed someone’s phone and texted a few friends.

Two months later, I was sent to go to a post office ten kilometers away, where I was to send money to my sister in college. Sending money involved using the post office which had a one day delivery period with their electronic money transfer. The costs were extremely high, and the process of collecting the money would be hindered by working hours, lack of funds, or absent staff. You needed to collect the money from the exact post office that it was sent to. The services was terrible, but it was the best that was available then.

That was the day when I walked into an M-PESA kiosk and out of curiosity, asked to be registered for the service. I spent the next few days dreaming about just what M-PESA could turn to. Here was an opportunity to send money to a person wherever they were, and have them withdraw it whenever they want. We embraced the invention, and M-PESA was only used to send money. When one went to an agent asking to send KES 1000, they would ask you to give them KES 1034 (or about), which included the sending cost, the cost of withdrawing, and the amount to be sent. This is how we needed M-PESA to work, and that was exactly how we needed it.

12 years later, mobile money moves half of Kenya’s GDP, with the Safaricom’s M-PESA accounting for the bulk of those transactions. M-PESA has grown from a money transfer platform, to a pseudo-banking services which supports ecommerce, lending, bulk transactions and savings. Kenya has received accolades from across the globe for this invention, which has spread to the rest of the world with mixed results. The M-PESA narrative helped to build the notion that Kenya is the a major tech hub in the world, and many have undertaken to study why mobile money was very successful in Kenya. However, the other dark side of mobile money lies on what Kenya missed

Teething Challenges

As soon a fraudsters learnt how mobile money worked, they went into full gear to exploit the loopholes. Telcos failed to educate people on how to keep off these fraudsters, most of who could be traced to the local prisons. Some of the fraudulent methods used to con people included:

SMS Fraud

Receiving an SMS indicating that you have received money from somebody, then they call you to ask to send the money back. Some people did not know that all legit M-PESA messages out to come from the SMS sender ID M-PESA, and so the Kenyans of goodwill would send the money back, if they had an equivalent or higher amount in their M-PESA accounts.

SIM Swap Fraud

Since M-PESA came before there was a requirement for SIM card registration, some people realized that once you were able to steal someone’s M-PESA PIN, you could replace their SIM card, then withdraw all the money that is in their M-PESA account. This still happens today through SIM registration agents who conspire to replace SIM cards.

 Tuma kwa hii number (Send to this number)

With so many people using M-PESA every day, chances are high that out of a random sample of 100 people there could be one about to send money to someone. A fraudster would broadcast messages to hundreds of people, asking them to ‘Send to this number.’ This would be in the hope that one person who had been asked to send money to a contact would interpret it to mean that the specific contact wants them to send to a different M-PESA account, and thus send without asking questions. As simple as it sounds, some people have fallen victims to such pranks.

ATM withdrawal

M-PESA introduced a cardless ATM service, whereby one can go to an ATM, choose to withdraw money from M-PESA via the ATM, and all that one needed to do is go through a process on their phone, and they would be sent a one-time code which they could feed in the ATM and receive money. Since some people do not know about the existence of the service, fraudsters realized that they could trick people to go through the process and send them the authorization code. Minutes later, one would receive an SMS indicating that they have withdrawn money from an ATM hundreds of miles away.

Use of Numbers as identifiers

M-PESA relied on phone numbers as identifiers when sending money. This did not allow people to scroll through their phone books to select a phone number, but one had to write the number manually. This led to many cases where money was sent to wrong recipient due to mistyping or fat fingering. Recently, M-PESA introduced a number confirmation where one could confirm the name of recipient before the transaction was completed. Had this come earlier, there would have been less losses experienced through sending to wrong numbers.

Lack of laws governing mobile money fraud

For a long time, Kenya lacked laws that would government mobile money fraud. This was because the area was majorly unregulated and the Central Bank had taken a hands off approach, a factor that had helped growth of the mobile money industry. This meant that if you erroneously sent money to a wrong number and the person used the money, there would be no law to convict the person. This has only changed recently.

Difficulty reversing M-PESA transactions

For a long time, reversing an M-PESA transaction involved contacting the person who you had sent the money, and asking them to send it back to you. This would make the recipient withdraw the money as soon as possible, and so the preferred option was to call Safaricom customer care and asking them to reverse the transaction. This was one of the worst customer care initiative, as it would take long to reach the ever busy customer care.

In the case that wrongful recipient had already withdrew the money, Safaricom would only ask one to report the matter to the police. Of course, most people would not bother to report to the police, as one would end up losing more money while following up the lost money. This is still a problem to date. Safaricom has introduced an easy method of reversing a wrong transaction, but this works if the wrong recipient has not withdrawn the money.

Limited Documentation of User Experience

I met a Chinese professor who was trying to understand the growth of M-PESA in Kenya, and one of the things that he complained about was lack of written sources detailing customer experiences, agents challenges and the problems that were experienced in the rollout. As a global leader in mobile money, he had hoped that he would learn a lot in Kenya. However, it seemed that Kenya did not realize that it was making history by pioneering mobile money, and thus failed to keep good records for others to follow and learn.

This led to the same problems experienced here being replicated elsewhere, as the professor said. Perhaps, we need more scholars and researchers putting the Kenyan story together for the rest of the world to learn.