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Monthly Archives October 2019

Business Lesson: Control

Posted on 2 min read

After successfully running a restaurant in the outskirts of the city which operated everyday between 6 am and 9 pm, John decided to open a second restaurant in Nairobi West. This Nairobi’s clubbing capital, where the night never comes to an end and restaurants run till early morning, sometimes late morning.

This marked the beginning of his troubles. As a good father, he needed to be home early enough, but the restaurant closed at 1 am, sometimes even at 4 am. He was not able to be present and supervise what was going on. After a short while, he realized that he was not making any money from the venture, despite the buzz of activities going on every day. He decided to investigate and this is what he found out.

The guy in charge of the store was colluding with the suppliers to receive less supplies, but still pay the full price. He would get some kickbacks from the suppliers and they would share the loot. The watchman would steal the branded cutlery, perhaps to stock his kitchen at home. The waiters would print parallel receipts with a higher price than the official price, then pocket the extra money. The guys who ran the butchery and the grill would bring their own meat at night, rather than sell the meat that he had provided.

The landlord, who also owned a pub in the same building, would divert water from the restaurant to the pub at night then reconnect it back in the morning. The water bill was going through the roof. The manager never seemed to know what was wrong with the business.

John came to a conclusion that he was the only one who was not stealing from his business; everyone else was. He closed down the restaurant. Everyone was fired. It was a lose-lose situation. The lesson he took home is that you should never ever engage in a business which you have no full control of.

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Fake Adverts that are Conning Kenyans

Posted on 2 min read

The advent of digital advertising has opened opportunities for content creators to make money from their content. This includes websites owners or YouTube Channel owners who can earn money by having ads placed in their websites. If you visit most news website, they are full of blinking, shouting and screaming ads. Some ads are designed in a way that you will click them even accidentally. If you click on the ad, the owner of the website gets some money.

It is also a good time for advertisers who can now effortlessly get their ads placed in convenient places. This has enabled many people to have their ads following their potential clients wherever they go. You search for a microwave online and the next day every website you visit has an advert for the cheapest and most efficient microwave. That is simply how the online adverts work.

But there has been a proliferation of fake adverts that are meant to dupe people and con them money. One of those is job adverts, like the ad shown below in the Daily Nation website

Once you click on the advert, it takes to a Google Sheet document where you will fill in your details, and they ask you to pay money to be considered for the job. The money is paid through an M-PESA number.

Since the ad is fake (Tuskys confirmed so), desperate young people are likely to pay the money and get scammed. The ad has some form of credibility because it appears on legit news sites, and most people do not understand the dynamics and mechanisms behind the placement of the ads.

How to Stay Safe
  1. If a job requires you to pay some money to be considered, stay away. It does not matter if there is a promise for refund.
  2. Always check use the official company website for job application, unless if the recruitment is being done by an agency. In this case, it should be the official website for the agency. An ad for Tuskys should be at tuskys.com and not a random google doc.
  3. Always report suspected malicious ads to Google. You can do this by clicking on the top right corner of the ad, although Google does not give any feedback.
  4. If possible, report the crime to the DCI or even notify Safaricom because their M-PESA channel is being used.

Google also needs to do something to catch these people, possibly by blocking their Google Ads Accounts.

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Disaster Preparedness in Kenya

Posted on 6 min read

Disasters do not just happen; there are a chain of critical events and fateful decisions that take place before the disaster hits.

For the victims, there is only one path that leads to the disaster, with everything appearing to collaborate together to their damnation. But for spectators and people doing the post-mortem of events, there always seem to be many ways that the situation could have been salvaged, and we lay blame on anything and everything that can hold a portion of the blame.

Likoni Case

In September 2019, a car plunged off a ferry in Kenya, sinking to a depth of 60 m. Entombed in the car is a mother and a four-year-old daughter.

The event that was captured on video paints a picture of a desperate situation where help is too near, and yet too far. The car simply slipped off a ferry and floated in water for a few seconds, before sinking to the bottom of the channel.

The reaction was that of an angry nation, where any user of the ferry imagine that it could have been them. The recovery of the bodies proved a hard task, with some people doubting the capacity of the Kenya Ferry Services, Kenya Navy, Kenya Coast Guard and Kenya National Disaster Operations Center.

While the situation could have been prevented, it could not have been easily salvaged once the vehicle plunged into the ocean.

Why the accident happened

There is no single reason that can claim the trophy for the accident. A number of factors seemed to have collaborated together. Look at this:

  1. There was an occupied vehicle in the ferry. Passengers in public service vehicles are supposed to alight, but it seems one does not have to alight from a private vehicle.
  2. The ramp on the ferry was faulty. In its normal position, a vehicle cannot slide off the ferry. Due to the fault, the ramp could not lift up as required to prevent such an involuntary action.
  3. Kenya Ferry Services claims that the driver seems to have engaged a reverse gear! If this is true, then this would be the most unlucky place to reverse the car. If it were somewhere in the street, the result would have been a thud and some coins at the mechanic.
  4. The car was among the last to board the ferry. If the car was parked amongst other cars, engaging a reverse gear would result in damaging other cars, not plunging onto the ocean.
  5. The driver seems to have panicked! Keeping calm is very hard in an emergency situation, but it matters a lot. One is able to think of a cause of action and act accordingly. In this case, the action could have been breaking, or accelerating forward.

If any of those conditions were different, the results would have been very different. In most cases, accidents are as a result of several factors working together. Sometimes we can ignore several errors because they are harmless, but forget that if we tolerate one, we are moving closer to a critical number of errors which can result in catastrophes. Engineers call it the Swiss cheese model of accident causation.

To prevent the accident or the fatality, any of those conditions should have been altered. This is a very easy task, but also difficult in a society that does not value excellence and following rules. It is also a matter of a country that does not prioritize investing in public health. When the ramp on the ferry fails, the best thing is to pull the ferry out of operation for maintenance. But this would inconvenience many people, right? Then buy more ferries. Not possible because the country is broke, and replacing old ferries wont count as legacy project for politicians. Kenyans need to see new projects to be wowed.

Even our complacency in times of peace would not help the matter. Suppose you work in the ferries, with your sole duty being to ensure that motorists leave their cars before the ferry is in motion. That would be easy to enforce for one week. Soon, you start giving exemptions to the elderly and the disabled. Next time you excuse people because of the rains. After seventeen years of no incidences, everybody forgets the rules.

What it would have taken to rescue the victims

As soon as the car plunged into the ocean, there was like a 20 second window within which the occupants could have been rescued. The first action would have been for them to get out of the car, as there was no way to keep a metallic structure quickly filling with water afloat. Once the occupants were out of the car, it would have been possible for skilled divers to save them.

If the ferry had a dedicated rescue crew, it would take at least 5 seconds for them to know exactly what had happened, before they can react. Most likely, they would be scattered across the ferry, making it even harder for them to launch operations in time. And then, you do not just jump into the ocean with no idea if the vehicle was occupied, and how many occupants are present. By the time this happens, the car would have sunk. There is a very narrow chance that the divers would have helped. By the time you dial the Kenya navy, the car would be at the bottom of the channel.  

As you can see, the best line of defence was in disaster prevention, followed by the victims’ actions. Disaster response in such a scenario is something hard to implement for the type of government that we pay/vote for. In short, knowing what to do if your vehicle slips off the ferry is what can save you. As soon as the vehicle plunges into the ocean, figure out how to get out of the car. Doors might not open until the vehicle is fully immersed in water. The only option is to break the windows using the metallic part of the seat head rest. Alternatively, once the vehicle is submerged, open the door and get out, hoping that you can swim, or someone comes to your rescue.

Why it took long to find the car

Many people would expect an emergency multi-stakeholder response to the accident. This was not going to happen for a few reasons. First, this was not a national disaster; I am told that unless there are more than ten victims an incident does not qualify to be a national disaster. Second, the only thing that could have been done was to retrieve the bodies. This is also not something very necessary when the risks involved are weighed.

Diving deep to 60m ocean channel that has a lot of heavy traffic and ocean current is a risky affair. It needs planning, and competence. Such competence is hard to find, if the Kenya Navy cannot afford it. It is more about having the right equipment which Kenya Navy did not have (your government again). Throw in the government bureaucracies and economists with their cost-benefit analysis and you realize that the exercise does not make economic sense. But for the sake of not the family, but an angry general public after the social media video, the government has to do something.

Conclusion

It is hard to prevent all kinds of disasters, but there is usually no quick-fix solutions. Kenya may need to start by fixing institutions that are responsible for public safety, which involves fixing the people who work there, which might actually end up in fixing the whole society to be security conscious, to be excellent in what we do, and to allocate resources for what matters. What we did at Likoni was tantamount to throwing a swimming manual to the victims.

PS: Read Why Air Crash Investigations take a long time

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Unpaid Internship

Posted on 5 min read

Slavery was the greatest thing that existed before mechanization. People loved it so much that it took almost the lifetime of some weird-minded politicians like William Wilberforce to legally bring it to an end. Slaves were the washing machines, combine harvesters, ploughs, tractors and even engines in ships. Slaves could do massive amounts of work with just some little input of food and shelter. The world was sustained by the millions of slaves labored in plantations, fought other people’s wars, built monuments, were sacrificed to gods. No society ever thrived without use of slaves. Long live slaves. ~A Slave Owner, 1741

But then, slavery ended.

Wrong. Slavery never ended. Slavery mutated to something different. It is estimated that there are about 30m people who are enslaved in the world today, although the definition of slavery is not standard. But besides the slavery of chains and shackles, there is something that people now detest like slavery; economic exploitation through unpaid internships.

The Tweet that Brought it Up

When Sam Gichuru, the CEO of Nailab, tweeted about paid/unpaid internships, there was an uproar. In his tweet, he highlighted how one of his unpaid intern went on to launch a successful business, and he actually invested in the company. He explained that had the guy asked for a paid internship, he would not have granted him as he lacked the capacity. The tweet:

Why the outcry? Some people felt that this was just a modern day slavery. They felt like it was a person in a powerful position who was trying to exploit people for free labor. The truth is that many young Kenyans fresh out of college start by looking for jobs, but relegate their expectation to looking for internships when they cannot find any. They hope to get paid internships, but sometimes end up with unpaid internships, or with salaries that cannot cover the cost of the internship. Sam Gichuru’s tweet was like a call to slave owners asking them to tighten the shackles and lengthen the whip.

The Wound

I understand the anger that was directed towards Sam. Some people view employers as people who are just out milk the most out of the employees, and pay them the least possible amount. In real sense, there are many employers simply trying to survive, leave alone thrive. This means that they do not want any unnecessary expense, such as betting on anyone who cannot provide value. But they still need to get interns and put them in a contract for some months, hoping that they will be able to convert them to useful employees in the shortest time possible. The tragedy is that sometimes as soon as an intern has been trained and is good enough, they poached by more monied organization, leaving startups fighting for talents.

I do not think unpaid internships are the best, both for the employee and the employer. However, I have given people almost unpaid internships for a few reasons. As a startup, we always run with the highest number of staff we can afford, which is always lower than the number of staff we need. Getting an intern can always fill the gap between what we can afford, and what we need. In such a case, we ensure that we give the intern enough stipend to cover for their transport and daily needs cost, but for them to make plans for their accommodation. In exchange we ensure that the person gains practical skills for the period they are with us, and recommend them to potential employers once done.

A few times we have taken interns without giving any pay or stipend. When someone comes seeking for an opportunity to learn, and we have no capacity, we can opt to incorporate them into one our teams. It is up to them to ensure that they find means to survive during the period of internship. We actually incur costs once someone walk into our door, from utilities, cleaning, desk and seat, tea and snacks…etc. It is therefore not an attempt to exploit anybody, but to make the best of a bad situation, resulting in a win-win situation.

Why you should get that unpaid internship

In a country where there are thousands of graduates every year with dwindling job opportunities, it is hard to get a job. Recent graduates usually go on a long job-hunting spree where tens of CVs are sent. In most cases, one does not even receive an acknowledgement that their application has been received, leave alone a regret. People attend interviews and never get any feedback. In many places, jobs are awarded based on who you know rather than your qualifications. The government has frozen hiring, while several respectable businesses have laid off people in the recent past.

Employers usually claim that most of the graduates are half baked, implying that they have to spend a lot of time training them before they can extract some meaningful value from them. The government as an employer is notorious for hiring the elderly people as opposed to the young people, with some retired people having their terms extended even beyond their retirement age. Yet, this is the government that is supposed to provide job opportunities for the one million people who turn 18 every year. The Kenya population pyramid shows that there will be even more people entering the workforce every year for the next twenty years or so. Where are the jobs for these people?

The reality is that there are fewer jobs than there are people seeking for the same jobs. It is a shame that people who are able and willing to work find no opportunities to earn a decent livelihood.

It takes aggressiveness for one to secure a job. If you need to take up a unpaid internship so that you can secure a job at the end, then do. No one owes you any internship, just like no one owes you a job. It is said that an average graduate takes over four years before they can secure a job in Kenya, and the more you have relevant experience, the faster you will likely get the job. Why then not take the internship offer. Consider it as an extension of your education, where you pay fees.

Going into entrepreneurship is usually harder than taking a unpaid internship.

What about those cannot afford to sustain themselves during the unpaid internship? Well, this is a sad scenario. I do not think there is a way out, just the way people dropped out of school due to lack of school fees. Get creative as much as you can. Find someone to host you. Man must live.

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