Monthly Archives March 2020

The lost Art of Hand Washing

Posted on 2 min read

When the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary in charge of Health Mutahi Kagwe introduced Dr Myriam Sidibe who has a PhD in Public Health focused on hand washing to demonstrate to Kenyans how one should wash their hands, mouths were left open.

How did someone do a full PhD that is focused on hand washing? Worse, it was not from a backstreet University in the dark allies of Nairobi, but the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

 The shock and surprise expressed on social media is a pointer that washing hands is something that is never taken seriously. Many times, you see people walk into public restroom and walk out without touching any water, while those who do, most of them simply sprinkle as little water as possible – perhaps a ceremonial washing.

But times have changed.

Covid-19 is reintroducing the world to hand washing, a practice that has been slowly dying. Even for people with means, washing hands is never taken seriously, especially when you consider the immense benefits it would have.

It is estimated that if people were washing hands with running water and soap, infant mortality would possibly be reduced by half. That’s no mean number, for today 800 children die every day due to diseases that have to do with washing hands.

It is said that one factor that saved the world and greatly improved life expectancy is when people learnt to wash their hands. It did not come easy, especially when humans were not aware of the germ theory of disease. One physician and scientist by the name Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis discovered that lives could be saved through washing of hands, but his discovery led to him being rejected by the medical community and his eventual death. Medics couldn’t stand one of their own who said that the reason women were dying after child delivery was because their hands were dirty.

Even current actions betray our little faith in water and soap when it comes to washing hands. People are fighting to get hand sanitizers, when running water and soap could do a better job. We feel like a sanitizer is a superior product.

It is surprising that while for many years, people died of preventable diseases because they did not wash their hands properly. Yet, the secret of handwashing is very open even in the Bible, when people with bodily discharge are advised to “wash his clothes and bathe his body in running water and will become clean.”

I hope that after this pandemic is over, we shall sustain the passion and continue washing hands.

Watch Dr Myriam Sidibe TED talk On Washing Hands


Living in the Age of Corona Virus

Posted on 1 min read

How are we to live in the times of the Corona Virus?

The same way we have lived in the age of road accidents, landslides, mercury in sugar, aflatoxins, HIV, malaria, collapsing classrooms and other day to day disasters that faced us in 2019 and prior.

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the Covid-19 jumped from bats to humans in Wuhan, was manufactured in the lab, or whichever theory of its origin you chose to believe: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.

If we have had all these other threats over years, why should we be worried of Corona Virus? We already knew that cancer will kill 0.06% of all Kenyans this year, and at worst, Corona would do a similar thing. What I am trying to say here is that your death is certain, only a matter of when.

Therefore, let Corona Virus disease find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. Covid-19 may break our bodies, but it need not dominate our minds.

Adapted from C.S Lewis “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948)


The Problem of Fake News

Posted on 4 min read

Was the world ready for the age where everybody would be a media outlet?

Technology has made it easy for anybody to reach a mass audience. A single social media or website post from an obscure source can go viral and influence the world in large scale. Consequently, everybody is always receiving information from multiple sources, and is always faced with the task of sifting through myriads of posts to separate truth from falsehood.

Tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and others are now working to solve this problem of disinformation, but as someone recently observed, fake news is not a tech problem, but an information problem. Dealing with it will thus involve more than simply adding a piece of code in today’s tech, and could require a lot of societal transformation.

The Fear of Giving Everyone a Voice

It is not the first-time disinformation is threatening civilizations. Christianity faced the same crisis when the Bible was translated from Latin to other languages which any person could read and understand. The church had resisted the move in the fear that giving everybody a Bible would result to skewed interpretations and rise of cults that would crop up everywhere.

That is exactly what happened. Today, cults after cult seem to spread all over the world with the educated being equally prone to the disinformation as the non educated. It is like half of Christianity today is fake news.

This is not a new problem. Disinformation has always existed, only that it does not go by the name fake news. Many times, we call it lies, falsehood, or even deception.

The Influential Teacher

Even in day to day conversations, a certain level of disinformation exists. Earlier in the year I had a chance to meet a teacher in a rural Kenyan set up and discuss various issue such as politics, locust invasion and education.

One thing you need to understand about teachers is that they are one of the most influential people in the society. Educated, with a captive audience, and evenly distributed throughout the country, it is said that one only needs to win teachers in order to win an election. They will do the campaign for you.

But it was the discussion with the teacher that opened my eyes to know that fake news is not a modern-day tech problem, but something that has been with human beings for ages. I disagreed with many thigs things he said about politics and locust invasion because they were outright lies. Yet, he was confident of what he was saying.

What this influential teacher needed was access to a platform and he would have the media to reach more people with information, and we would all be talking about fake news.

Communities Prone to Disinformation

Why does it appear that fake news is winning compared to truth? In Kenya, it could be a cultural problem.

There are some societies where telling the truth is expected. I grew up in one. It is not really about truth, but a general acceptance that it is very evil to tell lies that hurts someone else. Generally, you would not expect to find normal people openly spreading false information.

Unfortunately, this naïve habit is reflected in people’s expectations when both online and offline. It is the reason why politicians are able to deceive many people with very obvious lies. Very few people are able to pick up such lies.

It could also be the reason why we have a big number of people who believe that everything they read on the internet is true. All the news sources are treated equal, and the most sensational ones receive the highest traffic. Even when content is labelled satire or is served by questionable tabloids, people still end up believing the stories they want to believe. Check the reaction that www.postamate.com gets on social media.

Fueling the Fake Fire

Human beings have a great love for solving mysteries, new information, and being the ones to break news. Perhaps, it is why conspiracies theories always find an audience.

We also like the information that confirms what we believe, whether it is true or false. This is why we quickly share news that are aligned with what we want to be true, irrespective of whether the information is factual or not. If you do not like person X, you will believe anything negative about X, and question anything positive about X.

The problem with fake news or false information is that it receives a lifeline from the audience and goes viral. Friends know it is false. Enemies want it to be the true. Others will share maybe because it is funny. Where it is also shared matters.

WhatsApp groups form a perfect echo chamber where information is shared among like minded people, further amplifying the effect of fake news. The more fake information is shared, the more it is believed.

Fake news is not short term problem.