Monthly Archives April 2020

Why I am Not Wearing a Mask

Posted on 4 min read

From my street knowledge of statistics, I can conclude that only 45% of people in Nairobi are wearing masks. Out of that 45% that have masked up, half of them think that the mask is for covering the chin. This leaves us with only 22.5% of people who are taking masks seriously.

On social distancing, I think only 20% are taking it seriously. The rest are socially distanced by circumstances, or are just ignoring the social distancing measures.

Why is this happening? Are these people suicidal or homicidal?

Strangely, the people who are ignoring these directives are no criminals or social outcasts, but your normal good guys who have no criminal intent. We have seen a judge, an MCA, a priest, a pastor, a boda boda rider, a shopkeeper, a celebrity, a food donor and all the titles that we can have. Why are good people acting bad?

There are some explanations for these behaviors. These do not excuse them for ignoring the guidelines, but just an explanation of why people are doing what they are doing. Here are six analogies to explain why.

Mercury in Sugar

In 2018, it was reported that the sugar that was being sold in Kenya was laced with mercury. There was an uproar for a short time and people moved on. Nobody was really panicking that a nation was being poisoned.

Had it been reported that only the sugar that was used in your house had mercury, probably you would be dead by now. Why? Because you are alone. Sometimes, people do not panic over problems that affect everybody.

Conclusion: We are many. I won’t go down alone.

The road accident

If you have ever seen a pedestrian hit by a car, chances are high that you do not cross the highways at undesignated places. This is because the accident proved to you that you can get killed, and pedestrian death is a real to you. Consequently, if you have never seen any pedestrian fatality, you may never feel like crossing the road is dangerous.

Most people in Kenya do not know any person who has contracted Covid-19 and died. It therefore feels like this monster is not real. Most people have never seen an epidemic and that threatens everybody.

Subconscious conclusion: Covid-19 is not real (at least for now).


How many people have died due to earthquake related event in Kenya in the last 50 years? As far as most Kenyans are concerned, zero.

How many people in Kenya build their houses with earthquakes in mind? Very few. In Japan? Almost everybody. This is because fatal earthquakes are common in Japan but rare in Kenya. In the same way, this Covid-19 thing is a foreign thing and no disease has ever killed many people in Kenya within a short time.

Conclusion: All factors held constant; Covid-19 will not kill people.

Out of sight, Out of Mind

Where did Covid-19 start? China. Where has it killed most people? Europe and US.

For most people, China Europe and the US are just places on a map. Having never been there, you can’t really tell the difference between Spain and Mars; they are all places far away. Maybe they do not even exist, maybe.

And so, the pandemic is still somewhere in fairy lands. It is not here. This is why some people question government statistics about the disease, and others suspicious of the cases that have been reported.

Conclusion: This Covid-19 thing is not that serious.

I Can’t get Cancer

Chances are high that you will never get cancer. The feeling is usually that if you are 50, you have managed 50 years cancer free and if you are 20, you are too young to get cancer.

However, we know that people are dying of cancer everyday in Kenya, just that it is not me. The same thing will happen with Corona Virus disease

Conclusion: I won’t die of Covid-19.

Do I have to Exercise Today?

Unless for a few weird people, going to the gym for the fifth time has never been fun. This is especially if you are trying to lose weight.

The problem is no single event at a gym can cut your weight. After 30 minutes on the treadmill or jogging you go back home with your full weight. You have to do it over and over again before you can see some results.

The same case with wearing a mask. It is not rewarding at all. There is no risk in not wearing it for a day, and no visible reward for wearing it.

Conclusion:  One day without a mask won’t kill me.

How do we get People to Wear Masks?

It is hard to convince 50 million to wear masks. It takes time, goodwill, strategic communication and maybe, a few threats. For some people, it needs to be made to look cool. For others, they need to feel the danger of Covid-19. For the wise, a word is enough.


The Death of Privacy

Posted on 4 min read

Day after day, our lives are increasingly becoming reliant on internet and technology more than ever. We use computers in form of PCs, tablets, phones, and wearable devices, and every traditional gadget from alarm clock to the refrigerator is becoming smart. We use Google and other engines to navigate the internet, and we depend on the internet to store information and retrieve it on demand. I have recently found myself hopelessly lost in a city while trying to remember directions without using digital maps, and I always check for prices online before shopping offline. Our lives are highly dependent on the internet.

All-Seeing Eye

Carrying a phone with me means that Google knows where I am every day.  They know where I work, because that’s is where my phone is during the day, they know where I live because I spend the night there, and they know the entertainment joint that I frequent on Saturdays. They know that the place that I go and spend some time every Sunday morning must be where I go to church, and they know the people I met since they see the devices meeting together. I trust a browser to help me remember my passwords, with the hope that those passwords I store there are a secret between only me and the browser. I give Apps on my phone permission to read my messages, assuming that they will read only if necessary, only to realize that some of them spend time analysing the SMS that I have received.

T&C, Cookies

Navigating the online space is simple on the surface, but a complicated exercise when we dig deeper. Take the example of the ‘Terms and conditions’ segments that we encounter on many website, applications, software and many other digital tools we use. Do we read that text? No. Do the writers of these T&C expect us to read them? No. In fact, the documents are usually unnecessarily long, written in the smallest font possible, and using complicated terms which a lay person would likely not understand. We have little option other than checking the ‘Accept’ box. Even when browsing any website, we encounter the notorious pop-up ‘This site uses cookies… click here to accept,’ and we always accept without a second thought, not knowing what cookies are.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence devices are making matters more complex. Amazon’s Alexa is a device that is always listening to all that you are saying, while Google has a similar feature on Android phones which can be activated by saying ‘Ok Google.’ When you imagine that someone is listening to everything you say, knows all your passwords, knows every web page you visit, knows where you are at any moment, knows all the people you chat with, and the content of those chats; you only hope that person is God alone. But unfortunately, there are many ‘gods’ doing that.

Why Collect Data?

What do tech firms do with all the data that they have? Governments have always used the data they have to do government work. They spy over the bad guys (sometimes the good guys) and do intelligence. Tech firms are only interested in using the data to make money primarily through sharing the data with third parties. And thus, Facebook will see you chat with someone on WhatsApp, then they recommend that you add them as friends on Facebook. Google will see you searching for pregnancy test kit, and know that they can now start showing you maternity dresses ads. Mobile lending apps read your M-PESA messages and use that to determine how much money they can loan you. Information is a powerful tool, and he who has it, rules the day.

New Order

What are the new realities that we should wake up to? We are seeing more people get concerned about the data being held by tech firms, and new laws and legislation governing use of collected data. Tech firms and users need to guard all the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that they collect, as well as the metadata that can be used to identify a person through their behaviors. There is also a need to ensure that data is encrypted appropriately, both when the data is in transit and when it is seated somewhere in a server.

But an important part is also to ensure that data is used only for the intended purposes. Another good practice is to ensure people who collect data for whatever purpose collect the least amount of data possible, and do not hold it longer than necessary.

Even with regulations and best practices, the concept of privacy is way much different from what it used to be. It is a new world.


Everything Rises and Falls on Communication

Posted on 4 min read

Before I got married, I attended some premarital counselling classes that went on for 12 weeks, having one class per week. One of the classes was on communication, because if you are married you know very well that communication could be a matter of life and death.

In this class, the organizers did well to bring a Professor of linguistics from the University of Nairobi. The key message I can remember from the session is that communication is largely nonverbal.

When I heard the good prof issue that statement, I was astonished. How can you say that most of what I said did not matter as much as other hidden cues that were not verbalized? As a science person, I had a big problem with that statement.

Lessons from Today

Years later, I think I agree.

Covid-19 in Kenya

Communication is turning out to be a nightmare for Covid-19. When Kenya paraded the first people who had recovered from Covid-19, the tables were turned quickly and the prevailing narrative was that the whole thing was fabricated, and that they had never been sick. I do not blame the conspiracist who brought the narrative because they were exploiting communication gaps that showed up when the two recovered people told their stories.

But even with the many media briefings that are going around, miscommunication still exists. This is because people are left to fill many communication gaps that exists, while conspiracy theories keep circulating. It is hard to take control of all the narratives that go out there, unless the government takes this more seriously and dedicates more resources to communication. At the moment, everything that needs to be said out there has already been said, but people are still not wearing masks. This week in Kenya, an army Colonel and a Judge were arrested in a bar drinking, ignoring all the social distancing measures in place. The communication in place has not yet gotten the message home.


The World Health Organization is also facing a backlash, a lot of which has to do with communication. WHO has issued some conflicting statements about the spread of the virus and care of patients. Understandably, a lot of that is because Covid-19 is a new disease and it is spreading quickly. This means that the best practices keep evolving as more information is acquired. But since the world is hungry for information, whatever information that is given spreads wide, and when it is contrasted later, people feel like they are being taken for a ride.

WHO has not been able to communicate effectively. The organization has not put enough effort in letting people know why directives keep changing. Communication.

Lessons from History

There are two cases of succes and failure that I can mention.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis

In the 1840s, Hungurian physician and scientist by the name Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis discovered that hand-washing could drastically reduce the number of women dying after childbirth. This was a radical discovery because the germ theory of disease did not exist then, and therefore no one could understand how washing hands could help (unless of course, if your hands were muddy).

His suggestion received a backlash from the medical community who felt that he was accusing them of being dirty and killing people out of ignorance. His aggressive push for reforms led to a fall out with the medics community, his loss of practicing license, and eventual death when he was sent to an asylum to a mental institution.

A few years later, he was proved right – a little too late. While this guy had a radical reform that could save many lives, he was unable to sell his position to other people in his field.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was an American industrialist who made one hell of a move. Investing in steel, he went ahead to build a Steel bridge for road and railway on river Mississippi which was much needed for connecting the East of America to the Western Frontier.

At that time, it is said that a quarter of all bridges collapsed, and people were wary of trying to cross river Mississippi. Many had died in the process, and therefore when the bridge was built, it would be hard to sell.

Andrew Carnegie knew what to do. He knew that people believed that an elephant would never walk on any unstable surface (out of natural instincts), and that it was the heaviest animal around. During the opening, Carnegie brought an elephant and it majestically marched through the bridge. People believed in the bridge, and it still stands today.


Communication is hard. If you are to deliver the right message and get people to buy it, it will take more than words.


The Phantom Coronavirus Disease

Posted on 2 min read

The world is in a pandemic. The Corona Virus disease is swiftly doing a world tour and everyone is a target. While last December the world was reporting that a ‘strange kind of pneumonia’ was killing people in China, today we know the problem, and worse, we have too much information about the novel corona virus disease.

Familiar Symptoms

It is called Covid-19. The symptoms are familiar; fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. The prevention is easy: wash hands, touch not your face, stay home, sanitize.

And there lies the problem. As soon as people learnt of the symptoms of the disease, everybody realized that they possibly 40% positive. The innocent cough that had been going on for days has become a red alert. We are now very conscious of people who sneeze and we can see when everyone touches their face.

Phantom Covid-19

From many conversations I have had with people, so many people have already self-diagnosed with Covid-19. One wore a mask and would not stop sweating, thus assuming that a Covid-19 fever had set in. Another one went to the hospital for mild chest pain which he had ignored for a long time, and the medics tried to stay far from them. Another one had a headache that would not go away and she almost drafted her will.

Ignorance is bliss, and unfortunately, we are no longer ignorant of Covid-19. The symptoms keep showing up and scaring everybody. This is the phantom corona virus disease. As someone joked, fear of corona virus might kill more people than the disease itself.

It happens that we keep self-diagnosing with Covid-19 because the symptoms are very common. I can remember that at one point last year, I had all the symptoms of Covid-19, including the pneumonia, and was treated for a viral infection. Had it happened today, I would already be in quarantine or hooked up on a ventilator because it would be obvious that I have the disease.

But it was not Covid-19 since it did not exist then, and if you are not aware, I am still alive.


The endless news cycle about Covid-19, the growing numbers of those who are dead that are updated every minute, and the panic we see around helps make our fear of Covid-19 become a reality. When you expected a gunshot, the sound of someone clapping will startle you. This is why so many people fear that they have the virus and just the government does not know.

I would not want anyone to assume that they do not have the disease while they are not, but that running nose you have is just a common cold. Do not let fear kill you while the virus does not know that you exist. Stay at home, wash hands, do not touch your face, sanitize.