Human factor: The weak link in technology use in Kenyan Census

Posted on 4 min read

The 2019 Kenya population and housing census is coming in a few months, and the government has been in the preparation mode for the several years. One of the preparation steps has been acquisition of over 164,700 devices that will be used, as the census is said to be heavily depended on technology. The technology is expected to facilitate rapid transmission of data from the field to the central database, thus faster processing and release of census data. Kenya has always turned to technology to help streamline voting process and prevent cases of rigging, with Kenya’s elections being one of the most expensive in the world. However, that has not always turned to be effective, with cases of technology failure and incorrect use of technology due to insufficient skills being common.

What is at stake?

The census takes three stages; preparatory stage, actual enumeration, and the post enumeration stage. Of these, the actual enumeration is the one that involves many people, with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics planning to employ 164,000 people for the job, and the whole exercise costing KES 18.5 billion (USD 185 million). The objective is to deliver credible results which have been elusive in the past. Population numbers are used in revenue allocation and demarcation of electoral boundaries, a factor that could promote inflation of numbers to suit political interests. In the last census, there were allegations of exaggeration of numbers with one province recording a 178% growth in population within ten years.


As it happens with elections, majority of the short term contractors who are tasked with carrying out the process are usually teachers, and jobless youths. Teachers are distributed throughout the country, hence making it easy to reach even the remotest corners. As for jobless youths, they are everywhere in the country. Some are in temporary, low wage jobs, and a short term contract with the government that pays about KES 3000 (30 USD) per day is a good economic boost.

Most of these people may not have proficiency using computers, although they are computer literate. It takes more than learning how to use a computer to be a good user. Even new phones give us trouble in the first days, until we get used to them. Only a regular user of a device or a gadget can be proficient in using it. In this case, the devices that are to be used for the census will only be introduced to the enumerators a few days to the census, and they receive very little training before being declared fit to conduct the census. By the time the material day comes, some have forgotten the basics.

I have seen this happen several times. In the 2003 general elections, each polling station was equipped with a laptop and a fingerprint reader, which was meant to be the main mode of identification. During the training, polling clerks spent about 10 minutes each learning how to start the computer and identify a user, without being given a chance to do it individually as there was no database available to test. Come the election day, many had forgotten how to do it, and even the experienced presiding officers were at loss. The laptops were provided with two batteries which supposed to last for 12 hours, but these were ordinary laptop batteries which could do utmost 3.5 hours. In my station, the second battery was delivered without power, yet the polling station did not have electricity.

In the 2017 elections, I attended the training for the presiding officers, and while a lot of effort was put into training these people who would go and train the polling clerks, it was less than satisfactory. A good number of trainees were clearly not interested in the training, and were only there to receive their allowances. Some of them also showed up on the second day of the training, missing 50% of the training. I can safely assume that the polling clerks who were trained by these presiding officers got a raw deal. These went ahead to conduct the elections leading to delays in identifications, and the eventual collapse of the Electronic Voter Identification (EVID) and the Result Transmission and Presentation System (RTS).

In the upcoming Census, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics is banking on hand held electronic devices to record data. How successful this exercise will be I am not sure, especially if there is not manual back up. If the past experiences are anything to go by, we could have a crisis of enumerators who are poorly trained, hence unable to use the provided equipment properly. This would result in inconsistencies in the census results.

Possible Solution

The most urgent step is to ensure that the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) has competent staff to conduct the census. This will involve thorough training, and ensuring that the every staff or enumerator has a good understanding of what is involved, and they have enough time to master the gadgets that will be used.

Adoption of eLearning platform can help develop skills and competence among the enumerators. This would best work by providing an eLearning platform with the relevant information needed for the job to anyone who wants to interview for the job, hence make them study in advance, and use the interview to gauge competence. This can then be supplemented with intensive training, using highly competent trainers and gauging the skills of the trainees afterwards. Therefore, I propose the development of enumerators training platform as early as now, so that the next five months will be used to train potential staff. Kenya needs to better the human resource factor in order have a successful census.


Where is Africa’s ‘Internet’?

Posted on 2 min read

Africa has made great strides in getting connected to the internet. There are 453,329,534 internet users, which translates to an  internet penetration of 32.5%. This figure is steadily growing, and we are steadily shaking off the tag of ‘the dark continent.’

But where is Africa’s data stored and processed? Many websites registered under Africa’s ccTLD, that is names like .ke, .ng, .tz, .za etc, are hosted in Europe and America. This is besides a similar number of other gTLD domains such as .com and .net, which are owned by Africans, but hosted abroad too. This means that many of the websites that are being accessed by Africans, are actually located in other continents.

One can see why most of these sites are located elsewhere. As of December 2018, US accounted for 40% of all Data Centers in the world. Africa does not rank here, and one can conclude that the number of Data Center is way much smaller compared to other continents. This is why many African sites will continue to be hosted in other continents. The cost of hosting also plays a major role with collocation in African Data Centers costing more than double the cost in the US and Europe.

Does this pose a problem? Yes, there is a big problem. The two main problems include capital flight, and latency. Africans end up spending billions of money on hosting abroad, money which could impact the economy if injected into respective countries. It has been reported that Nigerians alone spend about 60 m USD (6 billion KES) on paying for web hosting abroad. Other African countries follow a similar trend, and the money that could be building Data Centers in Africa, improving terrestrial fiber networks or even building local companies, is being pumped into developed countries.

The second problem involves latency. Although connectivity in Africa has greatly improved with several submarine fiber cables going around Africa and a vast network of terrestrial fiber, one of the main bottleneck that impacts user experience is latency. Latency refers to the time it takes for data to be transferred from the server to the user, and this time is quite high due to a physical distance between users in Africa, and servers in other continents. This is because it takes about 60 times longer to access data from Europe, than it takes when data is locally hosted. If you are in Kenya, you can test this by accessing the eCitizen website which is hosted locally, any other website that is hosted abroad.

Of course, a difference of less than a second does not hurt anyone, many think. But, this is not true. A lot of man-hours are wasted while people wait for pages to load. Money is spent on leasing international links to deliver this data, and once the world makes the leap to 5G where bandwidth will not be the limit, latency will be bottleneck. We must reverse this now.


Deliver us from Instant hot shower

Posted on 2 min read

We all love showers, and we love them hot, or more precisely, warm. Instant hot showers are loved for just that. In the age where we want all things instant, instant hot water shower is the instantest of all. Just a flip of the switch and one enjoys water which is not cold, at least.

But this dearly loved device is a scam. For some reasons, I never get to understand what goes inside the head of the shower. I heard someone who used it for the first time claim that the water was both hot and cold at the same time. I had never made such an observation, but I immediately agreed that such a phenomenon exists. Instant hot showers have the following shortcomings:

  • Risk of electric shock. Faulty wiring would deliver 240 Volts down your body. This is rare, but I have seen it happen.
  • Water is both hot and cold. You have to solve a complex matrix in order to maintain water at the same temperature.
  • It is a major power guzzler. Instant shower can account up to 50% of all electricity costs in a small household.
  • It cannot work under low pressure. Water at low pressure may lead to the shower being too hot to use, or worse, the shower might not heat.
  • Short life span, especially if it is a fake brand.
  • Their use might be coming to an end, as the government might consider banning them. This is according to a ministry of energy consultant.

One solution to instant water heaters is use of solar water heaters. These have the capacity to heat considerable volumes of water at very low costs, and their costs is cheaper in the long run. Not only are they maintenance free, but they also can deliver high volumes of water since they have water reservoirs attached.

In Kenya, solar water heater with a capacity of 200 litres cost approximately KES 50,000 (USD 500). Once installed on the rooftop or any other convenient place, they can serve effectively for up to 20 years. Their water tank is insulated to minimize heat losses, enabling them to store hot water for up to 72 hours. In Kenya, there is the Solar Water Heating regulation that requires all buildings with a consumption of more than 100 l of hot water per day.

Wondering what happens during the rainy season or non- solar day? No problem. These solar heaters have a secondary electrical heating element, which allows water to be heated directly from the mains.


Automatic Number-Plate Recognition

Posted on 1 min read

Automatic number-plate recognition is a technology that uses optical character recognition on images to read vehicle registration plates. This simply means, a camera takes a picture, and a software analyzes the picture to identify a vehicle, then identify a number plate in the vehicle, and read that number plate. This allows for a machine (or any system) to identify a vehicle on the road, much as a human being can do. In Kenya, this is implemented using CCTV cameras on the roads, or cameras specifically designed for this purpose, such as one used in toll stations.

Applications of Automatic number-plate recognition

  • Tracking stolen vehicles
  • Identifying guest vehicles, hence better visitor management
  • Useful in tracking average speed of a vehicle
  • Traffic engineering design.

Besides these basic uses, there are more applications that can be useful in Kenya. One such would be identifying fake number plates, and cases where two vehicles have been assigned the same number plate. This would have been a major tip off that could have prevented the terrorist attack at Dusit D2 Hotel complex at Riverside drive.

We need to have technology doing more for us. We should have technology telling us that KCN 340E is a blue Toyota Ractis, and even alerting us that two different cars with the same number plates have been spotted.  This way, we shall be a step ahead in identifying crooks before they roam freely in our cities. God bless Kenya.


Truehost Cloud

Posted on 1 min read

Truehost Cloud is a Cloud computing start up that has presence in various markets globally. The services offered include:

  1. Domain name registration
  2. Virtual and dedicated servers
  3. SSL certificates
  4. Various Cloud computing licenses
  5. Shared internet hosting
  6. Cloud back up solution

Why you should consider hosting with Truehost Cloud

  • 24/7/365 technical support
  • 15 second response time via chat
  • Free web hosting for start ups
  • Free SSL certificates
  • A reliable brand, trusted by tens of thousands of clients such as
    • Multinational corporations such as
      • Pure VPN
      • ShadowServer
      • Bamburi Cement
    • Government entities such as
      • Government of Makueni County
      • Energy Regulatory Commission
      • National AIDS Control Council
    • Thousands of bloggers such as
      • www.wanjikunjuguna.com
      • www.africanapologist.com
      • www.powerstrides.co.ke
    • Small and medium sized enterprises such as
      • Sasa Web Kenya
      • Diaspora Interlink
      • Hope and Future Rehabilitation Center


6 Trends coming to Kenya’s internet in 2019

Posted on 2 min read

Welcome to 2019. We have been told that there are several must have skills, such as time management, adaptability, collaboration, persuasion, creativity, UX Design, People management, analytical reasoning, AI and Cloud computing. Below are 6 trends that will affect the internet in Kenya in the year 2019.

  • Increased access

Smartphones are getting cheaper, cost of connectivity is decreasing, and internet coverage is growing. More people are getting online.

This is good news for a digital economy. Do not miss the train; purpose to be online.

  • Privacy

In 2018, The European Union started implementing the General data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This law is meant to enhance privacy and protect the data of all the European Union citizens. Many countries followed suit, and Kenya already has a Data Protection Bill which is before the parliament and the senate, and its implementation will send ripples in the whole IT industry.
Critics think that the laws will stifle innovation, considering that most tech giants today have risen through an ability to access and process data. We hope this will work to our good.

  • Fake news

Donald Trump has a sensitive nose to fake news, and thanks to him, we all can smell fake news. Unfortunately, it is very hard to detect fake news, and depends on your believes and interest. If you think Kenya is in too much debt, you will likely agree with any news that suggests that Kenya is drowning in debt. If you hate a politician, you will agree with any news that paints him negatively.

With our biased lens, we will not easily identify fake news.

  • Disconnecting/Unplugging

Many people already feel worn out by an overly connected world. We have notifications from our watches, phones, emails, computers, social media, alarms, microwaves, and many other smart devices. The constant blinking, ringing and buzzing of devices can be a productivity killer.

For those who want to unplug, there are a few steps you can take:

  1. Start by turning off unnecessary notifications from your phone. You can set it to be notified of only calls.
  2. Consider uninstalling applications such as social media apps. This makes it harder for you to log in to those sites, hence decreased access.
  3. Set specific time to check notifications, and ignore them at any other time.
  4. At worst, consider deactivating the offending apps.
  • 2022

The year 2022 is 3 years away, but it feels like it is just next door. The internet will be full of 2022 activities, from early campaigns, political alignments, and general news. Wear your helmet.

  • Cybersecurity

This is talked about in hushed tones, because our banks are at risk, our M-PESA balances are at risk, our data is not safe, and even the government is not safe. Socially engineered attacks will continue to affect banks and mobile money platforms, with the Kamiti brigade becoming smarter. Stay safe.