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Tenets

An Element of Risk

Posted on 3 min read

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.

Thomas aquinas (1225–1274)

When Covid-19 struck, the first reaction was some form of panic and extreme caution. Racial profiling broke out in China, Americans had a run on tissue paper, and Kenyans wanted the government to shut all borders and make the country an Island. A huge demand for masks kept the prices so high, and it is unbelievable that prices have fallen by up to 95% today. Then came the curfews and cessation of movements. Those seemed like they were very necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Six months later, it seems like we have majorly learnt to live with Covid-19. While the cases have not reduced to zero, and number of deaths seem to be increasing, everywhere I look I see people who have made peace with Covid-19 and opted to go down fighting, if necessary.

Schools are now open. Masks have been discarded. Public gathering have resumed full throttle. Public service vehicles are carrying full capacity. Cases of Covid-19 no longer make the news.

What changed?

Several things, including caution fatigue, and a better understanding of the virus (both accurate and inaccurate understanding). People also realized that Covid-19 is not the worst threat to mankind today, and while you are hiding from corona virus, an armed mosquito might send you under with malarial bite.

I had a conversation with my dad about how the perception and response to Covid-19 has changed and he had some very insightful words. He said that there has always to be a balanced between caution and risk, especially if the threat is long term. It is not logical to spend all your life running from one form of death, while the risk from other types of deaths exist. That is why it did not make sense to have an extended lock-down at the expense of livelihoods.

How Covid-19 unfolds is still a mystery, but one thing that is certain is that we cannot have an extended lockdown again. At least not in a country where malaria, cancer, road accidents and other simple illnesses.

Positive Projections

One projection already showed that only 7.3% of the people who contract Covid-19 would show symptoms, 0.6% would be hospitalized, 0.1% would end up in ICU and 0.066% would succumb to Covid-19.

If everybody in the country contracted Covid-19 (impossible), the total number of deaths would be about 30,000. If we assume that only 50% of the people would contract Covid-19, then you realize that the expected fatality (15,000) would be almost the same number of people who die through road accidents every year, half of those who die of cancer every year, or even a fifth of the total number of children who die of communicable diseases every year.

Better put, Covid-19 would increase the annual death rate (which should be about 300,000 people per year) in Kenya by approximately 5%. Factor in the overlapping cases where Covid-19 would be fatal to patients with preexisting conditions, and the the percentage decreases.

If we put this into perspective, you realize that while caution is needed, it is very possible to kill more people through lockdowns and other containment measures than through the virus itself. We have to take the risk, and if I am right, Magufuli had a point.

However, Covid-19 remains to be a moving target. No one knows what exactly it will end. Only hope.

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Education Challenge in Northern Kenya

Posted on 3 min read

In an agricultural based economy, any area that receives low amounts of rainfall and lacks access to underground or surface water for irrigation ends up with very limited options. One such area is Northern Kenya which is characterized by annual average amounts of 150 – 450 mm, making it majorly suitable for nomadic pastoralism.

The Bigger Kenya

Northern Kenya houses 38% of the Kenyan population and covers 70% of total landmass in Kenya. The distinct characteristics of this vast land is the abundance of development challenges such as poverty, hunger, lack of quality health services, limited number of schools, gender inequality and many others.

With limited resources and options for improving the quality of life, one of the easiest ways to escape poverty is through education. However, this has always proved to be a challenge in Northern Kenya.

More than 50% of children in Northern Kenya live more than 11 km from a secondary school, making it very hard for students to make it to school and back home every day. Consequently, there are so many children who are out of school at any given point. A survey of 3 counties in the region once found that more than 50% of households had a child out of school.

There are many factors that contribute to low school enrollment in Northern Kenya and many of these would require multiple solutions cutting across different sectors. For example, the opportunity cost for education in the region is too high. If one enrolls in school, they miss out on being trained on the most relevant skill in the area – keeping cattle. Due to other factors, students may not do well in school and are not likely to get into the formal job market, thus they are neither useful in their home places and cannot sustain themselves in urban areas.

Thus, telling a child to go to school in some parts of Northern Kenya could be equivalent of telling a child from a working class family to venture into football instead of education. Success could come, but as an exception.

Although there is no silver bullet that can solve all the problems, one gap that needs to be exploited in the simplest way possible is use of simple digital technologies.

Mobile Connectivity

At the moment, Safaricom which has the widest network coverage in Kenya has 96% of the population covered with 2G network and 93% with 3G network. In Northern Kenya, the government has intervened to have telcos put up mobile networks in some non-profitable areas like very remote locations and majority of the population have some access to the network.

The area lacks access to electricity but receives a lot of sunshine with at least 8 hours of sunshine every day and this makes it ideal for use of solar power. Generally, solar power would be adequate to power most digital technology devices in Northern Kenya all year round.

With mobile network and possible source of power, what can be done to help improve the quality of education?

Some of the challenges that need to be solved are:

  • Low population density making it to have schools within the reach of every child.
  • Nomadic lifestyle that means families are sometimes on the move.
  • Poor infrastructure making it hard to provide and monitor services.
  • Social inequalities making girls less likely to attend school.
  • High opportunity cost of education.
  • Rampant insecurity and cattle rustling.
  • Shortage of teachers, and low quality of teaching due to many untrained teachers.

Most of these problems require government intervention and a long term strategy, but there is a place for engineers to design products that can fit people in these areas. This could be:

  • Creating apps that can help these kids learn English in a language that they understand, such as M-Lugha has done.
  • Creating digital mentorship channels to encourage young people to stay to school and show them possibilities in education – a sort of penpals.
  • Labs that are powered by solar.
  • Using content loaded tablets to empower teachers like it is being done by Bridge.
  • Using climate data and satellite images to predict where pastoralists will be moving to and thus plan appropriately to keep the children learning.

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Ravi Zacharias

Posted on 2 min read

If there is one man whose books I have read, watched his teachings, and listened to over and over, it must be Ravi Zacharias.

He passed on this month, and one lesson I learnt from him is the need to be compassionate and gracious to people even when armed with truth, or even when speaking from a point of power.

Let me share a few quotes from the man who is referred to as the greatest apologist of the 21st Century.

  1. We have a right to believe whatever we want, but not everything we believe is right.
  2. There is no greater discovery than seeing God as the author of your destiny.
  3. What I believe in my heart must make sense in my mind.
  4. Yes, if truth is not undergirded by love, it makes the possessor of that truth obnoxious and the truth repulsive.
  5. Unless I understand the Cross, I cannot understand why my commitment to what is right must be precedence over what I prefer.
  6. I am absolutely convinced that meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain; meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure. And that is why we find ourselves emptied of meaning with our pantries still full.
  7. I remember the time an older man asked me when I was young, “Do you know what you are doing now?” I thought it was some kind of trick question.
    Tell me,” I said.
    You are building your memories,” he replied, “so make them good ones.
  8. There can be no reproach to pain unless we assume human dignity, there is no reason for restraints on pleasure unless we assume human worth, there is no legitimacy to monotony unless we assume a greater purpose to life, there is no purpose to life unless we assume design, death has no significance unless we seek what is everlasting.
  9. With no fact as a referent, what is normative is purely a matter of preference.
  10. But life’s joys are only joys if they can be shared.
  11. If God is the author of life, there must be a script.
  12. For many in our high-paced world, despair is not a moment; it is a way of life.
  13. The truth is that whenever a fence is removed, it’s wise to ask why it was put there in the first place.

You can read his Eulogy on RZIM’s website HERE.

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CyberCrime Does Not Pay

Posted on 3 min read

Facts tell, but stories sell. There is a story going around that Juja has been named a global cybercrime hotspot by Interpol. The story is not true as confirmed here, but it sells. Looking at it, one can get some very good lessons on how our society perceives cybercrime. I would also want to explore the cost of cybercrime on a society in general, with Nigeria as an example.

Fear

The reaction to the story is weird. Some are afraid and worried about this new form of crime which they do not understand. I understand that for someone who is not very informed or knowledgeable about such matters, the mention of cyber-crime would make one cringe. It is like when walking out in an open and dark place, you are told that there is a sniper with some very good night vision and he is shooting anything he sees for fun. You do not know how to protect yourself.

I understand the concern, and this is good. People need to be continually educated on the cyber-threats that the society is facing so that they can keep themselves safe.

Elite Crime

But for many people, the story of Juja being a cybercrime is something to be happy about. It is a trophy that Juja has earned, and hopefully, the skills will be used against people who are thousands of miles away in developed countries. It is a cool thing to be a cybercriminal because that shows that you have a brain that is still functional, and even above average.

It is considered a game of wits and not a crime. But what is the cost?

Cybercrime didn’t Pay in Nigeria

What is the cost of cybercrime to the innocent bystanders who are neither perpetrators nor the direct victims of the same?

In Nigeria, the so called ‘Yahoo scammers’ have been around for long. They are the people who send you emails claiming to be a rich Arabian Prince with a treasure to share. They scammed the world before the world got to know about it.

In many places, they are celebrated as heroes. People want to be a Yahoo-Yahoo, scam people and make a lot of money. Those who have done it before are not regarded as criminals, but people who know how to survive. It is justified by the fact that it is the poor who are stealing from their colonial masters and other wealthy countries.

But what is the implication to the country in general? These scammers are partly the reason why Nigerians has a bad reputation and the cost for this is high. It is the reason why Nigerians find it hard to get Visas to many countries, why they pay more for those Visas if they get them, and why they are scrutinized more than anybody else.

It is also the reason why many payment companies do not accept cards issued in Nigeria and some International businesses do not want to do business in/with Nigerians. Nigerians are also not allowed to receive money on PayPal, while the extra paperwork required for Nigerians when traveling is just too much.

While very few Nigerians are involved in Cyber crime, all of them pay for it.

‘Normal’ crime costs individuals because they have to build fortresses instead of houses. There many other costs of crime such as the chains on side mirrors, or filling road signage posts with concrete.

For cybercrime, the cost is also there and you may not realize it until it is too late. Nigeria is paying hard.

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Is Juja a Global Cybercrime Hotspot?

Posted on 2 min read

Where did the story of Juja being a global cybercrime hotspot come from?

The answer lies in a satirical news website called PostaMate. The stories presented there are fictional, but unfortunately, many people believe that what you read on the internet is always true. PostaMate has clearly stated that what they post is fictional and majorly for entertainment purpose. It aims at making fun of the society in a humorous way.

The story that was published on PostaMate.Com claimed that Juja had been named as a global cybercrime hotspot. Reading the story, one would easily tell that it is a piece of satire because that is clearly indicated on the page where it is posted. The twitter account that shared the story has also made it clear that this is all about satire.

However, confirmation bias – the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information that confirms or support one’s prior personal beliefs or values – comes into play. There is always a feeling that Kenyan University students and graduates are smart enough to run the world but idle because the country has not given them opportunities. Many people in Kenya have also been victims of cyber crime, or know someone who has, and therefore would want the story to be true.

How did the satirical story become news?

The story from PostaMate quickly made its way around WhatsApp group inform of screenshot images, without the disclaimer that it was just a piece of satire. The story was then amplified and most people who read it did not know that it was just a piece of satire. To make matters worse, a few days before, the DCI had arrested some students and a bank employee in Juja who were suspected of running a cybercrime syndicate. The story confirmed what had been in people’s minds.

But then, a major news outlet fanned the story. NTV picked up the story and therefore confirmed the rumor. The story had been changed, and now confirmed by a ‘trusted’ news source. A new truth was made.

That is how a story meant to entertain is turned into news.  

The moral of this story is that not everything you read online is true.

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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).

Earthquake

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.

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