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Tenets

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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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.

W.H.O.

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.

Conclusion

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

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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.

Fear

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.

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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

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