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Tenets

Give Us This Year Our Annual Bread

Posted on 3 min read

Why all this fuss about a New Year or Decade?

As Thomas Mann once said, “Time has no divisions to mark its passage; there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols.”

Time is a Measure of Change

Time is not a social construct, even though nature seems not to react to changes in years or decades. Even nature is subject to time.

Time is a measure of change, and thus a new year is measure of change that represents more than 1% of all your life (unless if you live to be more than 100). Some people imagine time to be a long thread on a reel which spins slowly but consistently, or a winch where we are all attached by an imaginary rope and it is always winding up without our consent. Perhaps, spinning faster for women than for men.

In real sense, even the winch is subject to time. We are all changing, and we need to ensure that we change for the better. Even though we may be wasting away in our bodies, we must ensure that our active faculties are changing for the better. This requires effort.

Whether we make resolutions or not, a new year will come and go. We had better make good use of the year, as we definitely do not have an infinite number of years here on earth.

The Future

If only we knew what the next season in life holds! This is why we wish for time travel now more than ever!

Prophets, seers, oracles, or even their corporate version, the futurists, will try to tell you of what will happen in future. Nevertheless, no matter whom we consult, we cannot get an accurate prediction of the future, and that is why we make resolutions to guide us in the unknown. We have plans, manifestos and roadmaps to ensure that we are moving in a certain direction.

New Year Goals

The world is diverse by design, and our diversity needs to work for our good. We should be united by our purpose in life and how we make sense of the world around us. As we make plans and goals, the most important thing is to ensure that we uphold values that show concern for every person. One will be hoping to make it to grade one, another one to college, another person to graduate, another one to get a job, another one to get a promotion. All these are equally important, and none is superior to another.

As some people make plans on how to make it to the list of top something under something, others will be thinking of some more basic things.

It is said that a healthy man has 1000 dreams, while a sick man has only one. As you make great resolutions, there is someone who only wants to stay alive in the new year. As you plan for great business expansion, there are businesses whose only hope is to stay afloat next year. As you look forward to a promotion at work, there is that one person whose goal is strength to survive a toxic work place until they find the next job. Our dreams are diverse.

With all this diversity, I hope that we shall be considerate of one another. We shall respect both the poor and the rich. We shall work hard to move forward not just as individuals, but as a community and society. Whether we live or die, let it count positively. Whether we have success or failure, let the general outcome be a better society. Let us practice contentment and gratitude, for as long as we have food on our table, clothing on our body, and a shelter on our head, we have more than most people on earth.

Give us this year our annual bread, and forgive us our trespasses.

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The Invention of Insurance

Posted on 2 min read

Many moons ago, there never used to be health insurance. Not that people never fell sick; it’s just that they had other ways of dealing with health problems. They were never guaranteed of getting money for the medical bills, but they still lived happily then.

The System

The secret to their existence lay in a closely-knit society. When one fell sick, the community would come together and contribute money for the medical bill. Fundraising would be made and the bills would be paid by all means.

The more popular you were in the society, the more the people would show up with their pockets when you needed them. This approach forced everyone to be an active member of the community. Evil people lacked this social capital which they could exploit when in need. So did the thieves, witches, outcasts and all the people who were not in good books with their neighbours. Everybody strived to stick to the straight and narrow path because no one knew when disaster would strike.

In general, the society thrived fairly well. There were a few cases where the bills were too high, or the call came during a famine when people had very limited resources.  Those were some unfortunate moments, but they were just an exception, not the norm.

Cheese Moved

But then, things began to change. Urbanization quickly began to take root. People began to live in places where they did not know their neighbours. Social ties were broken and a new system that favoured individualism began to gain acceptance. The old system could not work.

Solution

That is when Mr Mwangi, elsewhere known as Mr Smith, began to analyse the challenges presented by the new development and came up with a solution. Instead of people coming together to contribute money when one person fell ill, he could collect a little amount of money from each person every month, then go ahead and pay any medical bill that showed up. Brilliant idea!

New Social Order

People loved this new approach. No longer would they need to pretend to be good to their neighbour. No longer would one need to attend useless social events to maintain good social credit. Most importantly, they would not have to fear the risk of falling sick during the dry season. That is how insurance was born. Most people of means were happy with the new system. The rest had no option but once the bigwigs jumped ship. The old system died.

Monetizing

But Mr Mwangi/Smith also needed to make money. He realized that he does not have to pay all the claims presented. He came up with terms and conditions to govern the health insurance industry.

Up to date, we are still trying to understand those terms and conditions.

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Corruption is Eating Away our Future

Posted on 3 min read

I have come to a conclusion that every Kenyan is corrupt, unless proven otherwise. My experience in business has taught me this. Take a look at this.

Examples

Whenever a government entity requests for service, someone will call you requesting to ‘talk.’ This is only if they actually need the service, for the many times an office asks you to quote for a certain service, they already have a service provider in mind. All they want is to use to lend credibility to the procurement process. The ‘talk’ is simply instructions on how much you should quote, and how much you will be expected to give back.

Not just in the government. Even from the private sector, the conversation goes like this: “My name is AB and I am the head of IT in company CD. We are looking for somebody to offer us service EF, but I would want us to ‘talk’ first to see if we can work together.”

What is happening here is that employees are working hard to defraud their employers, be it in the private sector or in civil service. Is there a cost to be paid for this?

Hotbed of Corruption

Kenya thrives on corruption. 33% of the budget is wasted through corrupt dealings, even though we are only able fund slightly over 50% of the whole budget. A big portion of the budget is borrowed, then misappropriated. This means that we have devised an art of stealing not only from what we have, but also from what we and our future generations will have. That is how the government runs, even most people who are motivated to serve in public offices are motivated by the same factor.

The main motivation why someone self-funds 75 million campaigning for a political post which will pay him 60 million in five years is the money expected to flow back through corruption and position influence. The main reason why being a headteacher is lucrative is the opportunity to manage the money, and of course gain from the managing. The reason why county and national governments want to run healthcare docket, yet everybody knows for sure that healthcare is a loss making sector, is simply to run the big budget, and from there make some money out of that.

Effects of the Corruption

Starting a business is hard, unless you are willing to give enough kickbacks. Tenders are awarded to the person who will give the largest kickback, and this happens in 99% of all offices. The effect of this is that genuine businesses fail, while tenderpreneurs thrive. This killing of genuine entrepreneurs means that the people who have the capacity to build enterprises and create jobs end up failing, and so job opportunities are not created. The end result is unemployment, now and in future.

Many SMEs have died thorough supplying goods and services to the government. They offer their services, but several years down the line no one is willing to pay for those service. Yet, doing business with the government holds an allure to many new and old businesses alike. The margins are attractive, but payments never come. Of course, payments do come if you are willing to give some kickbacks. Once SMEs are not paid, they end up not paying their staff, who end up not paying their children’s school fees, which leads to schools crumbling. The possible outcomes are many and gross.

There is hope

They say that the early bird catches the worm. In Kenya, it is the known bird which is given the worm. If you are not known, woe unto you. You will strive to make it, and you will have to work harder than any business that is dealing with the government because your margins are small while your operating expenses are the same.

But this resilience is needed while things are still murky, for there will come a day when things will change. As we long for those days, remember that we are the ones expected to create those days.

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Disaster Preparedness in Kenya

Posted on 6 min read

Disasters do not just happen; there are a chain of critical events and fateful decisions that take place before the disaster hits.

For the victims, there is only one path that leads to the disaster, with everything appearing to collaborate together to their damnation. But for spectators and people doing the post-mortem of events, there always seem to be many ways that the situation could have been salvaged, and we lay blame on anything and everything that can hold a portion of the blame.

Likoni Case

In September 2019, a car plunged off a ferry in Kenya, sinking to a depth of 60 m. Entombed in the car is a mother and a four-year-old daughter.

The event that was captured on video paints a picture of a desperate situation where help is too near, and yet too far. The car simply slipped off a ferry and floated in water for a few seconds, before sinking to the bottom of the channel.

The reaction was that of an angry nation, where any user of the ferry imagine that it could have been them. The recovery of the bodies proved a hard task, with some people doubting the capacity of the Kenya Ferry Services, Kenya Navy, Kenya Coast Guard and Kenya National Disaster Operations Center.

While the situation could have been prevented, it could not have been easily salvaged once the vehicle plunged into the ocean.

Why the accident happened

There is no single reason that can claim the trophy for the accident. A number of factors seemed to have collaborated together. Look at this:

  1. There was an occupied vehicle in the ferry. Passengers in public service vehicles are supposed to alight, but it seems one does not have to alight from a private vehicle.
  2. The ramp on the ferry was faulty. In its normal position, a vehicle cannot slide off the ferry. Due to the fault, the ramp could not lift up as required to prevent such an involuntary action.
  3. Kenya Ferry Services claims that the driver seems to have engaged a reverse gear! If this is true, then this would be the most unlucky place to reverse the car. If it were somewhere in the street, the result would have been a thud and some coins at the mechanic.
  4. The car was among the last to board the ferry. If the car was parked amongst other cars, engaging a reverse gear would result in damaging other cars, not plunging onto the ocean.
  5. The driver seems to have panicked! Keeping calm is very hard in an emergency situation, but it matters a lot. One is able to think of a cause of action and act accordingly. In this case, the action could have been breaking, or accelerating forward.

If any of those conditions were different, the results would have been very different. In most cases, accidents are as a result of several factors working together. Sometimes we can ignore several errors because they are harmless, but forget that if we tolerate one, we are moving closer to a critical number of errors which can result in catastrophes. Engineers call it the Swiss cheese model of accident causation.

To prevent the accident or the fatality, any of those conditions should have been altered. This is a very easy task, but also difficult in a society that does not value excellence and following rules. It is also a matter of a country that does not prioritize investing in public health. When the ramp on the ferry fails, the best thing is to pull the ferry out of operation for maintenance. But this would inconvenience many people, right? Then buy more ferries. Not possible because the country is broke, and replacing old ferries wont count as legacy project for politicians. Kenyans need to see new projects to be wowed.

Even our complacency in times of peace would not help the matter. Suppose you work in the ferries, with your sole duty being to ensure that motorists leave their cars before the ferry is in motion. That would be easy to enforce for one week. Soon, you start giving exemptions to the elderly and the disabled. Next time you excuse people because of the rains. After seventeen years of no incidences, everybody forgets the rules.

What it would have taken to rescue the victims

As soon as the car plunged into the ocean, there was like a 20 second window within which the occupants could have been rescued. The first action would have been for them to get out of the car, as there was no way to keep a metallic structure quickly filling with water afloat. Once the occupants were out of the car, it would have been possible for skilled divers to save them.

If the ferry had a dedicated rescue crew, it would take at least 5 seconds for them to know exactly what had happened, before they can react. Most likely, they would be scattered across the ferry, making it even harder for them to launch operations in time. And then, you do not just jump into the ocean with no idea if the vehicle was occupied, and how many occupants are present. By the time this happens, the car would have sunk. There is a very narrow chance that the divers would have helped. By the time you dial the Kenya navy, the car would be at the bottom of the channel.  

As you can see, the best line of defence was in disaster prevention, followed by the victims’ actions. Disaster response in such a scenario is something hard to implement for the type of government that we pay/vote for. In short, knowing what to do if your vehicle slips off the ferry is what can save you. As soon as the vehicle plunges into the ocean, figure out how to get out of the car. Doors might not open until the vehicle is fully immersed in water. The only option is to break the windows using the metallic part of the seat head rest. Alternatively, once the vehicle is submerged, open the door and get out, hoping that you can swim, or someone comes to your rescue.

Why it took long to find the car

Many people would expect an emergency multi-stakeholder response to the accident. This was not going to happen for a few reasons. First, this was not a national disaster; I am told that unless there are more than ten victims an incident does not qualify to be a national disaster. Second, the only thing that could have been done was to retrieve the bodies. This is also not something very necessary when the risks involved are weighed.

Diving deep to 60m ocean channel that has a lot of heavy traffic and ocean current is a risky affair. It needs planning, and competence. Such competence is hard to find, if the Kenya Navy cannot afford it. It is more about having the right equipment which Kenya Navy did not have (your government again). Throw in the government bureaucracies and economists with their cost-benefit analysis and you realize that the exercise does not make economic sense. But for the sake of not the family, but an angry general public after the social media video, the government has to do something.

Conclusion

It is hard to prevent all kinds of disasters, but there is usually no quick-fix solutions. Kenya may need to start by fixing institutions that are responsible for public safety, which involves fixing the people who work there, which might actually end up in fixing the whole society to be security conscious, to be excellent in what we do, and to allocate resources for what matters. What we did at Likoni was tantamount to throwing a swimming manual to the victims.

PS: Read Why Air Crash Investigations take a long time

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Conducting business through online markets

Posted on 4 min read

While the world has shifted to a Digital Economy, many people find themselves unable to venture into doing business online due to lack of information on what digital economy entails, or lack of skills to utilize the same. At the same time, many people keep venturing into entrepreneurship in the same old ways while failing to take advantage of digital tools that can be used to reach bigger markets, lower operational costs, and break the geographical barriers. We want to share a few tips that can help an aspiring entrepreneur take advantage of this digital economy.

Why it should be easy

Digital sounds sophisticated, and this word usually shuts out most people who have no idea on where to begin. While the technologies behind the digital economy are complex and sophisticated, application of the same need not be. Many people do not seem to know this.

Any piece of technology is always hard to design and manufacture, but should be easy to use; thanks to application of human centered design. A 3 year old or a 93 year old can learn to use an iPad, but it takes well trained and experienced scientists and engineers to make one. The same thing applies to the digital economy, where, while the principles and processes involved are complex, the application of the same is easy.

What is Digital Economy?

Digital economy refers to an economy that is based on digital computing technologies, and is also known as the internet economy. More recently, the term is has been used to refer to conducting business through markets based on the internet.

Digital or internet economy offers unprecedented opportunities for business, which many people and businesses are taking advantage. One of this is doing business purely online, without much physical interaction with clients, and the second one is using online platforms to reach out to clients who you interact with physically in your business.

Getting your business Online

What does it mean to have your business online? There are several ways to do it, with the following being the main ones:

  1. Having a website and email services for your business
  2. Running social media accounts and pages
  3. Listing your business on online directories
  4. Adding the business to Google maps
  5. Selling on an online marketplace like Jumia, OLX or amazon.

While having a website costs money, the other four approaches need not cost any money (though you need the products first). Even for a website, the costs have dramatically come down, with running a website costing an average of KES 2000 per year, and the initial design of the website costing as low as KES 10,000 (check www.truehostcloud.com/marketplace).

Reaching your target market

It is one thing to have an online presence, but a totally different thing to benefit from it. Most people get online without a plan or objective, and end up getting frustrated by the lack of results that ensues.

To have maximum impact online, you need to figure out who is your target market, and how to not only reach the market, but influence their buying decision. This is a very complicated part and if you do to know this, do your research in advance.

For each of the channels or digital tools that one chooses to use, there is a lot of homework and preparation that one needs to do. Here are a few:

  • Websites

Having a website is not just a one off thing. You need to ensure that there is traffic to your website, and the traffic consists of the right people. This is where you do something called Search engine optimization (SEO), which involves making your site easily findable by people who are looking for it.

  • Social media accounts

Social media is a useful tool for reaching out to people. You need to choose the right social media to use, and use it effectively. The advantage is that you can quickly create networks among your friends, but beyond that it takes skills and experience. Learn more about it.

  • Online directories

Online directories list businesses online, allowing for people searching for a service to know you, get your contacts and a description of the services that you offer. There are many free directories that offer this in every location.

  • Adding your location on Google maps

This is involves adding your business location on Google Maps. Whenever people search for your business or related keywords on google, they are able to find it.  It works well with Google search, and also when you want to reach people near your location as Google gives your location the preference.

  • Selling on online marketplaces

You can start by selling on online marketplaces such as Jumia, OLX and Amazon. These are ready markets, as there are already customers looking for products through them. It takes less effort to be noticed as opposed to developing your website from scratch.

Instead of focusing on one of the above channels, you can as well do all of them! Remember, digital platforms are just tools; You still need a viable business plan to get your things done.

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Children and Screen Time

Posted on 3 min read

They say that you shouldn’t get high on your own supply. Nowhere has this statement been truer than when it comes to electronic devices. Bill Gates did not allow his children to use cellphones until they were teenagers. Steve Jobs would not let his young children use iPads, and current Apple CEO Tim Cook said that he would not let his nephew use social networks.

Those are not just exceptions. As reported by New York Times, many techies from Silicon Valley and elsewhere have set strict rules that regulate or restrict the use of electronic devices by their children. Some have gone to an extent of requiring their nannies to sign an agreement that they will not only disallow children from using phones and tablets, but also they themselves will not use phones in the presence of the children.

Why is there such a radical approach by the techies when it comes to use of electronic devices by kids? There are a number of reasons. The actual effect of screen time on children is not clear. It has been said that there are no known benefits of screen to children under 18 months. There are a number of reasons to believe that it is harmful. With such, it is better to err on the side of caution, and this could be the reason why the Silicon Valley veterans are turning extremists when it comes to screen time regulation. Screens are addictive, and they can have a negative impact on early childhood which is a time of rapid development. This is the time when healthy lifestyle patterns should be developed.

Screens have become great pacifiers for children. A restless toddler easily calms down when they are given the glowing screens. Others will spend hours watching baby shark videos over and over again. I find babies very intrigued by phones, and the rife temptation is always to give a child a phone while you catch a nap. Since the advent of smartphones and tablets, screens are able to capture the attention of both the young and the old, and they have changed from limited use feature phones to powerful computing devices.

While it is said that introducing kids to electronic devices early in life will help them become tech savvy, that does not seem to be the case. When it comes to learning, electronic gadgets are simply tools just like text books. This is very well illustrated with the life of a friend of mine who never encountered  computers until first year in campus. Four years down the line, he turned out to be one of the best software developers in his class. The skills required to produce a software developer had been honed in day to day activities while away from computers.

The truth is, when we give a baby a phone, we are not trying to help them. We are usually trying to help ourselves. We just want some peace of mind, or some quiet time, and so we find an easy way to distract them. We fail to give them one thing that they really need; attention.

Possible solutions

What can parents and guardians do in order to protect the young ones and ensure that they are bringing up a resilient generation that will thrive both in online and offline world? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. As much as you can, allow no screen time for children under 18 months, and utmost 1 hour of guided screen time for children between 2 and 4 years.
  2. Avoid sedentary screen time. Let every moment spent in front of a screen be spent actively engaging with some content, not just sitting and staring idly.
  3. Ensure children get good exercise and sleep, which are vital for human development.
  4. Prioritize human interactions over electronic devices. Let kids get creative with traditional toys, games and one on one interactions.

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