One thing that Engineering school teaches you is brevity. No need for stories when a simple equation is enough. Perhaps, this is why many tech people suck at explaining things that seem obvious to them but rocket science to everyone else. I know this from experience.
With an engineering background, I knew that writing stories would not be my thing. But it is now. What changed? I met one man by the name Tefo Mohapi.
I decided to try writing out of necessity. I needed something written and published, but I did not know a professional who could help. At times, working in a startup means that you are forced to do something because you neither have the talent to do it in your team, nor do you have the money to pay someone to do it. That is how I started writing. A few posts later, I realized that I needed to know where to publish the content and when I approached iAfrikan Media, Tefo Welcomed me with open arms.
In two years, I ended up publishing over 100 articles, thanks to guidance from Tefo who was the editor. He edited my work and helped me to communicate effectively. With him in the background, I had the freedom to write knowing that someone had my back.
Covid-19 came and hit him hard, but he fought harder. He was thankful to God for carrying him through the dark ordeal where he was in the hospital five months in 2021. I was hoping that things would brighten up and he would fully regain his health, but that was not to be. On 14th of July, he succumbed to pneumonia after a short illness.
Tefo is gone, but his legacy will live on. Rest in Peace brother.
It is that time of the election cycle when we start receiving unsolicited messages (SMS) from every politician. Brace for impact.
Your favorite politician, your worst politician, your current politician and your aspiring politician have suddenly developed an interest in you. Not exactly you, but your vote. You are just a means to an end; the vote.
And so they will keep sending you unsolicited messages telling you of great things about themselves ad how the future is you. They will keep telling you about your civic duty and responsibility as a citizen. The politician will wish you a happy Easter and even a happier Easter Monday. They will want you to celebrate Madaraka and Labour day in peace.
If you are wondering why they send these indirect messages and not directly ask you to attend their rally or vote for them, it is because political messages are highly regulated by telcos. Politicians know how to go around that.
You will also note that these messages do not come from a phone number, but possibly the name of the politician or political party. This is called a sender ID. It is a form of branding which allows you to know who us sending the message in the same M-PESA messages come from M-PESA and not a phone number.
These messages are a one-way communication channel, where you cannot reply. The politicians are not interested in your response. You should not be heard.
How did they Get my Number?
Whenever Kenyans receive any promotional messages, they assume that Safaricom or some other telco is selling their data.
What they forget is that our data has been poorly handled in the past. Every building you walk in keeps a record of your name, ID number and phone number with no guarantee that the information will be used for the right purposes. M-PESA agents used to keep a record of data which politicians could ‘buy’. There are many cases where data is collected with no reasonable use in mind.
This has often made it possible to access people private data without their consent. In some cases, some data that is illegally acquired is on sale.
The voter register in Kenya is in the hands of many people. Politicians can buy contacts for their region and keep spamming you with texts. Even a list of Safaricom subscribers has been in circulation for quite a long time now, and anyone with means and a few shillings can get access to it.
Personal Data Protection
In the past, there was now law to govern how personal data was handled in Kenya and this led to a culture where everyone could buy data and use as they saw fit. However, the Kenya Personal Data Protection Act passed in 2019 regulates how data is collected, shared and even used. One of those requirements is that a politician should not send you a message if you have not consented to receiving the message from them.
There is also an office where one can report any misuse of data, including when a politician sends you an unsolicited message. Instead of complaining about the politician, go ahead and let the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner know that you are being spammed.
Security is always an important consideration in a world that offers many external threats. We build fences around our homes, install doors with locks, put grills on our windows, employ security personnel and even choose a residence based on perceived security.
In the past, human beings would settle in locations that are easy to defend and would even go ahead and build fortresses. They also established armies to secure geographical regions. They built Navies and Air forces to defend them in the air and on the sea.
Security is important for survival and as the world changes, so do the tools and systems that are needed to keep it safe.
The world has changed, so do the security tactics.
In a world that is primarily driven by and dependent on Information Technology, there is an increasing need to secure the data and the networks in which this data thrives. This is where cybersecurity comes into play. One needs to safeguard their identity, their data, phones, computers and other electronic devices and installations. Organizations need to protect their information too, and this is done through use of special tools, trained personnel, and educating the members on how to contribute to the security of the organization. Countries need to guard against foreign cyber threats.
As individuals, we are largely responsible for our data and we need to be careful on how we share it out there. Think of what one can do if they have information about you. This could include Education data, Employment history, Identity, Education data, financial data, Data on your devices or even medical data. We have to be careful how we share such information because this can be used against us and cause great harm. We need to know what kind of data to share, with whom to share it with and when to share it.
We need to know how to secure our computers and other devices. We need to know how to use passwords effectively. We need to know how to survive most attacks that are targeted at us. We need to know what information can be shared, and what should not. We need to know what fraudsters may ask from us, and what a real bank staff cannot ask for.
This is why we all need some level of cybersecurity skills.
Once in a while, technologies that are meant to change the world emerge, but turn out to be nothing but hot air. In fact, many end up making bad problems worse, or deviating much needed resources from the areas where they are most needed. This has happened severally in the development world, as shown by these two examples.
In 2010, an idea to build a water pump that was connected and powered by a merry go round won the World Bank’s Development Marketplace award. The pump would be installed in remote places in Africa and when children played on the merry go round, water would be pumped to a storage tank for later use by the community.
This caught the eye – or better, the pockets – of various celebrities and world leaders including Jay-Z, Laura Bush and Bill Clinton, resulting to millions of monies in funding. It was supposed to be the pump that completely transforms remote African villages by giving people access to clean water.
What happened to the playpump? It was a total failure.
As soon as the pumps were launched, several challenges showed up. The worst of them was the sheer amount of time that children needed to play to make the pump viable. In some communities, children would be expected to play for up to 27 hours every day to meet the expected water needs of the community. For the children, playing was no longer a fun and spontaneous activity, but hard work to get water into the storage tanks.
The pumps were more expensive than the conventional hand pumps and were very expensive to maintain. Most communities had neither the expertise nor the spare parts needed to repair them, hence would fall into disuse once they broke down. Obviously, children get tired and also need to go to school, forcing women to turn the pumps by hand in order to get water. It also needed several women to turn, hence more complicated than existing hand pumps.
One Laptop Per Child
In 2005, a professor at MIT came up with an idea of developing the most rugged laptop that would cost $100, and would be used in third world country to help students learn.
These laptops would be unbreakable, would not need access to electricity, would be owned by students and would encourage students to study.
It was a poetic story that was sold to donors, with promises that laptops loaded with hundreds of books would be dropped from helicopters so that poor children in developing world could access them.
The failure was big.
Almost all the promises made were not kept. The final product was a basic laptop which had less computing power than existing smartphones. They cost $180, and in the process of trying to make the cheap, they made them extremely hard to repair. They needed electricity to operate, and they would also break easily.
Experts from developing countries had warned that there were more pressing needs than laptops, but the proponents of the project were so busy selling their poetic idea and never listened.
The project failed. Those that were sent to schools in Latin America largely remained in boxes and original packages because even teachers did not know how to use them.
Learning From the Failures
The problem was that both the playpump and 1 tablet per child projects pleased donors, and the flashy idea were not practical or sustainable. With money from different sources, the projects went ahead to full deployment and failure was dismal.
This should be a caution to people developing products that are appealing to many, and assume that they will be adopted by the masses. It calls for engineers and entrepreneurs to venture into thorough research before throwing resources into solutions that no one needs or will never work.
Unfortunately, many people never learn, and when you advise someone that no one will ever install the app they desperately want to build, they opt to go forward with it until they see it practically fail. They prefer to learn from their own experience.
Before you get excited about that cool idea you have, find time to do some serious research. Talk to the experts, ordinary people, potential users and most importantly, the critics.
In about 7 months, Kenyan will head to polls for the General Elections, with a possibility of a repeat election that could drag on for another three months. This makes 2022 a politically volatile period.
This might turn out to be a gloomy time for entrepreneurs in Kenya, as electioneering periods always are.
There are several factors that negatively affect businesses during an election period. Some of these include:
The uncertainty of not knowing the political and economic direction of the country.
Diminished investments since investors do not want to risk too much.
Decreased government spending, affecting people who do business with the government.
People moving to rural areas to vote, or to be in safe environment during the electoral period.
Risk of not being paid if the government changes.
Risk of loss of property in case of election related violence.
2017 General Elections
This was the case in the year 2017 when Kenya went into elections which were held in August 2017. From the beginning of the year, it was all doom for many people who were in business. Unfortunately, elections did not just end, but were nullified by the Courts and had to be repeated in October, further extending the period of uncertainty.
After the elections, a series of political unrests followed after the main opposition party refused to accept the election results. This continued until March 2018, when President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga decided to put their differences together to form the handshake government.
For a period of almost one and half years, Kenya witnessed toxic politics that negatively affected businesses.
Guarding Against Local Politics
How then can business guard against this negative effect of elections?
After the 2017 election period in Kenya, one of the realizations that came was that there was a need to geographically diversify revenue streams to guard against political cycles in different countries. This was one motivation that led to expansion of Truehost Cloud to Nigerian market. Having revenue streams from different countries could help stabilize the revenue fluctuations occasioned by political processes.
However, not every SME can afford to scale to other countries. One needs to figure out what they can do in order to cushion their businesses when such time comes.
Overcoming the Threat
One crucial task is to assess the threat involved, so as to plan accordingly. Some business may be less affected, like those offering essential goods and services. In some cases, business may actually increase during the election period. An example of this is people in the printing industry, who get a once in a lifetime opportunity to print posters, t-shirts, and other materials used in campaigns.
The location of the business may also determine the risk involved. There are some well-known elections violence hotspots, such as the informal settlements. Doing business in these areas calls for increased caution and one should plan ahead for such risks.
If there is a risk of harm for the employees, one may need to figure out how to keep them safe, by requiring them to work from home. Covid-19 has already proven this to be viable. Employees might also be affected depending on their tribe, and so one needs to protect those who are most vulnerable depending on the location.
If possible, have some cash reserves that will sustain you during the period of uncertainty. This will help when sales go down or there is no income.
At times, it may make sense to close down the business, scale down, or move to another location until the elections are over. This applies mostly to places where election related protests lead to destruction of property. Of course, a better approach is to insure the business so that one can keep operations running during the elections.
Even with the best planning and information, it may not be possible to guard against the negative effects of elections. There will always be a risk involved, just as business is always a risk. The best thing is to prepare for the unforeseen circumstances.
November 2012, Safaricom and CBA launched a mobile platform that allowed M-PESA users to save and borrow money on their phone. At that time, I was preparing for the end of semester exams and I did not give the product much thought. Unknown to me, the product would come in handy just a few days later.
The end of a semester is usually a gloomy time. You have run out of money because money comes at the beginning of the semester, and exams are coming and they come every semester. This is a rite that is repeated every semester for most students. It was the same thing in November 2012.
A friend of mine who had made it as an academic writer approached me to help him withdraw some dollars from Skrill (or was it PayPal?). I had a foreign currency account, and using my account would help him save money by finding a favorable Forex Exchange service. We agreed that he would send me the money so that I withdraw on his behalf.
Due to time constrains, I would only be able to visit the bank after exams. The process was do the last paper, hand in any pending assignments (the power of last minute), clear from the hostel, then go to the bank to withdraw the cash on our way home.
By the time the last day came, we had exhausted all the money we had. We only had enough fare to get one person to the bank. I went to the bank and queued for three hours since it was the last weekend to Christmas. The shocker came when I realized that the International money transfer was not complete and my account read $ 1.62.
I needed to go home the same day. I only needed about 600 bob to get home. I turned to M-Shwari.
M-Shwari Saves the Day
I had heard about a new product called M-shwari. A quick Google search showed that one needed to save some money with M-Shwari in order to qualify for a loan. I asked my friend to send me 50 bob on M-PESA which I deposited into Mshwari and instantly qualified for a loan of 1200 bob. I took the loan quickly, withdrew from M-PESA and in a few minutes, I was on my way home.
Mshwari had saved the day.
My friend needed at least KShs 2000 to get home, thus M-Shwari would not help.
Several years later, I do not think that M-Shwari is that great an invention. Several other digital lenders came into the Kenyan market and have caused untold misery to people. All of them have one thing in common; they are quick to lend, at a very interest. They also came into a market where people were not well versed with how credit reference bureaus works. This resulted in thousands of people getting listed there until the Central Bank of Kenya came to the rescue.
I used M-Shwari several other times after that debut, until it dawned on me that it was just a loan given at an interest of 90% pa. It was for convenience, but most of the time it was irresponsible borrowing. I stopped using those services.
Unfortunately, the poorer you are, the more you are likely to use this M-Shwari and other digital loan services. The poor end up getting credit at a very high interest rate. This is very appealing to the lenders.
I also do not get it why they insist on the same interest rate for everybody even those who have a good repayment record. If their lending is driven on data, they should be able to leverage on this to give cheaper loans to members in good standing as opposed to a flat rate for everybody.