Tag Archives Kenya

Chinese Engineers in Kenya

Posted on 3 min read

Chinese contractors have found a golden goose in Kenya, almost taking all the megaprojects in the construction industry. Most of the major state and private infrastructure that has been built in the last ten years have some form of Chinese signature in them. From roads, buildings, railways, to water and sewerage projects, Chinese companies have proved to be efficient and reliable. They show up armed with equipment, labor, and most important, capital which allows them to complete the project in record time.

The Standard Gauge Railway

Take the example of the Chinese-made Mombasa – Naivasha railway. The line was funded through a loan from China, built by a Chinese company, and now is operated by the Chinese. It is the Chinese railway in Kenya. Despite protests on the feasibility of the project and accusations of kickbacks and disregard for the environment during the construction, the railway line was eventually built.

But it is the manner in which the new railway is run that has proved to be a rip-off to Kenyans, more so to Kenyan engineers. To date, control panels and boards are written and programmed in Chinese. The primary language used in the operations by the Chinese people is the Chinese language. The engine drivers of the trains are Chinese, while Kenyan engineers are forced to do lowly jobs. Some forty Kenyans have been trained on to how to operate the trains, but they remain spectators as they are not allowed to do the real work.

At the same time, the Chinese have brought people from China to do menial jobs while Kenyans continue to grapple with joblessness. In some other projects, the Chinese have even been accused of ferrying everything from China, including the brooms to be used on-site.

Lack of Knowledge Transfer

From the onset of the project, there was no plan to ensure the deliberate transfer of skills to Kenyans so that they can take over the running of the project. Yet, the project costs Kenyan dearly, amidst a growing national debt. Why didn’t the government care about equipping its engineers to not only operate the Railway but also make them competent enough to build other sections that will need to be built in the future?

The problem persists not just in the Madaraka Express railway, but in other sectors as well. Highly qualified Electrical, Mechanical and Civil Engineers continue to grapple with joblessness, while mega projects are being handled by the Chinese. While it is understandable that they bring in certain expertise and skills, projects must be designed in such a way that they ensure maximum skill transfer to the locals. The overreliance on Chinese contractors also means that local construction companies have faced severe competition.

What Next?

The Kenyan government needs to prioritize the needs of its young people, and not focus on giving them a fish. That people from China are employed as engineers in a Kenyan railway, while many competent Kenyan engineers are jobless, is shortsighted and stupid. The worst part is that even very low-level jobs such as cleaners and security guards are being done by Chinese nationals, in a country that has very high levels of unemployment. Building the human resources should be a top priority for any country that wants to develop.


Is Kenya’s Cyber Resilience Wanting?

Posted on 3 min read

On the first of June 2019, eighteen Kenyan government websites were hacked and defaced by a group of Indonesian cyber attackers. It took over 24 hours for the ICT Authority to restore them back, with people questioning the government’s capacity to deal with cyber-attack and protect Kenyans’ data. This was also not the first time. In 2012, a single hacker had managed to bring down 103 Government of Kenya websites.

Was the government caught napping in terms of cyber security? It is not easy to tell. Organizations invest a lot of money and resources in Cyber Security, and most of the cyber-attacks are usually stopped before they happen. However, Cyber Security, just like normal physical security, is something that is alive and growing. It keeps changing, and yesterday’s tactics may not work today. Cyber-attacks are here to stay and have been said to cost the Kenya about KES 25.9 billion in 2018. There is also an acute shortage of skilled Cyber Security personnel in the country, and the government is known not to be very competitive in hiring and retaining the best talents. However, even with the best personnel and resources, attacks still do occur.

As far as cyber-attacks are concerned, it is always a matter of when, not if. If some skilled persons decide that they must hack your website, chances are high that they will do it one day. It is just a matter of time and resources. This has seen the rise of hackers even from nondescript places such as North Korea terrorize the high and mighty USA. In the corporate world, transport and logistics conglomerate Maersk has experienced one of the most brutal cyber-attacks, which totaled its operations globally for several days and cost them about KES 30 billion. A Saudi petrochemical company was also hit by a cyber-attack last year, with attackers targeting to disrupt the safe operations of the plant and possibly cause massive explosions. Facebook, Yahoo, Adobe and others have also faced attacks. Cyber-attacks are everywhere, and it is just a matter of time if there is a target on your back.

How can governments and corporates stay safe? There is no easy solution. It will involve hard work, which means keeping a step ahead of potential cyber attackers. This is costly and it is already a multi-billion dollar industry. Currently, Israel stands out as the leader in cyber security, with great innovations from the country helping to tackle some of the most serious Cybersecurity problems in the world today. However, the first line of defense is not just these sophisticated tools, but more about ability to withstand and rise up after cyber-attack. This is why some experts today are talking more about Cyber resilience than cyber security.

Cyber resilience refers to an entity’s ability to continuously deliver the intended outcome despite adverse cyber events. In the case of the Kenyan government, this would mean being able to restore the websites that were defaced, and securing those servers used in hosting them. The government of Kenya needs to continuously increase its capacity to stop these attacks, but also improve on the time taken to get back in case of an attack. I hope the next time this happens (because it will), it will take a shorter time to get back online.


Internet Shutdown in Kenya

Posted on 3 min read

African governments are known to shut down the internet when faced by protests, elections, or even national examinations. In the last few years, internet shutdown has been experienced in Zimbabwe, Cameroon, DRC, Somalia, Ethiopia and several other countries. Here in Kenya, the question of whether there would be an internet shutdown during the 2017 general elections was very much rife, but that never came to be. But the question still lingers, will the government shut down the internet one day?

One can never be sure if the government will one day shut down the internet, and governments have interests, not policies. If the government’s interests are threatened, we can expect any action to be taken. However, there would be many implications. Kenya is a country with a high internet penetration rate, and we have many services that rely on the internet to function. First, the shutdown can be total or partial. Total shutdown involves blocking all internet services, while partial internet shutdown is where parts of the internet or certain applications are restricted.

Whether a total or partial shutdown, the following would be the implications on Kenyans.

  • Transport

While it would be possible to use most of the public transport, some parts of public transport would be paralyzed. This include popular taxi hailing apps like Uber, Bolt, Little and others. Thousands of drivers would be rendered jobless, while the people who rely on them would be stranded since they would be unable to contact them.

Many public bus and air travel bookings happen online. This would not work

  • Start-ups

Many startups in Kenya are internet oriented. Most of them would have nothing to offer without the digital technologies that they very much depend on. Most of incubation hubs in Nairobi would grind to a halt.

  • E-commerce

Kenyans are very dependent on e-commerce services, which would be affected in terms of sales and also logistics part. Jumia and Kilimall receive orders online, and also depend on the internet to have their delivery people get to the right destinations

  • Online payments

This is where it gets murky. Card check out require an internet connection. Even M-PESA payment need an internet connection for those automated payments to work. Even check out at the supermarket using M-PESA might be impossible without internet.

  • Education

E-learning would be disrupted.  Educational institutions largely depend on cloud hosted systems to monitor transport, progress and plan activities.

  • Logistics and supplies

Most organized forms of supply chain networks and logistics systems depend on the internet. Manufacturers would find it hard to keep goods and services flowing in the market in the right quantities and at the right time.

  • Utility payments

Utility payments depend on automated systems to generate invoices and effect payments. You might find yourself unable to pay for water and electricity.

  • Tourism

Tourism is a major foreign exchange source in Kenya. Most of tourism activities such as accommodation booking and travels depend on the internet. The industry would suffer greatly.

It seems like an internet shutdown in Kenya would almost cripple the economy. What else would be affected? Share your thoughts.