Friday, December 02, 2011

The Love Letter

After shocking the sensibilities of a conservative audience with my first time speech on cars; I went back to the same audience with this mellower version:


Boo Boom Boo Boom
What was that sound? What was making that sound?

It was the middle of July and unlike most days in that month; the sun was a blazing ball in the sky and the heat stifling. I had walked almost a mile to meet you. My shoes were dusty, my hands clammy with sweat and my legs ached. I was irritable and tired and then I saw you. 

Boo Boom Boo Boom


It was my heart, beating, audible, in love.

Strong but curvy, your colour a deep flawwwwless mahogany and smooth, oh so smooth. My hand involuntary stretched to touch you, but I stopped myself before I made contact, fearing by putting my sweaty and dusty palm on you, I would mar your beauty. You were the vision from my dream, and I instantly knew I could not live without you.

I finally got the courage to take you home that afternoon but it took me time to get used to having you in my life. For days, I would wake up early in the morning and in a fit of panic, rush to you lay fearing you were just a dream. When we were with others, I would jealously guard you, could not and would not let anyone lay a finger on you, wishing to preserve your beauty.

As days passed, and my fear of your fragility faded, we grew even closer and I more comfortable with you. Day in and day out we would go for long drives together criss-crossing the county, partying in the cities; today we were in Naivasha tomorrow Mombasa. On nights, we’d dance with the lights, the stars and the booming stereo.  We lived and loved, soaking in scenery, the lights, the wind, the highways, and the winding country roads. I would hold you close listening to you purr and my heart would swell with pride that you were mine. You would never let me down, always there beautiful and strong.

I was tired and angry and made a mistake and our world came crashing around us so fast. It was my fault, I shouldn’t have been on the road, I shouldn’t have put you through that. I tried to save you, I swear I did. I veered to the left, and pushed hard on the brakes trying to stop us, but we spun off the road and landed in a ditch. I was not hurt, but you would never be the same again.

After that day, you would grumble and whine when I took you out. On some days, we would be moving together and then all of a sudden you would stop and refuse to move. I would coax and plead with you but you sat there groaning and coughing dark clouds. Your dark episodes dragged me into spirals of despair. I couldn’t eat; couldn’t sleep filled with worry and desolation.

Everyone told me to let you go, but I couldn’t bear to part with you. I wanted you with me; I needed you with me. I would not let you go. We would see this through together. And so slowly I worked, day and night on you, nursing you back to what you used to be.

Every day was a challenge; a challenge to reclaim the beauty of my love. I would spend long hours with you, pouring out my heart and soul. Sometimes it would look as if you were getting better and I’d urge you to come out into the sunlight with me. But many times it was false hope and I knew you needed more time. With time though I got better at bringing you back, and one day you were finally well enough to share the sun and breeze with me once more.

My heart still beats for you as it did that long day ago in July. You might not look the same as you did then. Yes you have changed, but those changes have given you more character. Maybe you are no longer smooth and flawless but each bump, each scratch has meaning. They tell stories of the adventures we shared, the life we lived together. We might no longer go for long drives or wild escapades as before but every moment we spend together still brings comfort and joy to my soul. I’m glad I stuck by you; because you are my one true love, the Mercedes Benz of my dreams.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

An open letter to the Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Power

Dear Eng. Joseph Njoroge,

KENYA POWER’S RE-BRANDING IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

First of all let me commend you for the great strides you have made at Kenya Power. Despite working in an environment with high cost of supplies, rampant vandalism, legacy employees, and generally hostile consumers you have managed to accomplish a great number of things. Applying for new electricity connections especially in rural areas has never been easier or cheaper. Prepaid meters have introduced certainty in billing and protection of revenues for our national utility provider. You have also worked hard to improve the customer experience with more responsive customer care, use of information technology and a charter on response times.

Certainly if Kenya Power continues on this path you will delight your customers with a world class service that improves their lives. Naturally in rebranding a parastatal you will encounter challenges, but all challenges are solvable. I’d like to share some suggestions on how to overcome some challenges currently facing your firm so that you can achieve your goals even faster:

  • Customer Support on Telephone and Social Media

Dealing with upset or difficult customers is not easy; I can attest to this as a small business owner. However this is a most critical element to world-class service standards. Right now, getting support through your emergency number telephone number can be very frustrating experience. Yes the phone goes through, but only to a contact person who will transfer you - before fully understanding your issue - to a number that will ring for three minutes and then disconnect. Yesterday I made five consecutive calls with each ending in disconnection. Exasperated I finally pleaded with the contact person to be put on hold rather than transfer my call while she researched on my issue. The contact persons also rarely if ever give their names so when you call back you can’t be sure you’re speaking to the same person and have to repeat your issue.

Your twitter account @KenyaPower is another positive addition to your helpdesk but you need to devote more resources and personnel to make sure it is relevant and responsive. Queries I raised several times one month ago have gone unanswered to date. Your customer care department must continuously evaluate its performance and welcome feedback from its consumers to improve.

  • Handling Accounts Owned but Landlords but used by Tenants

For perfectly understandable reasons most landlords of mutli-tenant properties choose to register the Kenya Power accounts under their own names. This however creates a tricky situation for tenants who actually use the account when a problem arises. As one of your staff members succinctly put it: no contract exists between Kenya Power and the tenant. For example your staff will disconnect all the accounts of the landlord if one or more of the accounts are in arrears. This greatly inconveniences other tenants who have paid their bills. I’m sure there exist legal and regulatory arguments that might make finding a solution a challenge, but we’re counting on you to continue showing innovation even in such areas and find a solution.


  • Knowledgebase and Escalation Procedure

If all your consumers would pay bills on time, it would reduce your disconnection/reconnection overheads and at the end of the day make electricity cheaper for all of us. In addition as a shareholder and citizen I am quite motivated to ensure that no revenue of our utility company is lost. So when I report a meter that is moving even where the electricity is disconnected I would expect a swift and structured response. Instead what happened is that I got four different solutions from four different Kenya Power contact persons. It is important that your firm builds a knowledge base of common issues from which all contact persons can refer and where they are unable to, a structured way to escalate the issue. This will definitely ensure faster resolution of problems and delight the customers.

When I remember the KPLC ten years ago and compare it with the Kenya Power of today, I am pleasantly amazed at how much things have improved. I look forward to seeing even greater progress and I remain firmly in your corner cheering you on.



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Screw Textbook Publishers

I feel very fortunate in the time I have spent as an entrepreneur. Not only have I gotten to meet a great number of different people: partners, suppliers, clients, proteges, employees but I've also provided products and businesses of utility AND made money. I like think of myself as an innovator as most of my ventures have been firsts: 1st person to publish the laws of Kenya online, 1st person to launch a low cost business centre, 1st person to automate the company registration person; but I do not naively believe that I was the first one to come up with these ideas. Rather I was the first one to move from conceptual stage to actual implementation. As any real entrepreneur knows, implementation is 80% of the work.

If you regularly read this blog, you'll therefore know that when I get a new business idea I usually share it freely. No need hoarding an idea, get it out to there and then make it a race to see who can make it work first. It is with this same spirit that I'd like to share an idea I had today after a twitter chat with @ndinda_, a study on iPad tablet use improving student scores, and Kenyan textbook publishers recent intention to increase prices by 50%.

Currently the cost of purchasing new textbooks for a student in primary school costs about Sh. 5,000 (12 books) per year in public schools and upto Sh. 25,000 in private schools (where the prices are included in the fees and more books are bought). In high schools the costs are roughly 25% higher.  If these prices are increased by 50% we're looking at the lowest cost per year being Sh. 7,500 for textbooks.

Now instead of this imagine a situation where each student can get a 7" android tablet at Sh. 10,000 running an e-book reader, plus plenty other learning apps. Not only will the parents spend less money on textbooks  (on a 3 year use of the tablet) but their children would score 25% higher, and be ready for digital age right from the beginning.

Bored? I'm sure you've had or heard the same idea. What makes what I'm saying any different, what is special or workable about my idea?

To get this to work you need to sort out two things:

  1. Uniformity in deployment of the hardware - you can't count on parents to buy their own tablets you need to get the school to do it for them. Start with private schools who have much greater flexibility in their approach and routinely include textbook costs in the fees. The schools will also need an incentive - simple, offer them money. Let them make a margin on the hardware (which will also allow them to justify the WiFi you'll ask them to setup).
  2. Textbooks in e-book format. Of course you can try and get the existing kenyan publishers on board with the project but I suspect that would be a long, arduous, and ultimately unsuccessful mission. There is too much money they risk losing by giving in to something they don't control - not to mention their general conservatism.  The alternative is to get individual publishers who are trying to break into the market or screw publishers all together and put up free textbooks - widely available online. I can personally attest to the fact that the depth of quality of free textbooks beats many KIE publications hands down. This might be another reason to approach private schools first who are not subject to government control. After publishers see their sales crashing through the floor, they might just wise up and join you.
Is it easy? No. Is it possible?.... that's a rhetoric question.

When SoftLaw started converting over 50,000 pages of the text of the laws of Kenya into soft copy, many people laughed at us and told us we were on a fools errand. Now we get to have the last laugh as the cost of consuming all the laws of Kenya has dropped from as high as Sh.300,000 to Sh.0.

Can the same be done on textbooks? Of course. Am I going to be in the race? Hell Yeah!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Mulika Mwizi

In one of my first classes at the University towards my law degree I encountered what must be one of the most eccentric lecturers in Kenya. Besides a deep seated hatred for apples (for the crunchy sound made when eaten) he was a multiple accident victim whose injuries had left him with a condition where he could lapse into complete catatonia. Not only did this affect his duties at the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda where he was a prosecutor but it could also make him re-boot halfway into his lecture. On re-boot (despite lecturing for hours already) he would begin "good morning class today we are going to look at..." In spite of this, I still found myself immensely enjoying his class and the subject he taught - criminal law. There were many reasons why I liked criminal law but perhaps the number one reason was because of some of the fantastic stories we discussed. We would study intentions and acts of murder, manslaughter, arson, cannibalism, conspiracy, buggery (don't look it up),  treason and lots more. Our class was like a modern day police procedural TV drama or detective novel.

Of course at some point, the stories would give way to studious review of the law. Fascinating among this was the very extensive definition given to the crime of stealing. To understand just how wide the definition of stealing is, take a look at it's definition in the Penal code. Here's an example:

Did you know that if Njoro gives you Sh. 100 when you're in town to take to his mama mboga in South B and while you're in the matatu since you only have money in m-pesa, you use Njoro's money to pay the fare, intending to repay it once you can withdraw from m-pesa in South B that you have stolen? 

Well it's doubtful that Njoro will prosecute you but today let me highlight some other more obvious examples of wizi that I've encountered.

1. Plagiarism by Standard Media 

Kenyan bloggers have long complained of the shameless copying and pasting by the MSM (main stream media) of their blogs and passing off the content as original. In their defence (if you can call it that) most of these "journalists" passed through a school system using the same copy n' paste approach to their studies. As a tenant in the university district I can attest to the blatant, unrepentant copy n' paste culture that is second nature among university students. Well despite blogger's occasional noise, it seems MSM have got away with it most of the time. So confident in their impunity, it seems one David Odongo decided to lift an entire article almost word for word from an international website. You can see his article here:  (might be pulled down by the time you get to read this, so I've also done a print screen you can look at here); now take a look at the original article published a year ago here. Standard Media and David Odongo, consider yourself MULIKWAD.

2. PayBill Trickery by Kenya Power


Kenyans pretty much agree that Kenya Power is the number one most despised supplier, more so because if we want to have any semblance of modern living, we almost must use them. They've been called many things, and thieves probably ranks pretty much up there. However most of these accusations are usually conjecture from their fluctuating charges or informed by the fact that fuel costs of electricity exceed actual consumption costs by almost 25%. This month however I discovered that there might actually be theft of customer's accounts going on through the Safaricom M-PESA PayBill system. The scam seems to be that payments made by PayBill to Kenya Power are not recorded on their accounting system, putting consumers at risk of being disconnected and probably lining some accountant or techie's pockets. This has personally happened to me and despite one month of trying to contact Kenya Power for resolution, nothing's changed. So to use your own call to action, Kenya Power here's me MULIKAING you.

3. Nation Ads not run by Classifieds.co.ke (AJA Ltd)


AJA Ltd run a website called Classifieds.co.ke which is supposed to allow you to pay for classified ads on the Daily Nation. When Classifieds.co.ke was first launched, I was one of the early adopters and wrote a glowing email to their developers (Mugambi) and almost did a whole flowery post on them in this blog. I have always admired online products that make tasks convenient so despite some early problems. It seems this was a big mistake. Last week I paid for a very date specific ad and even called AJA's office to confirm my ad would be run, which they assured me it would. I was quite upset therefore when the next day I chanced to buy the paper and found the ad had not been run. I immediately dispatched an email to them asking for a refund, figured I would do it the old-fashioned way. They ignored my email for two days and only after I called them three times the following day did they respond (3 days after the ad was to run) to tell me they would not be giving me a refund and I should choose another day. So here's how the scam goes, you pay for a classified AD and it's not run in the paper. AJA will keep quiet praying that you haven't discovered this and if by chance you do eventually discover, they will stonewall for a couple of days and eventually ask you to pick another day when they can run the ad (at this time they hope to have roped in another sucker to pay for your rescheduled ad and the cycle starts over again). Worse off if you pay for several days, as they will run it only on the first days and then just stop running it altogether. Yes, I'm probably a sucker as this has happened to me three times now but I really wanted to give these guys a chance. Sad thing is though it is such shifty companies that give the whole online business in Kenya a struggle for credibility. Since I noticed Nation promote the Classifieds website through their paper; in public opinion they also assumed liability for anything that AJA Ltd does so Nation and Aja Ltd MULIKENWI.

Well it's getting dark now and I need my light to see the way home, but do you have a story of someone you want MULIKWAD?

UPDATES: 26/9/2011

It seems everywhere I go, someone else wants to have a go at my small ka-wallet. No sooner had I finished this post than two more "suppliers" tried to illegally part me from me from my cash.

4. Nakumatt Cashiers - boblarceny

Despite the CBK undertaking a massive campaign to get shillings back into the economy, Nakumatt staff continue pilfering customers change which is in shillings. Recently I went shopping and on checking out my change was twenty-one shillings. The cashier gave me a twenty shilling coin and then promptly ignored me. Other times, I might have simply walked away, but on this day enough was enough. While other supermarkets also have change scarcity, at least they give you something of nearly equal value to the change e.g. a matchbox, or a sweet.  Nakumatt however never bother to give you change. The cashier tried to tire me by testing my patience telling me when he got a customer with change he'd give me my one shilling. Little did he know amechokoza nyuki. I made such a scene that the entire checkout staff had no choice but to look for a shilling. At some point he tried to give me a Sh.5 to get rid of me, but the thought that he had stolen that change from some other shopper would not allow me to take it. These checkout fellows probably process 20 customers on average. With 16 counters running 14 hours a day, if each customer is defrauded an average of two shillings it means Nakumatt (or its staff) is pocketing Sh. 268,800 per month. That's a helluva lot of cash so Nakumatt and your bob-snatching staff I have MULIKAD you.

5. Restaurant Staff steal from Owner, Customer and You.


Now these have to be among the worst thieves as they will steal from everyone: the owners of the restaurant, the customer buying the food, and you as a taxpayer. Next time you eat out at a restaurant, ask for an ETR receipt and make sure the ETR receipt corresponds with the meal you took, the time you took it, your table number and the waiter who served you. If you do not you are perpetrating a magnificent fraud that sees waiters in busy restaurants pocket upwards of Sh. 15,000 per day! There are three main scams  which take place. When it comes to food, the waiters use a single ETR receipt for several customers. This receipt is never given to the customer but simply brought to show the customer how much he owes. It is then taken back and re-used for a different customer. Meanwhile the waiter will only indicate one meal was sold and pocket the cash for the rest of the sales. Where bottled drinks are involved, the waiter will use a stock-inventory loophole called "shortage" which allows for discrepancies during stock taking. The other scam is where the waiters bring their own drinks to the restaurant to sell. This means that they are basically running their own business within the owners' business with zero costs. Lastly, never order a double shot of anything, unless you are actually watching it being poured. This is because two singles are invariably always more than a double, sometimes 25% more. The excess drink left over is sold to a different customer at the waiters profit. Have you ever wondered how you find some waiters can happily stick in the same establishment for years upon years? It's because they probably rake in 5 times more than you sitting in that air-conditioned office with your shiny suit. Special MULIKO to the Wine Bar staff.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Live Blog Kenyans for Kenya Concert - a Teeniez Perspective

So I am watching the Kenyans for Kenya concert with my younger teenage brother and asked for his thoughts on why it looks like such a flop and why he would not attend. Here are his top 5 thoughts:


  1. The event wasn't publicized enough. He only heard about it yesterday.
  2. The presenters (Julie Gichuru, Anne Kiguta, Jeff Koinange) are too old to be hosting a show targeted mainly at young people (from the music being played)
  3. The Citizen TV studio and the formal talk of the presenters make it feel like news read boring.
  4. The line up of the artists should alternate good and not so good, that way the tempo and excitement can remain relatively high
  5. The stage is too far from the audience.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My Brush with Al-Qaeda - Part II

Continued from http://startupkenya.blogspot.com/2011/08/my-brush-with-al-qaeda-part-i.html

One day earlier....


"Kindly spell the name for me sir"

"AL HAZEEF, A-L-H-A-Z-E-E-F, come on you have my passport why don't you just read it, I need to check in and go about my business"

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience sir, with passports in Arabic we always confirm the English translation." the pretty hotel receptionist Njeri looked up from her computer at the middle-eastern man impatiently tapping away at her desk. She hated this type: young, filthy rich with petrol dollars and ready to throw insults if things weren't done their way. Njeri started to sigh but caught herself midway - that would only aggravate the situation. She was glad that her shift was almost over, Mike would be at home by now and she couldn't wait to curl up in his arms and tell her about her morning.

A small light flashed on Njeri's computer bringing her back to reality. She had only been told about this situation in her training but never experienced it. Her heart faltered a bit, the color was amber which meant there was a significant threat level. Protocol demanded that she inform her manager immediately.

With a slight tremor in her voice she spoke to Hazeef "Sir, kindly give me a moment as I confirm your check in with our manager" she spoke the words that she had been trained to say.

"Is there a problem?" Hazeef asked, as a multi-lingual speaker he was very attune to vocal tonality and he could instantly tell that hers had changed.

"No, sir. Please give me a moment." Njeri almost stumbled as she turned abruptly to walk to her manager's office. "Damn it!" Njeri cursed under her breadth. The renovations they'd been doing meant that the intercom she could have used to call her manager was still out of order. Three more steps and she was at the manager's office and she barged in even though she could tell through the glass wall that he was with a visitor.

Hazeef watched the girl almost trip, half-running, half-walking into the back office. He could see her gesticulating as she entered the office, her agitation visible from where he was.

After two minutes Njeri and her manager came out of the office but Hazeef was no longer in the lobby.

"Ametoroka?" the supervisor asked no one in particular as he walked out of the hotel to see whether he might see him. The valet outside just shrugged his shoulders as he noticed his boss' menacing scowl.

"Okay Njeri, you need to file a report immediately. Also call the Israeli embassy and speak to Mr. Amit Benayum. He should be here in a few minutes to take questions. Damn it! These are just problems." the manager plodded back to his office reserving his choicer curses for the privacy of his office.

Njeri grudgingly trudged back to her desk. She didn't care about Hazeef, Benayum or reports. She was just upset though that she would not be going home soon and seeing Mike.

Read about Achieng, Hazeef, and Harry in Part III coming next week.

Friday, August 05, 2011

My Brush with Al-Qaeda - Part I

We were all laughing heartily as we reached the hotel lobby, one of my arms around Achieng's shoulder and the other holding my ribs which ached from the night full of humor. My younger sister Loizer was recording everything with a hand-held video camera which surprisingly was still on. Kibe my cousin could barely make it down the last flight, he was not used to so much liquor and humor. Just a few minutes back, a joke from Shiko my other cousin had destroyed all his remaining inhibition and whiskey sprayed from his nose as he was reduced to a cackling mess. The sight of Kibe uncontrollably guffawing while spraying liquor from his nostrils had in turn raptured any remaining decorum we had and we entered the lobby a riant mess.

I figured the hotel staff were accustomed to tourists behaving badly so initially I was not surprised at the lack of attention as our company reached the lobby. It didn't take long to realize however that the staff were not indifferent but rather all their attention was directed at four men at the receptionist desk. The lead man was speaking gruffly holding up a photograph to the receptionist "Is it this man?" he bellowed.

Ominously two of the other men were in full police uniform, with Heckler & Koch MP5 rifles held with one hand tightly against their hips. On their white arm bands, I could make out the words "Anti-Terr"

"Shit" I loudly and unconsciously cursed, simultaneously causing everyone else to stop laughing and sober up. We all turned towards the unfolding drama at the reception desk. The receptionist was nervously typing at her computer "Please give me a minute I confirm sir"

"Come on, what's wrong with you! Do you just book anyone? Hii ndiyo shida ya Waafrika, tunapenda pesa tu sana" The gruff man who I now deduced to be a detective with the anti-terrorism police unit kept bellowing, the menace in his voice only increasing as he switched to Swahili.

The young lady at the reception was now visibly agitated, she wiped her brow as beads of sweat formed on it despite the fact that the lobby was fully air-conditioned.

I turned to Achieng and whispered "do you think they're looking for him?" Achieng's expression was not reassuring and I feared that she was thinking the same thing, that the answer to my question was yes.

"I've got to go, Harry" she mumbled, and started off as if to go back to the apartment.

"No!" I grabbed her arm, stopping her and with a low but firm whisper. "If it's him you'll be in as much trouble, come let's go outside and then you can call to warn him"

---check back tomorrow for Part II

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My First Time

“I was very anxious, and glad it was over quickly”

 “Felt shy at first but once I got the hang of it, I loved it”

“A really painful experience!”

 “Super, freaking awesome!”

These statements came from a group of teenagers as they all described their first time…
                
...to drive a car

A  life time lived to its full results in a painted mosaic of memorable moments,  and for me none are more memorable than my first times with a car.

I'm Learning

“Stop!”, “Slow down...” “Left, left …. No left” arms flailing around giving directions to unseen places; it’s distracting I want to do it my own way.

This is different from how I imagined it. I had planned the whole thing out in my mind – practiced it with the meticulous precision in front of the mirror. I was supposed to be in control, guiding the pace. Shifting the gears higher or lower as my passions dictated. Instead here I am, befuddled , anxious, immature.

She doesn’t respond smoothly to my touch but jerks around as if to eject me; I can’t tell if the violent side-to-side motions are an indication that I should be more firm or less eager.

Next to me my instructor’s countenance is transfixed in horror, like a deer caught in the headlights. Hurtling towards dread but unable to avert it. He slams his pair of breaks and it comes to an end, my first time to drive.

My Own Car

Its a few years later; I have become more experienced through others but now I have my own. She is curvaceous and smooth to the touch. I caress her silky body, raising my heartbeat as my hand glides over her curves.  My anticipation is palpable, I suck my teeth to dry my mouth and lips; that I may not give myself away.

Gently I slide in; her body is generous, welcoming. She hugs my shoulders tightly and I inhale the scent of her upholstery. It’s raw, it’s powerful, it’s seductive. I grip the steering and feel instant response. Boy, I haven’t even turned her on.

I let my hand fall to the gear from where I’ll control her, familiarizing myself with its smooth, knobbed end. My feet play with the pedals – how to make her go faster, how to slow her down. I’m worried; will I be able to treat her right? I am bold enough to command her to bend her to my will.

 It’s now or never, I ignite her engine, she purrs eagerly releasing the remaining tautness in my shoulders. Soon we fall into rhythm: clutch, gear, gas. I’m into it, she is exactly what I wanted, what I needed. We’re in sync and I am driving around in my own car for the first time.

Crash and Burn

Hot, stinging things are swirling all around us, wait…no… it’s us who are spinning 360 degrees, over and over. It’s not  excitement I feel but fear. The clichéd life flashes before your eyes experience is absent. All I have is Bryan Adam’s crooning how these were the best days of our life playing on the stereo, as asphalt and tarmac fly around the spinning car.

How did it come to this, we had developed a rapport, a bond. I would ask, and she would respond. But I neglected her and now she’s punishing me, violently. So this is what it has come to, a mutual bond being physically ripped apart, because of failure to service. She’s trying to push me out, but I cling on – my belt is firmly tied. She bucks like an annoyed bronco, but with persistent steering I finally subdue her by the side of the road. I drag myself out of her, I’m in pain, my first time in a car accident.  

Take it to the finish line

It’s 15 years since that awkward first day. I’ve been through the thrills, the scares, the leisure and the dares, but nothing can prepare me for what I’m about to experience next.

This time I’ll need special gear – for protection. I’ll have others watching, some cheering and some jeering but all sharing. All will prepare me for a new first.

On paper she’s not all that. 66 is her top speed, automatic shift, bi pedals, but by God. When I finally start her up the rabid thrill of her vibrations overwhelm me. The air around us is hot and acrid with petrol fumes. She bounces around the short track with unrestrained, wild passion, urging me to push her faster and harder.

Ecstatic as I overtake another, seeing my reflection in the visor of his bobbing helmet. We’re up at a hairpin  bend but I press the throttle harder, inches before the warning chicane I brake: late, hard, once. The spin carries us around the bend and I gun the engine again on the stretch. Whiz past more drivers, overtaking the fast, overlapping the slow. Exhilaration, as I move closer and closer to number one. I repeat the feat over the remaining laps, to take top honours my first time in a go kart race.

My first times: anxiety, anticipation, pain, pleasure; memories that will never fade.

But once is not enough – time for round two! 

ED. This post is about cars - anyone who thinks otherwise needs to get their head checked (and then washed with a bar of Ushindi

Friday, June 17, 2011

Your A to Z guide for Alcohol Drinking Laws (Mututho) in Kenya

It's Friday again. Young ladies leaving work early to pass by the salon for a touch up. Young men going through their bank balance, MPESA balance and wallet to confirm their capacity for damage. Married men leaving their calculators tucked deeply under their work files in the office; and everybody in between getting ready to party. As you plan to paint tonight red, here's an A to Z guide of how to stay on the right side of the law - especially in light of the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2010 a.k.a. Mututho Law.



A - Alcohol


So that we know what we're dealing with, take a look at how the Act defines alcohol. It includes any alcoholic drink with at least 0.5% alcoholic content except for methylated spirit or denatured alcohol (which kinda provides a loophole because Kenyan's have been known to take alcohol unfit for human consumption). The Act regulates production, sale and consumption of alcohol.


UPDATE:Read recently that the law regarding proximity to schools has been relaxed


B - Bars that are illegal


Don't wanna get caught up in an illegal bar raid, then avoid bars that are closer than 300 metres from a primary or secondary school, or those that do not have clean and adequate toilets.


C - Clubbing


Night clubs are allowed to sell alcohol from 7:00 PM to 3:00 AM Monday to Friday. Clubs that want to sell from 5:00PM on weekdays and 2:00 PM on weekends need to also get a bar license. That means that your night ends at 3:00 AM, any minute after that you're on your own.


D - Drunk and Disorderly


If you're behaving drunk and disorderly,  violent, or quarrelsome, the bar can eject you by force. If charged and convicted in court for being drunk and disorderly in public you face a fine of Sh. 500


E - Excessive Consumption


If the bar owner thinks you're intoxicated, he can refuse to sell to you because it is an offence. Also if you encourage someone who is already intoxicated to consume alcohol this is also an offence.


F - Food with your Alcohol


Restaurants can sell alcohol to you at any time as long as you're consuming it together with food.


G - Government


Lots of people can enforce this Act including provincial administration (DOs, DCs, Chiefs), NACADA officers, policemen (by virtue of enforcing all laws) and even City Council Askari (if the Minister so recommends - don't think he has though)


H - Hours of Drinking


The safest times to be drinking are between 5:00PM and 8:30PM though depending on which license the alcohol seller has these hours can be extended. Places like the Armed Forces canteen (AFCO) are not even regulated by the act


I - Injunctions against the Law


There have been a couple of injunctions against implementation of the Act with the most recent filed by EABL just before Madaraka day. Contrary to some interpretations this injunction did not suspend the law but only sections of it - those dealing with warnings comprising 30% of the label. So if you're planning to use this injunction to defend yourself - watch out!


J - Jail Time and Fines


Fines start at around Sh. 500 for being drunk and disorderly to upto Sh.10,000,000 for selling spiked drinks. Longest jail term I've seen is three years.


K- Keeping it Local


The Act legalises chang'aa but with some qualifications: it must be hygienically bottled and it cannot be sold in quantities of less than 250ml. Other standards are supposed to be developed by NACADA so that chang'aa joins the ranks of waragi and konyagi


L - Licensing


Each district has a District Alcoholic Drinks Regulation Committee that is tasked with assigning licenses and make inspections.


M - Madeni za pombe


For those who like to drink on credit, you'd be happy to know that no debt is recoverable in respect of sale of alcohol unless it was in a hotel where the debtor was a lodger or restaurant where served together with a meal.

N - Nursing the Hangover


:) The Act makes no mention of this, but try boiled eggs, bananas, lots of water and fruit juice. Avoid fatty foods (no passing by Kenchic on your way home!), and caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, redbull, coke)


O - Open Drinks


Be careful not to accept a drink not opened in your presence or imbibe a drink that was left open and unattended. Several cases exist where beautiful women will drug unwitting male patrons in order to easily steal from them - they are supported many times by cab drivers so know your cabbie. Ladies have to be even more careful not to be drugged.


P - Police Powers


As usual our boys in blue will be on the prowl to shake down anyone unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of the law and where they refuse to, let them cool their heels in the slammer. Getting jailed on a Friday night is the worst possible night, as the earliest you can be taken to court is Monday morning.


Q - Quitting while Ahead


Know your limits, don't drink and drive and if you start drooping in the club it's time to go home.


R - Repeal of old laws


The old liquor licensing act and chang'aa prohibition act have been repealed but not every cop knows that.


S - Staying at Home


Since introduction of the law, this has become a popular way to have your drink without restriction. If you however think that you can also sell liquor from your house without restriction you'd be mistaken. As long as you're selling alcohol the Act regulates you.


T - Toys that Imitate Alcohol


Goes without saying that these are illegal, we can't let the young ones get hooked in through toys.


U - Underage Drinking


Age of drinking is 18 years, which is good because this is also the age of voting. You can vote, you can drink. Sell to someone under 18 and you face a Sh.150,000 fine or 1 year in jail.


V - Videos showing Alcohol Drinking and Social Success


This probably defines 90% of the local music videos. A guy goes to a club, gets a drink and soon after has a bunch of scantily dressed women gyrating to his beats and showing him love. Try and use this to promote a drink (or drinking - as in the case of a bar/club) and you can be in serious trouble.


W - Wines and Spirits.


A huge ignorance exists about what wines and spirits can/cannot do. First of all understand that these usually get off-licence licenses, which means that the alcohol is not consumed where it is bought (you take it home or somewhere else). Under this license, they can only sell alcohol between 5:00PM and 8:30PM


X - eXcessive Alcohol Consumption is Harmful to your Health


That's one of the warning messages that should be on your drink, the others are:


  • Excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver cirrhosis;
  • Excessive alcohol consumption impairs your judgment; do not drive or operate machinery;
  • Not for sale to persons under the age of 18 years.
Y - YouTube, Twitter, Facebook


Think you can promote your drink (in contravention on the restrictions on advertising) on the internet or on social media? Think again. Act makes sure no one will try this by imposing a Sh.3,000,000 fine or 3 years in jail or both for anyone who tries this.


Z - Zero Percentage Alcohol Drinks


Remember you can also have fun with your family and/or friends even when drinking non-alcoholic drinks. Alvaro, Novida, Sodas, Red Bull, water, and even tea are all possible alternatives. Plus there are non-alcoholic wines that exist to ensure you continue looking sophisticated and posh with a wine glass (as opposed to a fanta orange bottle) :)


Have a happy Friday all, and if you're a young lady planning to go drinking this post is a good read!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Internet Banking in Kenya

I remember the first day my mom took me to the bank, it was back in the day - mid 90s and we lived in the country (euphemism for ushago). The only bank that was available was Post Bank. Now I can't remember too much about how it all used to work, but I remember this: once you opened an account you were given a small booklet, I think it was called a passbook. The booklet was a journal that contained a handwritten list of all the transactions made to your account.


Now those were the days before things like branchless banking, local area networks,  desktop banking modules, computers, or even queues existed in Kenyan banks, less so a rural based bank like post bank. Instead to withdraw money over the counter the procedure was something like this:
  1. After filling out on a form or the passbook (can't remember which) the amount you wanted to withdraw you would need to hand it over to the cashier. 
  2. To get to the cashier you would muscle your way through the multitude of other customers in the "banking hall" to the walled off counter behind which the cashier sat.
  3.  You would then use all manner of flailing arm gestures, monkey like hopping, squawking noises and locking eye-contact jedi techniques to get the attention of the cashier in order to take your passbook. Woe unto you if it was end month (in ushago this is from 5th to 10th of the new month) because that's when everybody had a reason to visit the bank.
  4. Once successful in handing over the passbook you'd allow yourself to melt back into the river of humanity as the cashier took your booklet to the back office to enter your transactions in the ledger and confirm your account.
  5. After a while if you had money in your account, you'd here your name shouted out "STARTUP KARANJA... STARTUP KARANJA... KUJA HAPA MBERE"
  6. You'd fight your way back to the front where the counter was to collect your Sh. 500 cash and your passbook.
  7. You'd then prance out like Michael Cera  beaming that the whole process had only taken two hours.

Well we live in different times now: from M-PESA integrated bank accounts to VISA electron cards that allow you to access your money across the globe to plush couches in banking halls where you are even served tea. The banking experience in Kenya has really changed for the better. One area where I feel we still fall short however is Internet Banking. 

Now I would have liked to do a more comprehensive post where I could examine each bank's internet banking offering but I figured your input would be even more valuable. So I will only list the banks I have had a personal experience with. Feel free to add your own.


  1. ABC Bank
I opened an ABC Bank AfriNet Internet Banking account sometime in mid '07 and used it upto mid '09. Now things might have changed since then but ABC were pretty ahead of the curve in providing this service. Checking the balance, debits and credits was what I used the service most for although it was claimed that you could also transfer funds between your accounts. However this had to be followed up with a physical authorization letter (which kinda beats the whole point). Besides the Sh.495 flat  monthly fee I paid, there were no other costs to operating this service. Security is pretty sucky as you are never requested to change your password and the communications are not encrypted nor is the site certified. 



I don't really know if I should include this here because I can't remember really getting any service with this offering. I opened the account in 2009 but all I can remember viewing when logged in was a weird chart for calculating loans. Can't say much more.

3. Standard Chartered Bank

This is more of a I-have-received-a-transfer-by-someone-who-was-using-the-service experience. This means two things: it works, and it allows you to do inter bank transfers. The service is called Straight2Bank.

4. Bank of Africa.

First problem, from the time I applied to when I finally got login credentials was a lifetime and a half. About three months to be exact. I figure I could have walked to the bank and back to the office about seven trillion times while waiting for them to open my internet banking account. With that unpleasantness out of the way, I can say the service though basic is pretty ok. The security is tonnes better than that of ABC, they use some dutch software called Bweb which at least is certified and encrypted. You can only check balances, deposits and withdrawals although these are not necessarily real-time and it can take up to a whole working day for new transactions to appear.

5. Co-operative Bank
Now truth be told, everything you've read before was just a prelude so that I could gripe about the Internet Banking service from Co-operative Bank dubbed CoopNet. Now, first a disclaimer - I have not actually used the service - but, what I've experienced about it so far convinces me I should not even bother trying to. In my defence I did give Coop Bank the opportunity to explain the account to me but they did not see it fit to respond (via email off course - hey it's internet banking they should be able to respond to email)

My major gripe is with the pricing. I mean my Post Bank experience was a headache to me the customer - but it must also have been a headache to the bank. Removing customers from the bank lobby helps them focus more on better financial products, saves them air-conditioning costs, janitorial costs, printing of paper forms cost, queue management costs etc. You'd think the bank would be beating down the path to make Internet Banking accessible to all its clients, but noooooo, not Coopbank.

To access CoopNet through a corporate account you need to fork out an obscene Sh.1,500 per month. Yes, that is one five zero zero. Think that's it, hold up wait for this one.... for every transaction (assumption is debit, credit, transfer etc) you need to pay Sh. 30. I wanted to use this service mainly to confirm M-PESA paybill payments into my account. I can get three or four payments per day - some as low as KSh. 200. I don't have to do the math for you, suffice it to say it would ludicrous to use CoopNet for this!

Thank you very much Coopbank (not!), but if it's a choice, passbook please!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cut costs but don't Waflash

New colloquial words usually originate from a mutation or amalgamation of existing words. Take Waflash for example I know that most of you have probably never heard of this word but it carries deep significance for me.



Long long ago, in a galaxy far far away (...just had to use that, it's for the lulz) I shared an office with an otherwise affable chap called Wafula. Now I say otherwise because Wafula had a serious weakness... read on. Based on my limited business knowledge at the time, I knew that there were only two ways in which a company could maintain a positive cashflow: 1) increase sales 2) cut costs. Wafula however only believed in number 2, while I was a rather strong proponent of number 1.

I came to realize just how strong of a disciple Wafula was of the cost cutting dogma one sweltering February afternoon. You see in our office arrangement, Wafula would pay for electricity while I catered for the internet. Since we were sub-tenants, the main tenant would pay for the rent. Ordinarily the cost of electricity would be about Kes. 5,000 while internet was Kes. 10,000. This February the cost of electricity doubled and Wafula was furious. Since I never scrutinized the electricity bills I cannot say for sure what caused the increase. Wafula however was incensed and believed that the overhead fan that I would keep constantly on to ward off the heat was the cause.

What he did next remains etched in my brain forever. First he asked that I switch off the fan, to which I refused explaining that I would be unable to work in the heat. He walked off and I thought that would be the end of it, only to storm in minutes later brandishing a knife. Knowing the madness that staying in an office could cause, I immediately took a defensive stance. Wafula however was not a violent man (at least not violent to others) and he instead took the knife to the fan cable and with one swift motion sliced the electrical cable; severing the fan from its power. He then calmly brushed himself down and walked off, not uttering a word.

From that day onward, any time someone would take extreme cost-cutting measures I would label it as doing a Waflash.

I thought about this as I watched the Safaricom CEO declaring that Safaricom could have made higher profits if they Waflashed like KCB who recently fired 22 senior managers.

I still belong to the faith of increase your revenues, but I wonder: Have you ever Waflashed with your business?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Is Premium Rate SMS on its deathbed?

This post is dedicated to @kenyangetter. It's always nice when your ramblings are appreciated.

10 years is a short time in technology. When I got my first Airtel line (it used to be called KenCell those days young ones) the provider did not even have SMS as a service. They did launch it a few months later by the (very clever) name YesMS (for those who don't know the slogan for Kencell was Yes!). However you could not send an SMS from Kencell to Safaricom for a long time after its launch but on the bright side an SMS only cost Kes. 5.00. This was way cheaper than the appx. Kes. 30 per minute (billed per minute!) call charges one would incur for calling at that time.



With Kenyan's peculiar calling habits under attack, SMS became the preferred mobile communication means. Millions of text messages were transmitted across providers' networks and the providers milked this revenue source by keeping the rates virtually unchanged over the years.

It was not long before a small firm called Bernsoft popularized Premium Rate SMS (PRSMS) through SMS polls onKenya's leading (at the time) TV station KTN prime time news. It soon became commonplace for media houses to have a PRSMS short code through which one could comment on, vote, or answer questions for a prize. With about 50% gross margins on each PRSMS, this became a favoured way to shore up revenues while also gauging audience response by the media houses.

One unfortunate recipient of this new surge in PRSMS however was premium rate calls. Most notably used by Radio Africa's Kiss 100 FM station, premium rate numbers were prefixed with 0900 and a caller got charged a premium rate over and above the normal rate. This was a very useful way to bill for services, and even SoftLaw had it's own number which we used to automatically sell credits to people using our Laws of Kenya website. But with the prohibitive cost of calls, vis-a-vis the ease and completeness of SMS, premium rate calling quickly fizzled out and died.

PRSMS however continued to grow, and it was most famously taken to its zenith by PRSMS based lotteries that captured the greed of an entire nation and made hundreds of millions for a few wheeler dealers.

However, as I look at the current landscape I feel that we have seen the crest of this business especially as a means of content delivery. It is now moving from a de facto communication model to a niche, specialised means of communication (and commerce) for only those who have original and unique content. I have a few reasons for saying so:

  1. The reason PRSMS grew so much is simple. It was making money for the content owners, and where money is growth will follow. Content such as breaking news, entertainment alerts, ring tones to quotes on love, health and God was big business.Information hungry users would subscribe to up to 5 daily alerts. That was until people discovered mobile internet. Before bundles became popular only early adopters would be glued to their tiny screens to browse the web. But as soon as mobile phone service providers started providing cheap bundles to access the internet, the content providers started feeling the heat. Ringtones were were especially hard hit as their main consumers were young, net-savvy, and would prefer freebies. Websites such as waptrick.com gave these consumers access to free music, ringtone, and screen saver content they would otherwise have had to pay for. Soon the full page adverts for PRSMS ringtones started disappearing from the dailies.
  2. The next nail in the coffin came in the form of twitter. With twitter, one could follow media stations, breaking news channels, and individual journalists and bloggers to get real-time updates on news or just receive quotes of their liking. If one had a smartphone you could configure this so that you'd receive a notification every time a tweet came in or every time a mention or direct message came in. Considering the cost of viewing your twitter timeline was a few cents of data as compared to the KSh.5 or more cost of a PRSMS, users once again followed their wallets.
  3. As if having twitter supplement PRSMS updates was not bad enough, the mobile phone service providers took it a step further when they allowed tweets to be received through SMS. This was the final blow which I doubt content providers relying on PRSMS can ever recover from. Now you did not even need a smart phone to enjoy getting tweets. Consider this: Capital FM have a PRSMS service where they send you four English Premier League PRSMS per day from the Mirror Football website. This service probably costs KSh. 5 per SMS totalling KSh. 20 per day. Alternatively you can choose to subscribe to Safaricom's unlimited SMS offer that gives you access to unlimited tweets and SMS at KShs. 10 per day. You can then follow the MirrorFootball twitter handle and receive ALL their tweets daily at no extra cost. And without spending a shilling more, you can also follow and receive twitter updates from Bundesliga, Spanish League, NBA, Formula 1 or any other sports franchise you are interested in. The only person who would still subscribe to Capital FM's PRSMS is completely ignorant.
Right now you might be reading this and saying oh well, but that is only for content delivery. What about other uses for PRSMS? I'd say take a look at this:
  1. PRSMS for Lotteries - after the 6969 fiasco of last year, its' highly unlikely that the existing regulatory regime will survive to allow another similar lottery. It's likely that some form of gambling through SMS will continue but it will be most likely highly regulated.
  2. PRSMS for Giving Comments - this is also on the decline for two reasons: 1.) Kenyan's no longer have peculiar calling habits, thanks to the very cheap cost of making calls. They now have no problem calling in the media houses to air their views. 2.) Media houses are starting to adopt twitter and facebook as a main way to receive comments from their audience. As net penetration goes, just as SMS supplanted calling in, so will twitter and facebook supplant SMS (mainly because of their social nature). In addition to media houses, other organisations that had tentatively adopted PRSMS as a way of collecting views (and revenue) are also dropping this in favour of social media. A great example is KPLC who have adopted an aggressive twitter strategy for customer support.
So is there any uptick to this?

Yes there is, Premium Rate Calls might make a come-back (that is until VOIP billing alternatives gain ground). With the low normal calling rates, it will be easier to add a premium on the call charges and use premium rate numbers for specialized professional support such as therapy sessions, IT support, legal aid. 

If there's any entrepreneur interested in an idea of how to use Premium Rate calls, send me an email at harrykaranja at yahoo dot com

UPDATE Feb 20, 2012
Interested in validating my convictions that Premium Rate SMS is on its deathbed, I started trawling the online market to see what was out there. What I found out more than shocked me, it made me see the SMS business in a totally different light. To understand why I've changed my mind so, check out http://marketing.genius.co.ke/landing/viva 

Friday, May 06, 2011

Is the government right to spy on your SMS?


Amid the hullabaloo of Osama’s killing and the crippling fuel shortage that hit Nairobi, a shocking announcement sneaked its way into the paper yesterday without anyone making too much a fuss about it. 

It was reported that the National Cohesion and Integration Commission has been monitoring text messages and internet-based communication for any clues of hate speech and incitement. Surprisingly though this news does not appear on the front pages of any of the main media houses websites this morning.

As if to allay the obvious concerns on privacy, Commissioner Halakhe Waqo “assured phone users that adequate steps have been taken to safeguard individual privacy unless it breaches national security and peaceful co-existence “

Seems harmless enough so far. But then Commissioner Waqo went on to say:

“We do recognise that privacy is very important for an individual but public security and safety is much more important. We want to pin down that breach in public safety and security,”

Now this is where things get scary, is the NCIC saying that in the fight against hate speech, privacy comes second to “public security and safety”?

Before making an emotional response to that question, it is better to consider all issues that this question brings up:
  1. What is the mandate and authority of the NCIC in tackling hate speech?
  2. What constitutes hate speech?
  3.  What are the constitutional/legal safeguards of privacy vis-à-vis national security?
Mandate and Authority of the NCIC
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission is a creature of the National Cohesion and Integration Act 12 of 2008. The act is defined as an act of Parliament to encourage national cohesion and integration by outlawing discrimination on ethnic grounds; to provide for the establishment, powers and functions of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, and for connected purposes.

Under Section 25(2)(i) of the Act, one the Commission’s functions is to investigate on its own accord or on request from any institution, office, or person any issue affecting ethnic and racial relations. This seems to allow the Commission to investigate hate speech being propagated through SMS or social media.

It is a matter of public knowledge that SMS were used to devastating effect to propagate hate speech that contributed to a lot of the post election violence in 2008. The rise of social media also as a tool of mass communication seems to advise the Commission’s focus on this.

So far it seems Waqo has the backing of the law, but what exactly is the Commission monitoring? 

What does Hate Speech constitute.

To understand the origins of hate speech legislation an excellent read is KNCHR’s Lawrence Mute’s 2008 piece

In this post, I will limit myself to what the act says on Hate Speech
Section 13 of the Act defines hate speech as.
13. (1) A person who-
(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or displays any written material;
(b) publishes or distributes written material;
(c) presents or directs the performance the public performance of a play;
(d) distributes, shows or plays, a recording of visual images; or
(e) provides, produces or directs a programme;

which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up.

So for the SMS or Social Media posts to constitute hate speech they must be:

  1. threatening, abusive or insulting
  2. intend to stir up ethnic hatred or be likely to stir up ethnic hatred
  3. be published or distributed.
The first two conditions are subjective and in the absence of any judicial direction on them (or is there) it is hard to say exactly what constitutes hate speech. However from those who have been charged so far (Wilfred Machage et al) we can say that any talk of evicting a community from an area falls in this category.  On the other hand comments from Raila and Uhuru which some considered insulting to a community did not seem to fall within NCIC’s interpretation of hate speech (or does it).

As to the third condition we can ask if SMS & Social Media posts can be considered published or distributed.  From the common law definition of publication (under the Tort of Defamation) we can conclude that to be published includes by:

(a) spoken words or audible sound or
(b) words intended to be read by sight or touch or
(c) signs, signals, gestures or visible representations

Of course this alone is not enough to constitute published if for example the author keeps it to himself. The other qualifier for something to be published is distribution. The offensive publication must be available for consumption by a person other than the author.  However there are requirements as to who constitutes the audience of the published material?

Social Media posts are usually public. The fact that these posts can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection seems to meet the qualifier of audience mentioned above. We can therefore assume that they squarely fall within the definition of published and jurisdiction of the NCIC to investigate.

How about SMS? This is a much trickier one to figure out, because SMS are generally not public in nature. Perhaps we look at this from a different angle, from the perspective of the recipient of the SMS (assuming that NCIC is also tracking who is sending what to whom)

As to who qualifies as a target of hate speech: according to  Mute’s article, hate speech is not that which offends the feelings of the community  targeted but actually changes the perception of other communities against that targeted community. E.g. if you are a Kikuyu and you tell a Luo that he is a Kihii (derogatory term for an uncircumcised boy) that does not constitute hate speech; but if you tell another Kikuyu that Luo’s are Kihiis, then that is hate speech.

So in brief if NCIC knows that you are from community A, and sending an SMS which is threatening, insulting or abusive likely to stir up ethnic hatred among your community against community B then that is hate speech and NCIC has the power to investigate you.

So far so good, but where does privacy come into all this?

Going back to Waqo’s quote he recognizes that privacy is a concern but says it plays second fiddle to national security. But what does the constitution say?

Under the Bill of Rights, Article 31(c) of the Constitution everyone has the right of privacy which includes the right not to have the privacy of their communications infringed. Infringement of communication includes invasion of privacy through any means of disseminating private information.  So if the means being used to send the information is intended for private communication (e.g. email, twitter direct messages, facebook messaging, SMS) then NCIC would be breaching the right of privacy by invading this.

But of the Commissioner’s assertion that National Security trumps privacy?

Article 238 of the same constitution is very specific on the principles of national security.

238 1(b) national security shall be pursued in compliance with the law and with the utmost respect for the rule of law, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

 It further says under 238 (1)(a) that national security is subject to the authority of this Constitution and Parliament;

I think from this reading it is fundamentally clear that the hierarchy is Privacy first (human rights and fundamental freedoms) and national security second, contrary to what the good commissioner is saying.

Worryingly the commissioner seems to echo the thinking of the shadowy figures who had illegally inserted the words “national security” to the constitution as it was being prepared for the referendum. The illegal insertion added made Article 24(1)(d) read as:

The need to ensure that the enjoyment of rights and fundamental freedoms by any individual does not prejudice national security, the rights and fundamental freedoms of others

Luckily Kenyans were vigilant and the ensured that the constitution passed removed those odious two words.
In light of these constitutional provisions, then is NCIC flouting the bill of rights by monitoring private SMS messages?

Putting it all together
It is disappointing that the commissioner’s statement has not been met with vigorous opposition from those we charge to protect our rights, and those we rely on to inform us.  The rule of oppression and suppression of liberties begin with small tentative chipping away at these liberties. When no one complains, even in the face of obvious flouting of the constitution, then they take away a bit more. Soon we realize that our constitution is only a piece of paper when no one is left to defend it.

I will leave you with two quotes to think about.

The first is from the National Cohesision and Integration Act which makes it mandatory for the NCIC to publish any messages which they have investigated and found to constitute hate speech.

Article 26(2) In the discharge of its functions under this Act, the Commission—
(b) shall publish the names of persons or institutions whose words or conduct may undermine or have undermined or contributed towards undermining good ethnic relations, or who are involved in ethnic discrimination or the propagation of ethnic hate;

The second is from George Orwell’s 1984. Those who’ve read the book know that Big Brother is not some DSTV show but rather the embodiment of invasion of any semblance of privacy an individual can have to the point of invading the private thoughts of an individual.

"It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself--anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face...; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime..."