They say if you want your child to be bi-lingual, teach them a new language when they are still very young.
What most Kenyans don’t realize is a majority of them can speak three languages fluently, something that is not very common in the world…
I was just reading Dr. Ndemo’s blog post on ‘Why subsistence farming is the cause of all our trouble‘ and I am sure like myself, many of you have heard the talk around town about the average age of a farmer in Kenya being about 55 years.
For a long time, there have been discussions about why agriculture is not as sexy and why a lot of youth are not venturing into what would eventually fulfill vision2030′s economic pillar of Agriculture. Journalists are asking, leaders are asking, citizens are asking, WHY ISN’T AGRICULTURE SEXY FOR THE YOUTH?
The answer to this question is very simple and I am really surprised that maybe a lot of people, especially the policy makers cannot see this. AGRICULTURAL EDUCATION.
When I was in primary school, we used to study Agriculture as a mandatory subject all the way from class 1 to 8. We had small little gardens at the back of our classes and in my primary school (Nyamira DEB primary school) we had a bigger garden where senior students would plant some crops that at one closing day, all students in the school got two cobs of maize, some tomatoes and onions to take home. This not only helped the students learn how to take care of plantations but also taught them the importance of large scale farming and they could see hands on how land subdivision (that mostly leads to subsistence farming and land wastage) would affect crop production.
When I was in class 7, the government did away with a lot of subjects in the curriculum and sadly, including Agriculture. The government was determined to raise a whole generation of people who had no idea what Agriculture is about and in return, you have people who do not appreciate the importance of producing your own crops especially in this era of canned, processed and imported food. The impact of this move by the government meant that the only time kids had a chance to interact with farming/agricultural experience was for the lucky ones like me whose parents were farmers (or who grew up in the village ).
In secondary school, people did not choose the Agriculture option for the main reason that the career path was not clear especially since the government had done away with it in primary school and that it was messy. We did not appreciate where food came from. For the few (Maybe 10 in my entire form of about 400 students) who chose the subject, they did it because it was an easy ‘A’.
I read an article (cant seem to find it) about how Agriculture students in university are now leaning towards technology and building applications that include virtual farming and fruits without any actual implementation of the things they learn. In university now, the focus is on computer literacy and none on agricultural literacy.
Naivasha is famous for its flower farms that make Kenya one of the leading producer of flowers that are exported to the world. I have taken a tour in a few of the farms and i can promise you that they do not lie on hundreds of acres of lands. The greenhouses are pretty small but with good understanding and management, they are able to produce so much.
A lot of land that can potentially be used for large scale farming is now being subdivided and sold in 1/4 acres to the growing middle class. There came a hype of every ‘middle class’ person that had just bought land starting a green house for onions and tomatoes but that all got killed with the booming real estate move. People are not farming anymore, they are growing concrete on what could be crop farms. There is no regulation to building vs. farming lands.
We have a generation of people who have no understanding of what agriculture is, how food is produced and why it is important. This, to me, becomes like the question children like to innocently ask, “where do babies come from?” Soon enough you will hear something like “you guy, where does food come from?”
Large agricultural producers in the world like America, China, Brazil, Nigeria etc. teach Agriculture in their equivalent of primary school and need i stress again that these are leading producers?
In my opinion, for as long as we continue to ignore that educating children at a young age about agriculture and agricultural processes and sustainable food production methods, all we will end up with will be sexy applications with virtual fruits and messy food production that only the old people want to get into.
Agriculture is a science, that is a quick win to benefit all of us for a more sustainable future but the education system has decided to focus on the science of building rockets that can only take a few people to the moon and the future invasion of mars.
Dirt is good, no?
Someone will argue that I should be the last person writing against this new craze of the laptop policy proposed by president Kenyatta but hey, why not?
I am sure that a lot of thought has gone into considering the dynamics around this idea but just in case there hasn’t, here are my few ideas as to why the laptop policy might be a good but misplaced idea for now.
A couple of years ago, I ran a campaign for donating laptops to primary school children so yes, i have a pretty clear experience of how this does or does not work. Books2Schools.org was the initiative and for me, this was more of a volunteer idea not to raise any money but to ‘raise’ laptops and PCs for young kids. And the awareness of technology. The 1st deployment was very successful, I did this in my dad’s private school out in my village in Nyamira county and this yielded many positive results for him apart from the fact that he is now harboring the real bread of digital natives.
Given the success of the 1st venture, I had a supply of more computers from well wishers to deploy to two more schools in other regions in the country. I had a more rural focus. This is when I was faced by some of the challenges that people go through, what others would call, their bread and butter issues.
1. Electricity supply.
Most of the schools i approached openly told me that they could not afford electricity supply for the computer classes and that if i wanted to install the computers, i also had to pay for the energy supply to run them. Most other schools did not have any electricity at all.
Despite the great emergence up of computer training colleges in smaller towns, it is very difficult to find someone who is willing or has experience with teaching computer lessons for children using relevant content, programs and tools. The other day my friend Sandra and I attended a coding jam for kids in DC (coder dojo) where young children are taught how to develop computer games as a way of learning content creation and development. While I do not want to start comparing the American system to the Kenyan one, there is still great emphasis that needs to be placed at a higher level of training before 7 year olds can be given access to computers at such a short time span.
3. The curriculum
For a long time, i have had great issues with the Kenyan public schools education curriculum as is. The fact that great subjects like music, agriculture, arts were done away with at primary school is not only a clear indication of misplaced priorities but also on opportunities we are missing out on and the history that we are eroding. Does your child know what nyatiti or ekonu is? Giving kids laptops might be a fancy thing to do but not the necessary thing.
4. Build more LIBRARIES
At that level, I would propose more on spending the investment to build computer labs and LIBRARIES in each school. How can we expose our children to computers when they clearly cannot even read? (I was a teacher at age 17 (not too long ago) in a primary school and I saw all these challenges). We’ve got to start with the basics. In my dad’s school, we build both a computer lab and a library. The different classes alternate in accessing these facilities and this way everyone gets a chance to not only learn how to read but also implementing the knowledge.
There used to be district libraries when I was growing up (even in the village) but on my last visit to these facilities, they no longer exist! Children need a foundation of book reading before they can be exposed to technology. They have to have a clear understanding of what they are doing and not doing it for the hype of it.
I would propose strongly three things:
-Build computer labs in all high schools and make computer studies a mandatory subject for all form 1 and 2 and an elective at forms 3 &4 just like home science
-At primary school level, build libraries with real books that all children can have access to. This will build not only the capabilities of the children’s content consumption but creation. This also levels the ground for those with or without electricity. If there is more money left over, instead of one computer per child, build computer labs with 100 computers per school. Of cause depending on ratios.
-At primary school, have the curriculum focus more on other areas of study not just on science as it is right now. Very expensive schools (including international schools where most of the politician’s children go) focus on arts and music as much as they do on literature and science. The poorer children are only exposed to sciences that they might not only not have the right resources to study for it but also lack the infrastructure to implement it. This is not good for our economy, we shall never grow if only a few people can effectively contribute to nation building. The future of our country is defined by vision 2030 and there is a pillar that we should be able to feed ourselves in the future. But how can we feed ourselves if agriculture as an idea is not given the importance that it should at a very young age?
Technology is important, no doubt (I am one of its greatest beneficiaries), but there are many more indicators that we need to take into consideration for a better and greater future.
There are many ways to start a blog and today I find out if this is one of those ways. I guess I have seen what I am about to talk about without much notice as to the kind of way I looked at it in my past few days in Nairobi after a week long business trip. This is all supported by data collected over years.
These are lessons contributed to by a few of my hops around the world, meeting and observing people from around the world and trying to compare this to Kenya/Kenyans.
For years we have been complaining about why the traffic cops don’t let the traffic lights play their role. Causing too much traffic, inconvenience and all. Cops have started to be more equal to traffic lights, they are the ultimate source of guidance on the roads and we know how that can be. At times it goes very well. A few times I have complained about why pedestrians never use the traffic lights to guide their movements on the road or use the designated zebra crossing areas, well, my guess is, the pedestrian is slowly starting to become equal to the motorist. A friend once told me while abroad where we very carefully followed all the traffic rules and I had mentioned that when I got back home I was going to do the same because otherwise this was pretense and she said, “back home, if you try to follow traffic rules, you will be killed in minutes. You have to learn to compete with the cars.”
It is really annoying to be driving right behind someone walking and talking on the phone on the main street and still get the look that you, the driver, should be a little more considerate. You both share and enjoy the right to use the roads after all!
For a long time, women did not drive cars; leave alone the bigger cars that you see on the roads now driven by women and the smaller ones driven by men. Kenya has been able to catch up on the equality of allowing women to make their own decisions on the kinds of cars they buy and drive. The middle class is after all rising and unlike other countries like Saudi Arabia that have banned women from driving cars, I don’t think Kenya has ever had any restrictions. We are seeing an increasing number of women joining motocross and safari rally teams and favorably competing.
Although the outcome of the just concluded March 4th 2013 Kenya General Elections is nothing to go by, we have seen women and more young people actively involved in politics and decision making. The incoming groups of representatives and the constitution have ensured that affirmative action is upheld and that there is equal representation on the table in terms of gender. Although the constitution does not explicitly favor people of a certain age, Kenyans have ensured that the incoming government is filled with young folks, not just in terms of the experience but age as well. Looking at it seriously, this has ensured that the people sitting at the table represent three important groups; Male, Female and Youths.
It is just up to a few years ago that women were allowed to vote! Well you might think that this is unique to Kenya while in fact, most western countries had laws that banned women from voting. Now our women can not only vote but also rise to ask for leadership positions. Now we have all heard of counties where women are killed for asking for leadership positions.
I am not talking about twitter, facebook and all the fancies… but lets talk about that too. Looking at how people in Kenya are being socialized now, there is more representation of everyone. On social media, there are just as many women as there are men; many young people as there are old.
Access to infrastructure and social structures is well distributed to the poor as it is distributed to the rich. One gets to enjoy the same music at Njugunas as they would at K1 as they would at Brew Bistro as they would at Karumaindo. Location, location, location. We get to enjoy the same beer (taste, quantity, quality) no matter where they are in the country, it is just a matter of how much you are willing to pay.
Java, Art cafe and Dormans are no longer for the expatriates; Nakumatt has been rated as one of the cheaper supermarkets, Mr. price is no longer for the classy, blankets and wine is slowly starting to whiteness a new kind of crowd compared to the time they opened shop. The diversity gap is fast closing with its graph is fast rising and becoming steeper. A CEO of a top company gets to enjoy the same kind of entertainment and mingle his/her intern enjoys all at own cost, gender and age not withstanding
Perhaps this is the one topic I am too passionate about. Too often, you have to make your way across a crowd or into the lift, bus, car etc. In many other places, women and children are given the priority to go first with people/men as much as giving them a little more space to do so. “Here miss, after you.” Now, when was the last time you heard that? It is survival for the fittest. Words like excuse me, I am sorry, pardon me have remained for a long time exactly where we heard them, in an English class somewhere in primary school!
We have come past the age of a man pulling your chair, paying your bills after a meal on a date, opening your door. In fact, I don’t think we ever got to that age at all. Division of labor in Kenya is at 50/50. Its give and take, really!
You get the picture; I don’t want to paint it any worse. After all, women did ask for equality right? Well looks like the delivery is well in full measure.
If the next few words don’t align with what you think, keep on reading anyway. I liked Charles Onyango Obbo’s article on Men’s Shits and Women in politics. In of his most interesting ways of articulating this argument, he spoke about men’s shirts that used to have pockets where there was always a pen hanging from it and how “The pen was the ultimate symbol of male power and badge of gender inequality.” Now, men don’t wear pocketed shirts.
What happened to the men, who wore suits and ties and cut their own nails, did their own shoes. Men with a clean cut on their heads (or ok, locks or an afro are allowed) with designated barber shops where they only discussed men discussions.
I am constantly under the pressure of getting my nails manicured especially when attending boardroom meetings because all you see from side to side are shiny nails of men discussing business. Worse is when I have to queue in line to get my nails done, after a man. Now, you can call me traditional, or backwards but I guess it’s a matter of taste; whatever happened to the ruggedly handsome men of my father’s generation? Oh wait, that is right, of my father’s generation.
This is no attack; women have also declined their responsibility of looking good. Yes, I tend to think that someone charged us with that responsibility. Well I guess it’s the plight of multitasking and having too much to do but well I believe we can get the same kind of manicure (maybe a little less) for a cheaper price.
At times I get mixed feelings when I see a man’s eyebrows well done but then I guess, someone has to take one for the team!
Don’t get me wrong; I have no objection for men looking good, in fact I am a big advocate. We all now wear skinny jeans and floral pants. We have equal opportunities in changing our child’s diaper and walking the dog. Hell we now drive the same cars.
Toi Market is not just for the poor but for the rich too. If you have gone down there you also realize that its also a heaven for the expatriates and foreigners. Men and Women alike. You have often people say that “I dont want to be seen wearing the same clothes as someone else hence my choice for second hand clothes.” And as the prices at Toi keep increasing, now this has made its legitimacy even stronger. This is the real deal.
Are you ready for the journey towards equality?
We have about 14 days to the close of the voter registration process in Kenya and there have been (or not) campaigns for people to go out and vote.
Most interestingly is the idea of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IEBC sending out text messages to people to go out and vote. Initially, this was very impressive (well still is) and yes I have already registered,
but i wish that this SMS campaign was taken to another level and made even better.
I was having a discussion with my good friend Eddy talking about the state of politics, I realized that he had also received the same SMS I got, he is dutch.
This got me thinking, so maybe even minors with mobile phones got this message even when its not relevant to them. An interesting idea was this picture shared on twitter by Mac Jordan showing that minors have been registered to vote in Ghana’s upcoming elections.
I think that IEBC went to the network providers (Safaricom to be specific as no other network service users received the text) and got a list of all the users and sent them a spam SMS.
Here is how i think they could have done it better:
SELECT * FROM contacts WHERE age >=18 AND nationality = “kenyan”
And that my friends is what i call the lack of targeted marketing and analytics at the highest level.
Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas! Well this is in case i forget to officially wish you one in 24 days. Happy December.
Over the years, December has been known to have the greatest number of traffic accidents in the country. Being the Christmas season, this is the time the police department spends and engages on awareness campaigns of staying safe on the roads over this festive season.
We all know about the looming public transport (matatu) strike and the new traffic rules but can we learn something?
In the next couple of weeks I will take some time to digitize and visualize some data from the statistical abstract sold 2011 by KNBS (digital copy available here) to tell stories that matter.
Persons killed and injured:
Vehicles primarily responsible:
Persons primarily responsible:
Times of accidents:
Well, there you have it folks, lets stay safe this festive season now shall we?
Once again I will say that i have been extremely lucky to be the one driving the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) at the Kenya ICT Board but note that this post contains my own views.
Having to deal with the project every single day and putting my all (i mean my 9-5) in it, i have realized that there are a lot of things that people do not appreciate about the ideas of this project.
We all wish that things would run smoothly, that i would have all the data that is required, that developers would spend a lot of time and resources in developing applications using the data and that they will make a lot of money and live happy ever after and that most importantly the common citizen would be informed like yesterday about the existence of this portal and that they would use the data available to hold their leaders accountable and to make informed decisions.
Friends, I really wish that this was true. Its not and below, i will carefully list why with hopes that this post will make things clear and that it wont be so long!
Lack of Legislation.
Now, don’t we all wish we had the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act? With this kind of legislation in place, it would be illegal for government institutions to hide information from citizens as is the case right now. In my opinion, matters like access to information should be inborn within people so that they know the importance of releasing information without any legal bounds. But due to the lack of this, there is a proposed FOI bill (Whose analysis by Article 19 can be found HERE) but since this is not a law yet, there is nothing that binds any civil servant to freely and actively provide information. Article 35 of the Kenyan Constitution states that every Kenyan citizen has a right to information but the process of getting that information is still long, painful and costly.
Lack of an informed citizenry
I guess most of us know about the laws of demand and supply.
The kenyan citizen in general is less informed about their right of information. Someone would argue that the average Kenyan is more concerned about matters of food, education for their children, rent and livelyhood to care about their right to have access to information.
People tend to forget that it is from this information that people would better make decisions about their life and income and development. For a very long time we have operated our lives according to the status quo and not on actual facts and figures. For this reason, it has made it extremely difficult to state our case when requesting for data because the supply questions the demand side of that data. Its great that a few #KOT are talking about open data, big data, analytics etc but the majority of people on the ground have no idea.
The myth that the available information is useless
Very often when i try to convince developers and private sector to use information available on opendata.go.ke they state that that information is too out of date and that they want breaking news. One thing that people do not understand is the process of carrying out government statistics, from data collection to verification, to validation to actual dissemination. Most of the data that is up on the portal is the most up to date data from particular government agencies for example. Some of the data collection processes to release take months or even years.
Its always amusing to me when i see researchers abroad using KODI to do their research, write their thesis and get actual benefits while our own people only keep complaining about the idea of open data.
The money is not clear. Where is the money?
I often say, open data, just like technology are value adding services and that on their own, they might not make much sense.
Now this is one of the biggest problems in regards to KODI, when trying to convince people to use the data. One thing that i have found out is that the small folks are having a hard time making money out of open data inventions because they plainly use KODI as the single source of idea while bigger players have found a way of mashing up data from KODI with other sources to create a better resource channel and trust me, there are people making serious money out of the use of KODI as a value adding service. A visit to THIS page of community apps should tell you who i am talking about..
Lack of efficient structures within government
The Kenyan government is still very paper based. Walk into most of the offices and you will realize a lot of people have computers but are still hard at work on their black cover books and paper forms. Most of this information is never digitized and if it is, its at a very slow rate. I earlier wrote about the Kenyatta National hospital still being very undigital and that they destroy medical records every five years. This is the case in most GoK departments. The slow digitizing rates mean that:
- its very hard to get very up to date information
- its very difficult to access any information at all
These are but a few of the reasons why the Kenya Open Data Initiative has takes so damn long to pick but trust me this does not mean that nothing at all is happening as a lot of media folks have tended to insinuate lately. Kenya Open Data might be facing these difficulties but by the fact that a lot of people are now talking about the idea, considering the idea, supporting the idea or even criticizing the idea means that there is a clear view of the importance of this initiative.
Open Data is not a perfect solution but work in progress, no matter where you are that without support from:
- public sector
- private sector
- civil society
will never head anywhere. So lets support Kenya Open Data Initiative, shall we?
Greetings from a very lovely and busy Lagos, Nigeria! It is another year of the amazing Maker Faire Africa where we are always identifying and celebrating African Ingenuity.
Over the past few weeks I have had lots of conversations with different groups of people including my amazing friend Henry Barnor on the state of Open Data in Africa and what that really means. We all know that the Kenyan Government officially launched its Open Data Initiative 8th July 2011 and since then there has been a lot of acclamation, criticism, no comment and even recommendations from around the world on how we can make the idea better.
One of the greatest request that has come up has been the fact that the data that is available is not real time and that, that is what is preventing people from using open data. Some people want to know what happened yesterday, what is happening now and what is about to happen. A lot of us don’t wanna know what happened three years ago and how probably that led to what will happen tomorrow.
Now; there are a few problems with this wish that people have not realized:
- Some of the government data is out of date because that is the most recent statistic. An example here is the census data. This is a statistic that is carried out every 10 years. This means that other agencies have to come in to help provide data that can be used in real time to show the increase or decrease in population.
- The lack of legislation has let to a lot of government organizations still working in Silos and not wanting to provide data. The Freedom of Information Bill is under reviews and if this bill was to be enacted, then life in data supply would be much easier.
- The previous point said and done, we also have to take note that most government agencies are not yet digital! A lot of websites still don’t work or display up to date data, most are still paper based and for this reason, mining and disseminating this information has become very hard.
- There is still the Data Hugging Syndrome, where a lot of people are still very inclined against sharing data with others, in the fear that this data might be used against them.
The above four points and just some of the many reasons why it might be hard for the Kenya Open Data Initiative to compete with for example the World Bank’s Open Data. This is still work in progress.
But with the above said, my focus on open data has seized to lie very much on the data data release and supply. There is already about five hundred data sets on the open data portal that not a lot of people have really started to use! We could have 7000 or 100,000 datasets on the portal but if no one is using them, whats the point? I truly believe that not all the datasets on the portal are bad. I mean, I know most are out of data, but I also know that most could be very useful to a lot of people.
I like to say that Open Data, just like technology is a value adding service and unless we find ways of merging data from government with other sources of data and other services and ideas, what we can do with the data will always be very limited. The surprising part is the fact that a lot of us were willing to pay for data when it was not open but now that we have freely available data, we are still focusing on data that is still on sale and hard to get to.
Then there is analysis that needs to happen. This is the true step after opening up data. I am fine with merging data and analyzing it but then again, this is only one step in the process, the analysis represents what I think should be happening. There are various other stakeholders who need to also get involved in this analysis and who also need to be engaged for us to get an all rounded analytics process. Now this is a process for all data that is released, not just the Kenyan story.
Now, please feel free to get in touch on what you think could/should change about Open Data to make it better and most importantly to HAVE YOU a lot more engaged. Remember, this is a partnership with all stakeholders and not just a government initiative.
Open Data is work in progress that without input from the common citizen like you, will never move in the direction we want it to!
In a few weeks, the Kenyan Media will be holding the first ever presidential aspirants debate. To support the process, (since i wasnt invited to moderate )I have developed a few visuals that compare the various candidates (yes, all 9 of them) on matters of: Age, Years served in Parliament, Public office Positions held, Education, Integrity cases, Appearances in Parliament, Tax status and CDF projects that have been fully completed between 2003-2010.
Please note that some of the aspirants have not been members of parliament like Prof. Ole Kiyapi and some did not make it to the present parliament like Raphael Tuju. All in all, some of the other indicators still give them a fair trial depending on what you are looking for.
Please note that all the data presented has been sourced from various online channels and media. There might be a slight margin of error (such is for most scientific findings )
The outcome of the data mining is AVAILABLE HERE.
CDF Projects done to completion 2003-2010
Age of aspirant against number of years served in government and number of public office positions held.
Integrity cases while in office
Aspirants either paying or not paying taxes