Monday, 26 January 2015

Press Release: Twitter introduces “While you were away” feature on your timeline

Nairobi, Kenya:  January 23nd, 2015: Twitter, has unveiled a new feature that will enable its users have a recap of what they may have missed while they were away.

With the “While you were away” feature, Twitter users will be able to see a recap of some the top Tweets they may probably have missed from the key accounts they follow while they were on the go.

To fill in some of those gaps, Twitter is surfacing a few of the best Tweets users probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise, determined by engagement and other factors. If a user checks in on Twitter now for a quick snapshot of what’s happening, they will see this recap more often; if they spend a lot of time on Twitter already, they will see it less.   

The goal of this feature is to help users keep up with their world, no matter how much time they spend on Twitter. Recaps, marked with a “While you were away” heading, will begin to appear for all Twitter for iOS users today, and on our Android app and twitter.com soon.

Recently, Twitter partnered with online reservation portal Eatout to promote the Nairobi Restaurant week by providing training to all restaurants participating in the festival which runs for ten days.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The bitter story of the downfall of Mumias Sugar company

A spoonful of sugar, but for who? (Image: Carol Wallis on Flickr)
Have you heard the bitter story of Mumias Sugar?

Regarded by many as Kenya's most successful sugar miller, Mumias Sugar Company was a disaster waiting to happen.

Many pointed out how Mumias Sugar Company was a fortress in the wreck that is Kenya's sugar industry, only unaware that it was just a matter of time. As the old wise men said, "Ukiona cha mwenzako cha nyolewa, tia chako maji".

The proverb means that if you see your neighbour's head getting shaved, your head will soon be undergoing the same - you'd therefore better wet your head for a smoother shave, otherwise you will be forced to undergo a painful, dry, shave.

But what ails Kenya's sugar industry?

The Kenya sugar industry is under legal siege. The typical Kenyan issue of coming up with laws to tackle a problem is evident here.

Many of Kenya's sugar factories are owned by the government, and have slowly declined under mismanagement and corruption. The appointing of political cronies and tribal management to such firms means that unqualified people are appointed to lead these firms. The same management can hardly resist dipping their fingers in the sugar jar, and end up slowly eating the factories to a level where they can't operate, or if they can operate, do so at very high costs.

Elsewhere, sugar industries in other places are owned by business people who take good care of them, only eating profits. To increase the profits, sugar factories in other countries are run at lower costs, and at a higher efficiency, that maximises on costs while also trying to keep their product as affordable as possible in a bid to fight off competitors.

This has eventually resulted in a situation where you could somehow convince a Portuguese speaking Brazilian to sell you sugar, in your mother-tongue-afflicted Engrish.

You then board the sugar on a ship, where it will spent 6 months in the high seas, and another month or so in the inefficient port of Mombasa. It then gets loaded onto a truck to Nairobi, in what is a proportionally costly.

On getting to Nairobi, Kenyans will still find your sugar cheaper than sugar from Kenya's sugar belt, just a few hours away from Nairobi.

When the bitter truth of this dawned on us, our hapless farmers cried foul, and our politicians reactively ground into gear. With everyone keen on keeping on eating, a familiar "win-win" solution was found. We would come up with a law banning or limiting the importation of sugar, to protect "our farmers" and tax payer factories.

Genius, right?

Wrong. In Kenya, laws are for the poor, the rich consider laws as merely a suggestion that they may choose to uphold or ignore.

As the inefficient cost of Kenya's sugar production went up and up, the difference in price of Kenyan produced sugar and that of imported sugar grew.  The chaps who drive dark tinted big cars figured that if they could somehow import sugar into the Kenyan market, and sold it at the Kenyan price, you could double your money faster than a prophet could by promising to act as a godly middleman.

Meanwhile, Alshabaab, all the way in Somalia, figured out that if they could import sugar and sell it in Kenya, they could easily fund their war on Kenyans. In Kenya, they found a ready market in businessmen who find sugar a fast means to riches.

The government agencies meant to uphold the ban on imported sugar were nowhere to be seen. They had taken shelter from the money that was raining on them as bribes. After all, if someone slaps you on the cheek, with a bribe, you offer them the other cheek....

It did not stop here. Those appointed to run our sugar factories found that they if they imported sugar and repackaged it as local sugar, they would need to stay up all night just counting all the money that came in.

Thus, a law to protect Kenya's sugar industry has only resulted to helpless Kenyans being forced to pay double what they should for sugar. The poor farmers who were to be protected by the laws are now owed billions by sugar factories. Kenyans are still being asked to fork billions to bail out these sugar factories, in readiness for their next, inevitable cycle of collapse.

Furthermore, Kenya, being part of  COMESA, is bound to allow neighbouring countries to sell their sugar in Kenya. However, Kenya has perpetually requested for the extension of the deadline, year in, year out, under the guise of putting our sugar industry in order.

A man finds himself in a dessert, with neither water, nor food, stranded with all his belongings. Luckily, the man is found by a helicopter, which could rescue him, but the man has to leave his belongings in the desert. The man argues that he can't leave his belongings since he will be left poor.  The helicopter leaves, and the man gets lost further in the desert. Another helicopter comes, and another, but the man is still not ready to abandon his belongings. This man is Kenya.

It's time Kenya's government left the sugar industry to private sugar companies, like West Sugar Company (Kabras), and allows other companies or individuals to take over the failing sugar factories. Laws protecting the sugar industry should also be done away with, alongside those that determine how and who can run a sugar factory.

The laws just but a flimsy hatch trying to stop a barraging flood of cheap sugar from everywhere else other than Kenya. The only beneficiaries are the crafty and powerful business men, who are eating on our behalf.

As if we have learned no lessons, the same mess is set to repeat itself in the maize industry, where the government is setting up flour milling industries to "protect consumers". Importation of maize is also banned to "protect farmers", and government owned National Cereals and Produce Board who is a major buyer of maize, is now to become a miller. De ja vu, you have heard something similar before, haven't you?

As is said, history is bound to repeat itself for those who fail to learn from it.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Can we solve the KCPE problem by abolishing ranking?

If every time you measure something, a problem is revealed
you can solve that problem by stopping the measuring,
like a Kenyan
The Kenya Certificate of Primary Education results are out. For the first time in the history of KCPE, we will not rank schools. It demeans children and forever scars them when we make them compete against each other, or so we think.

The purpose of an education is to impart knowledge, rather than rank small children.

As usual, we are missing the point, or as I happened to be taught, missing the forest for the trees. Why?

Well, I'll agree with you that perhaps we should not rank children, as this may not serve a lot of purpose, besides that of blowing horns, or as some people said, tossing our children around like potatoes.

It should not escape us though, that even with no outright ranking, KCPE candidates will still be ranked, like Kenyan coffee. The top performers will go to the good schools, the national and provincial schools. At the bottom, the "poor performers", about 200,000 of the 800,000 who sat for KCPE, will be discarded as waste. That's our Kenyan system as it is today.

So while we don't officially rank students, we still do so eventually. We can only escape this by building enough secondary schools to absorb all KCPE candidates, and by ensuring they are not just schools, but they equally have access to teachers, teaching materials and especially well stocked laboratories.



Back from digressing, to the ranking of primary schools.

Without ranking primary schools, the public has no measure of how these schools perform.

Previously, good performing private-run schools have been rewarded by parents who flock to these schools, ready to pay top dollar (cliche) to enroll their students in these schools. Such schools also game the system by having two exam centres, with poor performing students enrolled in different exam centres, so as not to lower the mean of the top performing school.

I went to one such "academy". Some of my classmates sat for their  their KCPE in a nearby government run school. Some parents took matters into their own hands. They registered their average performing students in neighbouring administrative districts. See, Nyandarua district (now county) has a high number of good performing private and government schools.

Secondary schools use a quota system to enrol students. The best secondary schools pick the best students from each district, like cherry picking coffee berries. Once they have had their fill, they allow those under them to take their pick, and on and on.

The less desirable a school is, the lesser performing a lot it has to pick from.

So to increase the chance of your child going to a good school, let them sit for KCPE in the neighbouring, less competitive Samburu district or Laikipia district.

Sorry, I digressed again. Being a great tour guide, I have to take you round the mountain before bringing you to the peak.

Without a way of measuring how schools perform, we cannot see the underperforming schools. If we cannot tell which schools underperform, we have a lesser incentive of fixing or questioning the underperformance.

The Ministry of Education can still compare and rank schools to see such patterns, however, it is no longer under pressure from the public.

To the public, it is no longer outright evident, for example, that private run schools are outperforming public ones, or that schools in Wajir are being outranked by schools from Nyandarua. The government is under less pressure to even  out the quality of education, such that even if we did rank schools, the difference in performance is unlike the current one of day and night.

By abolishing ranking, we are simply sweeping dirt under the few carpets we own.

Furthermore, the incentives to rank schools are still there, seeing that parents will be rewarded by taking their children to better performing schools.

See the problem? Great, now turn till you no longer see the problem. See, the problem has now gone away by itself, or so, we lie to ourselves.

If the rewards are high, or restricted to a few, people will always game the system. It's human nature. Guarantee every Kenyan student proper education to university, and perhaps people will no longer be interested in which school ranked first.







Sunday, 28 December 2014

Kenya, regulated oil prices, taxing keg, and the laws of unintended consequences

Laws to stop Kenyans from being exploited have instead entrenched the
exploitation in law. Image - oilnewskenya.com
Kenyans love laws. The unmistakable belief that a law will make certain undesirable habits change because of the consequences of breaking such laws is common here. It is however lost on these Kenyans that even they themselves break many laws, with abandon.

Therefore, new laws will not make people change their habits for the better, but will instead make people adopt their behaviour to account for the law, hence creating some other unintended consequence most of the time.

A law meant to make oil cheaper for Kenyans made it more expensive  

Take, for example, the laws that regulate the price of oil - petrol and diesel - in Kenya. A few years ago, at some point, politicians felt that the price of oil in Kenya was too high on fumes, and that the citizen was being "exploited" by oil companies.

The politicians even went ahead and decided that it was not only the oil companies that were fleecing Kenyans, but many other manufacturers were also selling their items at too high a price for the "mwananchi". The mananchi, for strange reasons, is always stuck in poverty and appears to struggle to afford most needs.

For some reason, it did not hit the politician's minds that all these prices they were complaining about, all existed in a free market. Sellers were free to set their own prices and buyers were free to buy at prices they felt deserving.

If prices were high across the board, and people were still buying, then probably it had nothing to do with the sellers.

But then, there's what I call the carpenter's problem. A carpenter will tend to assume that most problems, including those not involving pieces of timber, can be solved by hammering at them. We all do it, starting from when we are children and all problems are solved by a well of tears.

Equivalently, a Member of Parliament makes laws, and tends to think that all problems can somehow be solved by making laws that address the problem.

So Kenya's parliament tried to address the problem of high prices by threatening to make laws that would set low prices, for the mwananchi.

This leads us to problem #2. Kenyans do not read, or research their problems. Going to school to get a certificate that makes us more competitive in jobs, is often mistaken for reading and knowledge.

It thus escaped these MPs that price control laws have a long history of never working, be it in Russia, or the United States of America.

The MPs thus passed a law that regulated the price of oil, and appeared to work for the Mwananchi just after it was passed. However, the price did not reduce as much, and remained around KSh. 110, which was where the global prices were.

Fast forward to 2014 where global prices, almost halved, dropping by about 40 percent. Back in Kenya, prices have remained above KSh. 100, with excuses being given as to why Kenyans are not enjoying oil at between KSh. 60 to a maximum KSh. 90. One hilarious excuse was that oil Kenyan imports is a special kind of oil.


As the overzealous MPs had been warned before, price regulation does not work. Their intent to control oil prices now mean that Kenyans pay some of the highest prices for oil in the world. A catastrophic failure for using the wrong tool for the wrong job.

It would have been better to increase competition by encouraging new oil market players, rather than by controlling prices.

The Government's of Kenya ill fated attempt to drink from the Keg

In the US, tax has remained at the same level compared
to the size of the economy, even as the government played
around with income taxes. The best way to raise taxes
is thus to grow the economy as shown here.

Culprit number 2 is the Government of Kenya (GoK), same culprit as above, but a different arm of it.

Always after higher taxes, GoK decided that alcohol is a good target, since people will always drink, and alcohol is seen as a societal evil, which needs to be punished kidogo.

GoK thus decided to tax keg, a popular alcohol packed in large "kegs", dispensed into jugs, and that retailed at between KSh. 25 to Ksh. 30.

By increasing tax on the popular drink, GoK would quickly raise, even double or triple taxes collected from these evil drinkers, which would go to development.

Genius move, right?

Wrong. With Keg prices up to KSh. 60, the target market could no longer afford the drink. They instead went back to drinking illicit changaa ,for which taxes are not paid, and which sometimes leads to death due to use of wrong ingredients.

Many of these legal Keg joints had to shut down as GoK's
attempt to increase taxes failed.
20,000 farmers also saw their livelihood go up in taxes
The market for Keg disappeared overnight, and the manufacturer ceased producing the drink due to low demand.

The result? Instead of doubling taxes collected, GoK collected nothing, and the few taxes which were being collected from the brewer, were lost. Jobs contributing to the economy were also lost.

20,000 sorghum farmers were left looking for an alternate source of income. 

Yet another, catastrophic move from the Government of Kenya.

What is even more of a catastrophe, is not my overuse of catastrophe, but that Kenyans still anticipate new laws will solve their problems, and demand a law for every problem.


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship 2015 Europe, the Middle East and Africa


Dr. Anita Borg (1949-2003) devoted her adult life to revolutionizing the way we think about technology by dismantling barriers that keep women and minorities from entering computing and technology fields. In honor of her vision, Google is proud to announce the Google EMEA Anita Borg Memorial scholarship, which awards a group of female students a € 7,000 scholarship for the 2015-2016 academic year. All recipients will also be invited to attend a networking retreat.

Deadline to apply: February 2, 2015

To be eligible to apply, applicants must:
• Be a female student enrolled in a Bachelor's, Master's or PhD program for the 2015/2016 academic year
• Be enrolled at a university in Europe, the Middle East or Africa
• Be studying Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Informatics or a closely related technical field

For full details, please visit us at: www.google.com/anitaborg/emea/

P.S Students can find tools online to allow them to convert their scores to GRE. 

http://www.foreigncredits.com/Resources/Grade-Conversion/