Saturday, 20 April 2013
Based on a story so true you wouldn't need a confession.
I couldn't believe I had been a loyal customer paying for such badly made food
The aroma of my colleague's food wafted across the desk. Despite the growing hunger pangs, my ego would not allow me to borrow even the tiniest morsel. After all, haven't I been the one who has reinforced the habit of not offering anyone my almost-daily packed breakfast, or the occasional packed lunch. My argument has been that lunch, and breakfast, occur on a daily basis. anyone can therefore easily and accurate predict the occurrence of lunch and breakfast and they should therefore plan and prepare for the same. People should not get shocked when lunch approaches and they have no idea where to get food.
You do see, our office is on the edge of Karura Forest - if you need lunch, you need to spend at least KSh. 20 to go find lunch and the same to return to the office via a matatu. The spending is not the problem. After all, we are a generation fixated on consumption, we buy lots of services and goods we hardly need, and often on money we don't have. The problem is the effort needed to acquire a meal, which sees you opting to forego the meal. It would take lots of inspiration from a Barrack Obama speech before you overcame the laziness needed to go find a meal.
Hunger wasn't the only thing I was feeling on the fateful Friday. I was also feeling cold, probably the first time since October last year. Being a day of many firsts, I had also accidentally left my sweater in the house, after emptying and repacking my bag, leaving my sweater out on the untidy couch. For the last three months that it has been too hot to wear my sweater, I have been faithfully carrying it in my bag. But not that fateful Friday.
On my way home, my brain went over the crucial decision on what to have for supper. I was feeling too lazy to cook. I doubt Obama would have inspired me here. Would it be the fries from the retired lady down the road - the ones that were specially dried, the way I liked them? To get the chips, you had to knock on the counter, and many a time wait for what seemed a hungry eternity before you had the tug of slippers. The bespectacled lady would then appear, with her wavy black weave that hid the true greying age of her hair, her oversize jumper and pyjama pants.
Just like her appearance, the conversation that followed was routine:
"Mzuri," she would answer.
But maybe I should settle for the the saucy "beef fry" from the neighbouring estate butchery. The beef was a thick gravy of meat stewed in tomatoes, well salted and simmered. It was aslo well priced at KSh. 160 with a manly serving of ugali. Not the ugali they serve you in upmarket establishments - a soft lump shaped from a malnourished bowl, and with a price tag that scares away your hunger .
Maybe I should buy those sweet chapatis from the neighbourhood food joint. They are the kind chapatis that command your undying loyalty to the food joint. They are so well made that you wonder why the Kenya Bureau of Standard is yet to award them with the Diamond Mark of Quality.
I had had the chips yesterday. Today would be too much starch for two days in a row. Coupled with all the hours spend behind this laptop, it would make the dreaded heart attack arrive faster,
The butchery was too far, being in the next estate. It was already eight p.m., plus I hard work to do. The bar the butchery serves you from is always too tempting for a sugar-free WhiteCap , or two. Again, the maize flour they make the ugali isn't Jogoo. Too much education has made me scared that they are testing genetically modified maize on us.
You can't blame me for my fears. The newspapers have reported genetically modified maize arriving in the shiploads at the Mombasa port, to alleviate our regular bouts of famine. They never report which famished people the maize ends up in. They put a little bit insecticide in the maize seeds. It blows out the stomachs of any pesky pests. Studies have shown it's safe in the lab. They haven't carried out studies on human beings.
Let me try the chapatis. But what shall I have them with. Perhaps the beans or ndengu from the other remaining food joint. Food joints are good business, but managing them is a task, especially with dishonest employees. Honest employees might have missed out when culinary talents were being dished out. The third joint no longer served hot meals for bachelors. The owner was now selling hot handbags and high-heeled shoes for spinsters. I wonder if they sell like hot cakes.
I got the chapatis. Five for good measure. Some would be lucky enough to make it through the night, but not past breakfast. They came in their creamy brown colour, and hot in the black polythene.
I crossed over to the bean shop, through a path that was almost disappearing in between the over grown grass. The grass went a little above my knees, and was wet with the day's rain. I wondered if snakes might lurk in the grass, but my hunger provided more than enough courage for me to soldier on with cautious, long hops.
As fate would have it, there was only one cold cup of fried beans left, not enough for the hot one and a half cups I needed. One was better than none. But the beans would need warming, which wasn't usually required on other days as you would find them warm and ready.
In the house, I decided to warm the beans. I also added a little water, to add some soup and lessen the burden on my stomach. Not that the stomach normally complained. It had made it through a number of vibandas, and the weevil strewn githeri in high school. The githeri also had enough rocks to see our physical geography classes make it to post-lunch conversation.
As the beans got warmer, first a yellow layer of some oil floated above the water, followed by the familiar smell of boiling beans. I figured out it was probably a small hitch. It wasn't. A single spoonful brought the horrible taste of un-fried beans. It was unpalatable.
That's when I poured them down the toilet bowl.
I then got the frozen beans. I had been feeling too lazy to fry and simmer the pressure cooked beans I kept in the freezer. The crappy beans gave me a zeal to prove that bean stew did not have to be half a trip to hell.
In no time, the onions were cut. In quick succession, the green bell pepper, the tomato and the carrot went under the knife, and were soon simmering in a thick paste. The beans joined them shortly, and it wasn't long before I had red simmering bean stock .
The little effort taken made me wonder why I had been so lazy in the beginning. Two and a half chapatis later, I couldn't help feeling that maybe I had had one too many chapatis. Not that my friend hadn't warned me that three was too many for a man, but who was I to take free advice?
The remaining half confirmed that I had accidentally over eaten, yet again. It must have been the sweet beans. I couldn't stop myself from having more of the beans and chapatis, till I had overeaten. And to remember I could have settled for less.
Friday, 5 April 2013
|Well, not only their fathers. Their banks might also be left with some explanation in case one|
turned up as the other.
As usual, it is an insider job - not surprising seeing that many crimes usually involve insiders, plus crime seems to be quite a widespread problem in Kenya, including the less mentioned but high occurrence blue collar crime.
What happens in bank fraud is that bank staff identify a number of potential target accounts. Such accounts will normally have more than KSh. 100,000 in deposits. They then print a statement of the account, the owners photo and the owner's signature.
The then go to cartels who they work with, and issue them the three items - statement, photo and signature. The cartel then looks amongst themselves, of also amongst people, for a person who somehow resembles one of the account owners. Once a person is identified and is ready to take part in the "business", they are then coached on the bank statement. They are also coached on the owner's signature, and practice till they have something close.
The fraudster then walks into a bank branch and asks to withdraw, say KSh. 200,000. The signature they give might be a little different from the account owners, but most of us have inconsistent signatures. Bank staff will normally allow you to carry out a transaction with a signature close to that in the file for this matter.
For the withdrawal, the cashier will normally approach the bank manager to approve the withdrawals as it will be above their standard limit. The bank manager might approve, and this is where the two end up becoming liable to the transaction once the fraudster withdraws the cash.
The issue will crop up later when the actual account owner raises a complaint on the fraudulent withdrawal. Sometimes, such fraudulent withdrawals are usually targeted at dormant bank accounts where the owner has not interacted with the account for a while.
For banks, I believe that technology can come in handy in sorting such issues. An audit system should track all actions that involve a bank account. Audit logs on an account hit by fraud should be combed through and should reveal issues such as which bank staff accessed the details and even who printed out details. A red flag should be raised if the account was accessed from a branch rarely frequented by the account owner.
Additionally, audits can reveal a pattern, such as a common bank staff on accounts hit by fraudsters. Additionally, the bank system should warn bank managers when approving large withdrawals for accounts than barely withdraw such figures, or if the withdrawal is in a branch that does not fall in the normal places frequented by the account holder.
Additionally, controls can be implemented on transactions to make them safer. Account holders might get a text, or even a phone call for large withdrawals. This however might also ran into issues. M-Pesa fraudsters have been known to instruct users to press certain keys on their phone. Safaricom says you can bar all calls (and SMS on some phones) by dialling #35*0000 . The possibility of fraudsters calling you and asking you to press a series of keys, including the above set, to "clear a problem" with your phone is not remote.
Tuesday, 26 February 2013
|My Internet speeds on Airtel Kenya's Unlimited Internet, circa February 2013|
When my former house captain, one Luyo Likoko, an ardent non-believer, told me that Airtel Kenya had the best unlimited Internet in the country, I was tempted not to believe him. Back then, I was swearing that Orange Kenya was the best thing when it came to unlimited Internet*, of course, with some Terms and Conditions.
The Orange Kenya Experience
Then Orange Kenya decided to alter the share of Internet and that of Terms and Conditions. See, Orange believe in something called Fair Usage Policy (FUP). The FUP is said to ensure that a few users do not degrade the quality of Internet connectivity for everyone else by using lots of capacity among st themselves
By providing them with truly unlimited Internet, such inconsiderate subscribers would end up taking advantage of this kind offer by downloading movies, downloading movies for their neighbours and a number would end up running Cyber Cafe's on a KSh. 3,000 monthly Internet connection.
However, some better learned folks elsewhere say that the above is a lie. Mobile networks do not get congested because you are downloading all the seasons of a certain series. The Internet was designed specifically to avoid congestion. However, the more the number of Internet users, the slower their Internet connection, unless the mobile operator increases the bandwidth to the core of the network, and also increases the spectrum (air waves) with which you can access their services. Spectrum tends to be unavailable, and expensive. This can be solved by having more BTS (Boosters) to provide more capacity under the same spectrum, but again, it's quite expensive to have such boosters.
Heavy downloaders do use a lot bandwidth, known as backhaul, but the cost of this isn't that high to be factored in this discussion, and can easily be passed on.
This is the reason why Safaricom Internet has slowed down in Nairobi despite the firm not offering unlimited Internet, where heavy downloaders purportedly slow down the Internet. Ironically, to ensure that you have good Internet speeds, a mobile operator has to stop adding new Internet users at some point. Yes, they'll have to tell you, sorry, we have reached an optimum number of Internet users, please try another provider. That, or they'll need to spend money on new BTS - which cost millions per new BTS.
Either way, Orange ended up reducing the speed of their unlimited Internet. I rarely use my Internet to download movies, but I often use it to stream YouTube videos and almost always use it to stream music from sites such as BBC’s iPlayer, Grooveshark and Mixcrate as I work. My main work includes writing for which I use the online Google Docs for and lots of online reading and research. With what I don’t see as excessive usage, I found that my Unlimited Orange Internet had slowly turned to Limited Internet, to the point it was almost impossible to stream music.
I shared my story with other Orange Internet users and they too agreed that they were seeing reduced Unlimited Internet speeds from Orange. The FUP is also quite unclear. In the nice old days (about 5 months ago), one rarely had their speeds limited and speeds were quite good, often hitting the 3 Megabits per second to 7 megabits per second range (Mbps). 4 Mbps will see you ideally downloading an MP3 file in 5 seconds, though it should take 10 to 15 seconds due to stuff we call overheads and latencies.
However, those days are long gone. Mind you, It is not that Orange has lots of users thus causing congestion, or that the few users are congesting the network. From unofficial sources (might be highly unreliable), it is said that users on the KSh. 3,000 monthly unlimited package were about 2,000 a month. (For comparison, stats filed by Orange to CCK show that Orange had 948,847 mobile Internet users, to account for 11 percent against Airtel's 15 percent , Yu's 7 percent and Safaricom's 66 percent. Internet users may include anyone who tried access any page on their mobile phone)
In my view, I feel that Orange felt that the few users on both its daily unlimited and monthly unlimited were using too much Internet compared to what they were paying. Orange felt they should pay more. It started by hiking the daily unlimited from Ksh. 39 to KSh. 50, but probably this was not enough.
In the good old days, it is said that Orange had FUP allowances at 20 Gigabytes for monthly unlimited and 2 Gigabytes for daily unlimited. This was reduced over time, with the aim probably being to make unlimited users switch to 1 Gb, 5 Gb and other bundles which earns the network more as you download more.
Enter Airtel Unlimited
At this point, I decided to try Airtel Unlimited, seeing as they were the only other operator who offer 3G unlimited besides Orange. I shared my experience, which wasn’t that good in the first month. However, this was during the Christmas holidays, and it seems the engineers had “gone for Christmas”. (See Post: The Troubles one goes through using Airtel Kenya's "3.75G" http://blog.denniskioko.com/2013/01/the-trouble-one-goes-through-using.html)
My second month on Airtel Unlimited has been quite good. Speeds are good enough to stream music from the three sites with no buffering. YouTube, for most of the time has also been streaming with little buffering (about one or two less than 10 second pause) in the videos. The speeds are not as high as Orange used to offer, but they are good enough for me to comfortably work and have online entertainment on my PC.
Not that everything here has been perfect. As detailed in my previous post, I still have to hang my phone next to the ceiling in one corner of the house due to poor 3G signal coverage. In addition, in the last few days, speeds have been poor on a number of days, making YouTube streaming a bu-ff-er—i---ng task , and at times been so bad that even streaming music was affected by buffering. Sometimes it picked and went back to almost normal.
Yesterday was one of those bad days, though speedtests to San Francisco and Frankfurt in Germany (This is a major hub where lots of global Internet traffic is exchanged between networks) were about 0.7 megabits per second, which is quite fair.
The cost is also fair, at KSh. 3,000 a month or KSh. 200 per day. The daily rate isn’t that friendly, and is probably designed to make users upgrade to a more friendlier bundle for Airtel.
From my experience, I will have to agree with my trusted former captain, that Airtel Unlimited Internet is the best in Kenya. The question though is for how long, before it faces the same issues that made Safaricom withdraw their Unlimited Internet and Orange limit their Internet
Friday, 8 February 2013
|Image Credit: tasteofhome.com|
The new Kenyan Constitution established a gender equity clause. For public positions, members of any gender may not hold more than two third the positions. Based on it, for the first time, Kenyans will be voting for women representatives to the senate in the coming election.
Elsewhere, there has been a growing call for the inclusion of women in various leadership positions, and general inclusion of women in many other places. In Africa, the girl-child NGO industry is quite large, and may eclipse the budget of a number of African countries.
In Norway, about 100 of 500 companies are said to have delisted as a reaction to a rule that mandated women in boards. (More about that here http://www.womenonboards.org.au/pubs/articles/norway_bigpicture.htm)
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Yahoo became another big tech company to have a Woman CEO. When 30 year old Marissa Mayer joined Yahoo as the companies CEO, she was in her third trimester of pregnancy. After her delivery, she was back to her desk in two weeks. She is also said to have worked through her short maternity leave. You will agree that this lady here gives ammunition to those fighting for gender empowerment, with the right, and takes it away with left.
Mayer is also on the board of five other firms.
She joins Ginni Rometty, IBM’s CEO. Now, IBM sponsors an annual prestigious golf tournament at Augusta National. It is customary for the IBM CEO to be invited to join the membership ranks of Augusta National. However, for Rometty, she was not invited to join the prestigious membership ranks at Augusta National. See, they are not about to admit their first female member, as yet.
From the earlier link on women on Norwegian boards, the article states that having reached their target at the top, it was now time to embark on lower levels of management.
A while ago, a friend (on Twitter) shared their experience on a visit to a wine producing region in South Africa, which are still almost exclusively white. The region had been pressured to maintain a white-black racial balance. Firms in the region were thus employing black South Africans as a result. My friend chatted one of the blacks, who admitted that he really didn’t do much, and that he enjoyed the high flying life in the town, with horses and all. Well, he was assured of his job, as the employer couldn’t fire him, in a bid to maintain racial balance.
A focus on maintaining balance, how many numbers of a certain people, might not go down well with an organisation that is more focused on performance. Again, the insistence on the balance starting from the top and trickling downwards also introduces a challenge. Performing and effective leaders are supposed to be the cream of the crop. If there’s no emphasis to increase the number of women up the ranks, it thus becomes harder to pick women.
Another problem in the gender balance issue comes from societal biases towards women. Despite the first programmer being a woman, the number of women in tech is not something one can write home about. The numbers remain low, despite an equal opportunity policy and even policies that place emphasis on women.
See, women are brought up and geared towards certain biases. Barbie toys are for girls, cars and plane replicas are for boys. In rural areas, home keeping tasks are allocated to girls while menial tasks are allocated to the boys.
Looking at education, there is a bias towards certain subjects for boys and girls. In 2010, 158,344 girls sat for English Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education(KCSE) against 196,607 boys.
155,725 girls sat for Chemistry against 191,653 boys. 1
48,729 girls sat for Biology against 166,334 boys.
A paltry 29,964 girls sat for Chemistry against 79,108 boys.
In the Social Sciences 97,546 girls sat for History against 127,980 boys.
44,471 sat for Geography against 67,175 boys.
128,762 girls sat for Christian Religious Education against 111,458 boys.
0 girls sat for Woodwork against 374 boys.
1 girl sat for Metalwork against 219 boys.
12 girls sat for Building and Construction against 211 boys.
3 girls sat for Power Mechanics against 156 boys.
No girl dared be caught dead sitting for the Electricity exam, which 161 boys sat for.
A bias is clearly in the making, for what careers are “right” for girls. The other reason might be that some subjects are deemed “too difficult” for girls to study. In addition, you may find that girls schools are not equipped to teach some subject, either to low interest, or them being deemed not that necessary for girls.
Elsewhere, a friend who does sales for a publisher was remarking that the job is not suitable for ladies under the age of 30. At his workplace, he said that most ladies who joined the sales department ended up asking to be reassigned to other desk jobs in the office. After months in the sales department, the ladies did have a number of “working lunches”, but little in terms of sales to show compared to the males.
Rather than allocate slots to be filled up by a specific gender, it would be better if there was a focus on providing an equal playground to both genders. Girls, meanwhile will need to be encouraged more to try out the opportunities that are reserved for the boys, if they are willing to.
The biggest hindrance to women in society is bias, rather than slots allocated to them. Again, it is worth remembering that men and women generally see things different, and prefer them differently, but this should not stop individuals who prefer them differently.
Should we hire ladies because they are good at what they do, or because we need ladies to fill a few slots.
2010 KCSE Statistics: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49933701/KCSE-statistics
Friday, 18 January 2013
|Is South Sudan's oil flowing? (image: Africanarguments.org)|
The crunch is due to stopping of oil exports, South Sudan's main export, thus stopping the flow of dollars into the country. The country still continues importing goods and services (such as Jetlink's), but fewer and fewer people could access the foreign currency needed to continue importing these goods and services. (See: South Sudan dollar control grounds Jetlink flights http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-95995/south-sudan-dollar-control-grounds-jetlink-flights )
James Mwangi, Group CEO, Equity Bank in December explained how the bank was able to assist clients facing a dollar crunch in South Sudan continue operating amidst the crunch.
“We are very lucky that we bank all the missions in South Sudan, literary all the embassies in the country, most of the NGOs in South Sudan, so when they bring their cash, we use that to support our customers, because they are bringing dollars, they want South Sudanese pounds. I’m not saying there’s no crunch, but we have come out of the position best positioned simply because of that ability,” Mwang says.
Mwangi says that a second advantage is that it is the biggest bank in the country in terms of customers, and it has developed a good working relationship with both citizens and the government there. This means the bank is able to deal with emergencies and “critical situations” with the government’s support.
The bank borrowed a US dollar equivalent of KSh. 22 billion from the China Development Bank, IFC and FMO to support clients in the country doing regional trade. “That’s why you have not heard of any of our customers complaining. I still have $ 150 million still available for SMEs. We know the situation is temporary, we could still lend those people and hold the dollars in South Sudan as collateral and lend them US dollar facilities here. When they start exporting oil, that is the collateral,” he says.
“You saw when everyone shrunk their balance sheet, our loan book as of September went up by 20 percent. We became creative and provided the facility that supported those who had strains in dollars,” says Mwangi. Companies though have set limits for what they can borrow.
We used their accounts (South Sudan) to lend them in US dollars in the Kenyan market. “That is why you will find Equity is so popular, it understands and comes up with a crafty solution, “ Mwangi quips.
As for plans to establish in Ethiopia, Mwangi says the bank is studying the special trade arrangement to see what the bank can and can’t do. The Special Trade Arrangement allows Kenyan banks to open representative office, but not roll out fully fledged operations (See, Ethiopia locks out Kenyan banks as it opens up market http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate-News/Ethiopia-locks-out-Kenyan-banks-as-it-opens-up-market-/-/539550/1627020/-/12y02cpz/-/index.html) He however believes that once Ethiopia joins the World Trade Organisation, the market will be wide open.