How Africans citizens nearly funded the African Union

In 2011 I was invited by the African Union (AU) to speak on a panel at their annual High Level Retreat. The theme of the retreat was, “Making Peace Happen: Strengthening Political Governance For Peace, Security And Stability In Africa”.

Held in Cairo in the middle of the Arab Spring the conversations at the retreat were fascinating as leaders (political, diplomatic, military, etc) tried to understand and get to grips with the rapidly changing political landscape in North Africa. The retreat was held under the Chatham House Rule which allowed normally reserved and cautious diplomats to speak very candidly and passionately. The Chatham House Rule restrict me from sharing in detail the discussions that took place. I can say what diplomats say in public is sometimes very different from the actual position their country is taking. A lesson that current Kenyan government is coming to terms with pretty quickly. Read the Cairo Declaration issued at the end of the retreat. [Read more…]

Tyranny of Twitter Handles

The Middle Ages gave the English language a wonderful range of collective nouns. We talk about a flock of birds, a swarm of bees, a colony of ants, a herd of antelopes. My top two are a congregation of alligators which comes second only to the grand winner, a parliament of owls.

I suggest an addition to these collective nouns to describe the Government of Kenya’s (GoK) activities on social media. A Tyranny of Twitter Handles. [Read more…]

Nyerere on the Role of Universities

What we expect from our university is both a complete objectivity in the search for truth, and also commitment to our society – a desire to serve it. We expect the two things equally. And I do not believe this dual responsibility – to objectivity and to service – is impossible for fulfilment.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere speaking at the graduation of the first class and the opening of the campus of the University College of Dar es Salaam (now the University of Dar es Salaam)

Designing Kenya’s Anti Corruption Platform

One of Uhuru Kenyatta’s most effective campaign slogans was “The Digital Team”. Since taking office President Kenyatta’s team has been upgraded (in true tech fashion) to “The Digital Government”. Enthusiasm in deploying technology is a key characteristic of the first year of Kenyatta’s administration. An example of this is growing number of official Government of Kenya Twitter accounts.

On the 16th of October 2013 at the Women, Youth and Persons with Disability Expo on access to Government Procurement Opportunities, Kenyatta announced that his administration will set up a corruption reporting website where ordinary citizens can report any government official who asks for a bribe.

I will open a website where when you go to look for help in government offices and you are asked to give a bribe you can immediately report the person. All one will be required to do is log in, and there will be a place to record the name, ministry, department and position of the culprit to get them arrested.

Corruption in Kenya is a big problem, that is well documented. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013, the biggest ever survey tracking world-wide public opinion on corruption, tell us that 95% of respondents in Kenya felt that police were corrupt/extremely corrupt. The same survey tells us 59% of respondents in Kenya felt that public officials and civil servants were corrupt/extremely corrupt; 58% of respondents in Kenya felt the judiciary was corrupt/extremely corrupt; 68% of respondents in Kenya felt parliament / legislature was corrupt/extremely corrupt.

As we have seen over and over again this level of corruption does not only steal public resources, it also costs lives. With statistics such as these it is clear why tackling corruption should be a priority for Kenyatta’s administration.

Something needs to be done.
Something radical needs to be done.
Is a corruption reporting website that thing?
Perhaps, if deployed correctly.

Technology is only 10% of a successful deployment

A common mistake when turning an idea like a corruption reporting website into a solution is to spend most of your planning time focusing on the technology. Which platform should be used? What graphics should we have on the front page? What number should we use for the shortcode? what colour should the logo be? etc. At Ushahidi we say technology is only 10% of a successful deployment. If the President wants his portal to be effective here are four other things he should be thinking about.

  1. The Strategy Is Not Ambitious Enough

    The President’s plan is noble but I feel not ambitious enough. For this new platform to be really useful to citizens, for this new platform to really bring about the change we need in Kenya it needs to map service delivery as well as corruption. Or more directly, the deficiencies in service delivery by the government. For example, a government pharmacy may regularly experience stock-outs, the lack of essential medicines. This could be due to corruption such as officials diverting drugs to their own private pharmacies. However, it could also be due to inefficiencies in budgeting, procurement, delivery or reporting. For a platform to be truly useful to citizens, policy makers, service providers and indeed the President it needs to capture all this data not just the corruption data.

    Kenya already has a service delivery framework in the performance contracts signed publicly in front of the nation by all Cabinet Secretaries on behalf of their ministries. These contracts should form a key part of this deployment as they inform citizens on what they should expect in terms of service delivery from the government. Getting these contracts online and accessible should be one of the first steps in this anti corruption drive.

  2. A Platform Is Only As Strong As Its Partnerships

    For the anti corruption platform to work the right partnerships need to be in place. I would recommend that this corruption reporting platform is not hosted by government but is instead hosted by an independent civil society organisation. Why? Look at those figures from the Global Corruption Barometer again. Why would we expect members of the public to report corruption to a system they perceive as corrupt? (To be fair 19% of respondents in the survey felt Kenyan NGOs were corrupt/extremely corrupt.) Another solution would be for the platform to be jointly hosted by the civil society organisations and government.

    An important role partners could play is in educating citizens on what they are entitled to. This must be a key part of any strategy to tackle corruption and improve service delivery. An assumption regularly made is that citizens always know what to report to the authorities. This is not the case. A bribe is relatively easy to spot and report. The same may not be true of inadequate service delivery. For example, if one school has 8 desks for every 10 students they may feel they have less room to complain than a school that has 4 desks for every 10 students. Some parents may even feel that they are lucky to have 4 desk per classroom. That each student is entitled to a desk and that the lack of a desk per student should be reported requires an awareness campaign run by credible partners.

    Partnerships are also important when it comes to outreach campaigns. Simply plastering information about the corruption reporting platform on billboards and radio adverts across the country will not automatically lead to uptake by the public.
    Even if the technology works perfectly.
    even if the institution receiving the complaints deals with them diligently.
    Consider this lesson in a blogpost by Varja Lipovsek and Rakesh Rajani called, Your Phone Won’t Ring Just Because You Gave Out Your Number:

    Here’s our bet: people don’t respond because they just don’t believe their voices will count. In East Africa where Twaweza works, years of unresponsive and predatory systems have cared little about citizen voice, so much so that even when there is a “real” opportunity for feedback, people simply do not believe it’s worth their while. When for 10, 15, 20 years one’s core experience of public service delivery has been one of disinterest or even fear, simply setting up attractive new mechanisms, however well-intentioned and sophisticated, won’t cut it.

    Sometimes, many times, the messenger is as important as the message. This means that the President will need to find different partners for each part of the country as it is unlikely that a single organisation or institution has the type of credibility nationwide to make this initiative work.

  3. What Is Your Duty of Care

    From the President’s statement reports of corruption are being collected in order to get corrupt officials arrested. This means that the person sending in the original report of corruption may be required to attend court proceedings or a formal disciplinary hearing. How will this process be handled? Will people be comfortable reporting corruption by individuals who have power in their local communities if they have to accuse them publicly?
    Connect to this, a more basic duty of care needs to be in place to protect all citizens who speak out. Measures must be in place to enable the administrators of the website to identify personal information (name, telephone numbers, email address) and to provide those administrators with an opportunity to remove/hide that information from the public. The nature of the complaint should be public. The personal information of the person making the complaint should not.

  4. Verify and Analyse Your Data

    Collecting information is the easy part! It is crucial that all reports of corruption are taken through a process to establish how credible they are. There are various methods that can be used for this. For Uchaguzi, our citizen centred election platform, we had partners on the ground, trained and led by the Constitution & Reform Education Consortium, who we could call to check up on reports for us. The President has similar options available to him, officers of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission for example. Another option is working with the Data Lab at iHub Research that has developed a variety of data mining and machine-learning techniques for verifying crowd-sourced information.

The Technology

Technology is only 10% of a successfully deployment but it is a crucial 10%. It is very important that the President gets the technology right. Here are some things he should consider.

The best technology solutions meet people where they are
Ideally citizens should not have to purchase any new technology or learn any new skills to interact with this corruption reporting deployment. This means the platform cannot be exclusively web based. In the Kenyan context citizens must be able to send and receive information to and from the platform by SMS. The President may consider using SMS Sync or Frontline SMS both developed and maintained by teams in Nairobi to manage the SMS portion of the platform.

This does NOT mean that President should ask his team to ignore the web platform and mobile applications for smart phones such as Android and iOS. The best strategy in this scenario is to cover all bases. Data received from mobile applications can include photos, video, exact GPS locations which SMS cannot do. Smart phones providing rich data are powerful corruption reporting tools. Tools like the BRCK provide an easy and reliable way to connect to the internet, anywhere in the Kenya, even when you don’t have electricity.

Technology needs to tested

Whatever platform and applications are chosen it is important that extensive design testing, user interface testing and user experience testing is done to make sure the platform works for the potential users. The team at the iHub UX Lab believe that smart, user centric design has the power to change Kenya, both economically and socially. The President would be wise to harness this power.

The Ecosystem Exists

The President and his team may be aware that some of the best crowdsourcing tools available to him and his team are developed by Ushahidi, founded and headquartered right here in Nairobi. Ushahidi has been used 40,000+ times in 156 countries around the world and has been translated into 35 different languages. Global reach, made in Africa. Ushahidi has been used around the world extensively for human rights, corruption and accountability mapping. On our website you will find a section dedicated to making anti corruption and transparency mapping successful. It includes examples of anti corruption and transparency mapping as well as examples of human rights mapping.

Ushahidi is one part of a larger technology ecosystem and the one big advantage President Kenyatta has is the ecosystem to make his anti corruption platform successful is already in place and less than a 15 drive from Statehouse (just 2 min with his motorcade). At the Bishop Magua Centre, he would find Ushahidi, BRCK, FrontlineSMS, the iHub and several other companies, projects, techies, project managers ready to work with him to deploy an anti-corruption platform that would transform Kenya.


Kenya28Feb: Carry On

At 1pm EAT Kenyans across the country, across the continent and across the globe stood and sang all three stanzas of the Kenyan National Anthem together as part of Kenya28Feb. We sang for a variety of reasons. Some sang to demonstrate patriotism, others to celebrate Kenya and Kenyans, others as a prayer for our country, others as a show of unity, to demonstrate there is more that unites us than divides us. Many of us sang for a mixture of all these reasons and others not listed here. What is important is that we stood and sang. This is the 2nd year Kenya28Feb has rallied Kenyans to sing our National Anthem collectively. I have written before on the power of the symbolic collective singing of our anthem and on some of the reasons different groups of people sang today. Today I’d like to share my thoughts on the, “What Next?” question.

Many people, supporters and those not supportive of Kenya28Feb, seem baffled by our advice to congregate, sing and disperse. No speeches, no rallies, no food drives, no estate clean ups, no tree planting, no IDP relocating, not even blood donation! “NO NOTHING? WHY? HOW? WHAT? USELESS!” Is it not important to donate blood, don’t we feel that trees are worth planting, and do we not cry out at the injustice of IDPs still in camps 4 years after they were first displaced, and who does not want to live in a clean estate? Doesn’t Kenya28Feb? Valid questions.

This blog post is written for the Kenya28Feb family, that is, all those who sang the National Anthem on Kenya28Feb. If you did not see the point of singing or if you were against the singing you probably won’t get much out of this post. If you didn’t see the point of singing this post won’t change your mind about that. If you did sing and are wondering what next, let’s talk.

So we sang our beautiful anthem for the 2nd year in a row. What do we do now? Why just disperse? Why go back to doing what we were doing?

My response to these questions starts with this observation, most Kenyans I meet are doing remarkable things! At Mavuno we call it ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Most Kenyans I know constantly give sacrificially whether it’s time/money/expertise to wonderful causes/initiatives that would die without their support. Most Kenyans I know are engaged in their communities, building clinics, paying school fees, protecting the vulnerable etc. When we suggest that you sing and then disperse to continue with your day, what we are actually saying is that you are already part of the solution! You are lifting up our families, our communities, and our society. You are engaged and YOU have figured out the solutions! Solutions that no one else may have seen. Carry on!

I live In Nairobi, Kenyans from different corners of the country, Lamu, Busia, Kakamgea, Eldoret etc all sang today. They know their communities better than I ever will, they know the solutions their community needs better than I do. Why then would I prescribe a solution for Kenyans who sang in those areas? I live in the Kilimani area of Nairobi; many who sang live in other parts of Nairobi. They know their communities better than I do, they know the solutions those communities need better than I do. Why wait for me to tell you what to do next? You are already doing it! Carry on!

There are three assumptions I am making here. The first assumption is that you spend your most productive time each day on positive actions that build up your community and in turn your society, that you are a provider of solutions to the problems in your community. Whether in tech, in media, in film, in music, in banking, in medicine, in law, in the police, in government, in emergency response, in the NGO world, in school, on campus etc wherever you are in this season of you life, I assume that you are a solutions provider. The second assumption is that you are passionate about the solutions you are working on. You believe in them. The third assumption is that you work on those solutions because they make an impact. Your solutions transform your community positively.

Why don’t we tell you to go out and plant trees? Some of you are already planting trees and those of you who aren’t have skills that are utilised elsewhere! Why don’t we organise a food drive, some of you are already Feeding Kenya. How about IDPs? Do we not feel for them? Of course we do, and many of us who sang today are already working on providing long-term solutions for our brothers and sisters in IDP camps. Carry on!

Why doesn’t Kenya28Feb leverage on its network? Well we are! Our network is you and the solutions you are working on. Our symbolic act of unity connected us! We celebrate you, and now all of us can help you to work on your solution! We won’t give you a solution, we’ll help you work on yours.

The point I am trying to make is this, a solution prescribed by someone who does not understand the context will never work as well as the solution advocated by you who does. Carry on!

Do not sit around “waiting patiently” for a magic solution, it does not exist. Do not sit around waiting for the mantle to be passed to you, YOU already have it. Do not pontificate about how Kenya28Feb has no ideas, share YOUR idea. Most of you who sang already get this. Carry on!

You also understand, unlike some of our brothers and sisters, that singing the anthem does not stop you from working on those solutions. You know the equation is not “working on solutions v singing the anthem”, the correct equation is “working on solutions + singing the anthem”. Some belch that all we do is sing three stanzas once a year then disappear, well we know what we do the rest of the year, working on those solutions! Doing what we were already doing before we took a pause to sing together.

Some suggestions: let us share what we are doing amongst our networks (which if you are reading this includes me) what you are doing? If you have gaps in your capacity the person who can fill that gap is probably closer than you imagine. Let us highlight those providing positive solutions with impact in our communities, let us encourage each other, let us work together, let us grow together, let us support each other and next year let us sing on Thursday 28th Feb 2013 to celebrate each other!

I’ll stop there because I know you have a lot of work to do. Carry on!

(If you have not found a way in which you can become a solution provider in your community, if you are struggling to find a way to impact your community positively then this conversation is for you too. Let’s start talking about your passions and we’ll find a way to get you working on a solution you are passionate about!)