Sunday, April 29, 2007

Changing face of government

The first time, Bitange Ndemo, Information and Communication PS responded to an article I had sent to the KICTANet mailing list, I could not believe it. I thought someone else was doing it on his behalf.

After all, we are used to government officers who follow protocol that even responding to straight forward questions is a problem. Even clarifying issues.

So, for me to read from a PS explaining how I had left out vital points or misconstrued facts was amazing. He did not condemn, only clarified. He also encouraged dialogue, invited list members to ask, and he answered promptly.

Ndemo is now well known by list members and does not wait or give appointments just to explain about the fibre optic cable. He is known to visit forums such as mashada and explain to the youth about issues affecting his ministry.

For a journalist, this is easy, just drop him an email and you are home and dry….

Ndemo may be exceptional because he is trying to promote ICTs but there are other instances where the face of government has changed.

Sample this, during the KICTANet monthly forum, a young man, Robert Ogutu, from the ministry of youth affairs was present to explain about their projects at the ministry. She was accompanied by a colleague who was speaking about reviving the village polytechnics and the inherent challenges.

What was good about the presentations was that both presenters had just a day to make presentations; they worked hard and made it.

They extinguished earlier ideas that civil servants are lazy and will always point to red tape as a reason not to participate in events especially organised by private sector.

In my opinion, this is the kind of country we would like, where government officers freely interact with the public and can participate easily with private sector and civil society and share ideas.

We almost there….


A mother's agony when rapists strike

“Why is my stomach aching, I am feeling so bad, why mum, why?” Jane asked as she alighted off the vehicle.

Jane is eight; she was raped at the Ngomongo village in Kiambu. On this day, she was being taken back to Kiambu district hospital for further check up.

The mother could not explain to the girl why she was in so much pain. The girl can note even tell whether the pain is in her stomach or in her private parts, it’s too much for her and she looks dazed.

To add to all the trouble, Jane is mentally challenged, after an attack of pneumonia when she was five. According to the mother, her life changed then.

Most of you may not know Ngomongo slums but its somewhere between Kiambu and Zimmerman, beyond Starehe girls centre. That place has quarries, hence the name Ngomongo.

Jane was home that day; she can not fit in normal schools because she is violent and can not concentrate. The mother had ran out of options.

Ran out of options because she has other kids to feed and is a casual laborer, she claimed that Jane had just been kicked out of school the previous week, and had been left home alone.

So, this guy came and asked who was home and Jane responded she was alone. He convinced her to go the maize plantation and the rest is history.

Incidentally it was the mother who heard the screams; she had just rushed back home to check on her. The man was caught in the act, roughed up and taken to Kiambu police station.

When I enquired much about it, she said the man was released and back in the village. She was not very familiar with the legal regime. All that she knew was that she and her daughter were tormented.

The way I met this girl was so funny because I was to meet my friend Jo at KIST, she was coming from her house near Starehe girls, she was taking so long, anyway, she is the kind who says she is around the corner, when she is not even showered, let alone start the car.

So when I started ranting and threatening to take off she said,

“Hold on, am picking up a sick girl,” I thought she was lying but I knew she can’t lie about something like that.

When I saw the girl, I insisted that all my plans could wait for the girl to get to hospital. Because she could not walk, the mother depended on lifts. On this case, she did not know how to get back home.

As Jane alighted, she was now crying aloud, and from the corner of my eye I could see Jo fighting back tears. The mother seemed to have resigned to fate.

Incidentally, Jo is a lawyer and we never thought of referring her to FIDA. But was it because she said she had explored all options? Is it because FIDA is now too elitist?

The story was moving because it would have been my daughter, sister, cousin and it could be me.

Friday, April 20, 2007


By Rebecca Wanjiku

At the heart of Meru district, Eastern province, a dusty road leads to Ruiga girls’ school. It is a typical village school with no power and vehicles to the shopping centre operate only on market days.

To access it, one needs prior information, if it rained; don’t bother visiting because the road is impassable. The school is two kilometers from the road with no public transport.

Imagine this: the school has an integrated system that allows teachers to teach mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics using animated computer graphics and has an integrated system that allows parents to monitor students’ academic and disciplinary progress from the internet.

The imagination can roll on to the classroom where the teachers use LCD projectors in place of black boards and exam past papers are available online. The assignments are forwarded via email and teachers, parents and students are in constant communication.

Well, this is the dream that the headmistress of the school has dared to dream. The school is typical of many village schools but wants to be the pioneer of computer technology in the area.

This school imposes itself as the testimony of the determination by Cyber School Technology Solutions (CSTS) of providing quality educational services to schools in Kenya- whether rural or urban.

With no power and coming from a place where computers are still perceived as myths, CSTS is proving that all students can enjoy world-class teaching aids that enhance the learning environment.

Fatma Bashir, chief marketing officer at CSTS narrated to ICT stakeholders gathered for the KICTANet forum how she has had to teach communities about benefits of computers before embarking on her mission to promote educational packages.

“One time a headmistress of another school blocked us from entering the school because we were introducing ‘bad pictures through the internet’ to the students. I took time to explain to the teachers the benefits of computers in schools, and that we had good intentions,” Bashir told the forum.

CSTS develops teaching resources, aligned to specific syllabi, featuring 3D animations. Each Unit within a Chapter apart from 3D animations contains 2D animations, visuals, charts, experiments and other reference materials required by teachers in a classroom environment.

Today, Ruiga girls’ school has 220 students and 12 teachers. Granted the challenges, the school was ranked 18 out of 79 schools in 2006, up from 33rd position in the district in 2005, and according to Bashir, the students have demonstrated positive index improvement in sciences subjects after using the Digital Science products for barely 6 weeks before the final exams.

This school epitomizes the desire by CSTS to bridge the infrastructure and digital divide and ensure that rural schools enjoy similar opportunities as those enjoyed by urban schools.

Through the electronic teaching aids offered to schools, CSTS hopes to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban schools. This, Bashir argued, will lead to early familiarization with ICT for teachers and students alike.

According to Bashir, CSTS hopes to qualitatively improve learning by conceptualizing more creatively and digitizing learning resources to help educators build better learning interventions.

For the tough science subjects, CSTS hopes to make them fun by introducing new teaching aides in the subjects of Mathematics, Biology, Physics and Chemistry that animate and turn the subjects to life, making it easier to learn and recall.

Standardizing the learning process thereby creating an equal opportunity for success for every student sitting the examination across the board.

Digital Science is a revolutionary teaching aid because by using animated visuals, that brings to life the abstract concepts learning science has been made easier thus more interesting and readily understood by the students.

“The interactivity built into these modules also gives students a feeling of hands-on experience. At the same time, it gives control to the teachers and students as the lessons follow syllabi of specific subjects while pace and explanations can match the level of the student,” said Bashir.

In Physics, interactivity allows students to tweak parameters in situations and literally see how the system responds to the change. In short, the limitations of a school laboratory are overcome. For example, no school lab can show a nuclear reaction, but this is also shown in our modules.

In Chemistry, using the virtual lab, students can conduct potentially hazardous experiments safely and without the expenditure of chemicals. Even dangerous experiments dealing with poisonous gases, etc. can be performed (students are warned adequately in such cases to prevent them from replicating it in reality). They can also repeat experiments over and over until they are familiar with the process in preparation for practical examinations, all this at the click of a button.

In Biology, through animation of complex concepts students get to understand what they are being taught and can thus apply this not only in their lives but also while responding to examination questions. For example a process such as importance of diffusion in the human body, cell division during reproduction etc are visually depicted aiding the understanding and retention process required in the teaching and learning environment.

CSTS has introduced a new technique of teaching mathematics. In Mathematics, when teaching about shapes, the animation shows the shapes in 3 dimension, thus attracting the students to get into the concept and learn it better and with self-interest.

CSTS recognizes the necessity for educating students about HIV / AIDS appropriately and effectively, using the power of multimedia. The organization has developed innovative, original multimedia teaching tools, on CD ROM for HIV / AIDS education for children between the ages of 6 and 18.

The content sophistication increases for higher age groups, covering the nature of viral infections and causes and effects of HIV / AIDS. Because this is a global problem with many mature themes, it is treated in a sensitive and flexible, non-judgmental manner to appeal to persons from different backgrounds.

The lessons are created in a visually attractive style with cartoon characters giving the message in a manner which is easy to understand. This is followed by interactive exercises, quizzes, etc. to reinforce the learning process, evaluate what they have learnt, and show them how this knowledge can be applied in safe behavior to avoid HIV / AIDS.

By Advocating the use of relevant ICT software in education CSTS hopes to improve learning processes of all students in Kenya as well as improve living standards.



By Rebecca Wanjiku

When Dr Bitange Ndemo, Information and Communication Permanent Secretary asked Collin Bruce and his team to visit Eastlands, everybody was eager.

Eager because the PS had sang praises about Kimathi Information Centre (KIC) and how it had used Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) to uplift the lives of the youth in the area.

As the PS and his team snaked through the streets of Maringo, Jerusalem, Bahati and Uhuru, the team of youth at KIC were putting final touches to the presentation. The KIC team is comprised of Catherine Atieno Agallo {21}, Jose Njuki-Imwe Ngunjiri {26} and Lillian Gloria Okumu {28).

Before welcoming the visitors, the KIC team and the volunteers had to ensure that all the work due to the local schools has been delivered and any other pending jobs are finalized. This is their day to show what the youth can do.

The PS has been so impressed by KIC’s digital innovation and integration to the community that every visitor to Ndemo’s office is referred to the centre for examples of how Kenya has embraced ICTs.

Bruce, the World Bank country director was not disappointed at what he saw. He witnessed how the area youth had worked with meager resources to improve living conditions in the area.

“We have received tremendous support from Dr. Ndemo. It has motivated us to keep exploring our potential,” said Ngunjiri.

He was speaking at the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) monthly forum, where innovators in ICTs showcase their achievements to other industry players as well as the public.

So why was KIC started?

According to Ngunjiri, they teamed up in December 2005 and decided to come up with innovative practical solutions to the problems of unemployed youth in the area. KIC serves Eastland’s community in Kimathi, Bahati, Jerusalem, Maringo and Uhuru.

Apart from unemployment, the youth in the area lack of proper skills to search for jobs, lack job interview skills and some have been unable to secure attachment opportunities after university.

Armed with their findings and suggested solutions, the trio approached Computer for Schools Kenya and the International Development Research Council (IDRC) seeking assistance.

Impressed by the innovation, the two organizations donated 13 computers and agreed that the trio would train and equip the youth and the whole communities in the area.

“I think they have done an excellent job that can be shared with others,” said Edith Adera from IDRC.

Ngunjiri told KICTANet members how that partnership has improved ICT knowledge, reduced crime rate, unemployment and ignorance among the youth.

“We have tried to ensure that the community owns the project, they give collective security and our equipment has never been stolen. The youth who would have been out mugging people is now working behind computers,” Ngunjiri added.

KIC works with neighbouring schools to provide computer services if needed. For instance, at the end of the term, the teachers forward the scores for tallying and grading instead of doing it manually.

“It is now easier and time saving for teachers to grade the students. Once they mark the exams, we send one volunteer to get the data, organise according to instructions then send back to the school. A minimal cost is charged,” said Ngunjiri.

KIC has tried to integrate everybody into the project provided they show interest in learning. Those with skills they can share with others are encouraged to visit the centre and benefit the others.

Working with university graduates, KIC goes beyond ICTs skills and teaches accounting and small business management skills to those aspiring to start businesses.

Other services offered include- research and study centre, library centre through e-learning, data base centre for small business entrepreneurs, security pay point for Kimathi estate, networking centre, web design training for teenagers under the Mtandao Africa initiative.

Out of the activities, the centre raises money to sustain itself and pay minimal wages to the workers. The priority now is to ensure the community fully embraces ICTs before they can pursue profits.

To fulfill their social responsibility, Ngunjiri told KICTANet forum how KIC supports Shelter of Hope Centre- the local children’s home. The home houses sixty orphans in the neighboring Kiambiu slum.

Because the space at KIC is limited, two trainers from the children’s home have been trained with the expectation that they will impart the orphans with ICT knowledge. Every Sunday, have a volunteer from KIC teaches 5 students from the children’s centre on computer packages and any advanced skills needed.

The progress of KIC has not gone unnoticed by the corporate sector, Popote wireless gave thirty volunteers a chance market the company’s products.

The library and research centre expects to train many students and enter competition for international awards including the Bill and Melinda gate Foundation Program.



By Rebecca Wanjiku

It has been a long wait for an ICT Act, and there is no immediate sign that the wait is over. Though the draft policy was presented to the cabinet by Attorney General Amos Wako, it is yet to be published in the Kenya gazette.

If the draft is published in the gazette, then there can be a chance it will be presented to parliament for debate before end of this year.

Though the AG’s office claims to be attending to the bill together with others pending, the challenge is how to harmonize the draft bill to be in tandem with the Communications Act (1998).

Wako’s office is debating whether to come up with a separate ICT Act or to repeal the communications Act to incorporate the draft bill.

Lawyer Paul Mwangi, who has been following developments of the draft policy, says that the AG can come up with a new Act so long as it does not contradict the Communications Act.

“The draft bill can be published and presented to parliament then they can decide whether to enact an ICT Act or to come up with a more comprehensive Act by repealing the Communications Act and,” says Mwangi.

Mwangi argues that the excuses by the AG are about convenience, and nothing substantial. He adds that it is just a matter of codifying the law, and that can come up with another Act and they will still be applicable.

Lawyer Joseph Kihanya agrees that Bills can be debated and passed to repeal Acts in force.

“Why this cannot be done with the Communications Act (1998) I can not tell,” says Kihanya.

Kihanya adds that Telecommunications law demands that the laws be consolidated into one statute. He illustrates this by quoting the UK Communications Act 2003 which was consolidated into one statute that deals with every aspect of ICTs.

The UK Communications Act (2003) deals with issues ranging from regulations, media ownership and control, internet, ecommerce to the relationship between the ministry and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The UK CA (2003) is divided into parts that exhaust legislation relation to the field for instance, part 5 deals with competition in communications market. Under this part, there are chapters guiding on functions of the ministry according to the law, and media mergers, detailing how they should be carried out.

The Kenya ICT draft bill is a product of the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation (2003-2007) and was developed by the Ministry of Information & Communications in January 2006.

According to the ministry of Information and Communication website, the ICT draft bill is seeking to encourage sustained economic growth and poverty reduction, promote social justice and equity, mainstream gender in national development, empower youth and disadvantaged groups, stimulate investment and innovation in ICT, and achieve universal access.

The draft bill addresses market structure, policy objectives and targets, implementation strategies, universal access, and the institutional framework of information technology (IT), broadcasting, telecommunications, radio frequency spectrum, and postal services.

But some stakeholders in the ICT industry feel that some amendments should be made to the draft before it is presented for debate. Media owners feel that the draft has not adequately addressed their concerns and instead has come up with draconian measures regarding media ownership.



Its now official, another company- Herakles Telecom LLC has commissioned Tyco to survey the 13,000km East and South African coast.

Herakles awarded the SEACOM marine survey to Tyco Telecommunications of USA. The survey commences the development of the undersea fiber optic network which will provide high capacity bandwidth connectivity between South Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, India and Europe.

In a press statement posted by Victoria Dillon from Tyco and Brian Herlihy from Herakles, it was confirmed that the cable will connect South Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, India and Europe.

SEACOM becomes the fourth entrant to the scene with questions being raised on whether the costs will come down and the time its likely to take before we get the cable.

In February, the government said the cost of international broadband is set to drastically reduce within 18 months after it confirmed it is ready to adopt three different under sea cables provided through various routes.

Bitange Ndemo, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communication said that Kenya was taking a three pronged approach calculated to reduce the cost of international connectivity.

Priority is given to the East African Marine System (Teams) the fibre optic cable link to Fujairah in the UAE.

“The lead arranger will take over the private/public TEAMS project and will be in charge of financial sourcing. We expect to be done within 18 months,” said Ndemo.

Under the Teams agreement, the Kenya Government will have a 40 per cent holding in the project, Etisalat of UAE will hold 20% and the remaining 40% will go to investors in the East African region. The Government has said it will organise an Initial Public Offer (IPO) on the Kenyan Stock Exchange.

According to John Waweru, Director General at the Communication Commission of Kenya, the Teams project is expected to recover the costs within three years.

Kenya is still pursuing the controversial East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) an initiative aimed at constructing and operating a submarine fiber optic cable along the East African Coast. EASSy will connect nine coastal countries and island nations and to the rest of the world. The route will be from South Africa to Port Sudan, covering over 9,000 km, connecting Djibouti, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania (including Zanzibar).

Thirty-two leading telecommunications operators from East and Southern Africa signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in December 2003 to carry out the construction and maintenance of EASSy.

But the project was dogged by controversy over whether NEPAD should take the overall leadership or the leadership should be led by the private sector. Terrestrial backbone networks are also being built in separate developments to link all capitals and major cities in Eastern and Southern Africa to the EASSy cable and the international backbone system.

The third international fibre project is fronted by Kenya Data Network (KDN) and which has now signed its contract with Flag Telecom. KDN will link from Mombasa and terminate in an undersea junction in international waters off of the Yemen.

KDN says the link will be fully operational in the first quarter of 2008, just 15 months away. KDN also stresses that its landing station at Mombasa will allow other carriers to co-locate therefore charging only electricity and services at cost.

According to the PS, the three options are meant to make Kenya competitive in provision of international broadband. Ndemo underscored the need for the country to compete internationally and attract international businesses.

He argued that the broadband purchased by international businessmen at a cost of USD 200 costs USD 7,500 in Kenya, therefore ruling the country out as an internet investment destination.

SEACOM now gives industry players a chance to evaluate whether any of the operators will lay the cable, then the debate can start over its efficacy.