Why we must fight for online freedom

When I created my first ever blog somewhere in 2008, all I wanted to do was tell stories that I thought might never make it for publication on the media house I worked for and to share my personal opinion on a wide ray of issues in a manner I was not able to do in the traditional media. Never had it ever occurred to me that Seven years down the line I would be one day worried about landing in jail for sharing my thoughts with the rest of the world – albeit within the confines of the law or for talking about the injustice meted against innocent citizens.

Today that is the world we live in as bloggers who are passionate about good governance, justice, human rights and politics. As I am putting out these words to commemorate Internet Freedom Day, one of our comrades is behind bars for speaking loudly about impunity.

His name is Abraham Mutai, I did not know him personally, I did not have his phone number but I followed him on twitter and read his blogs and like the rest of other bloggers and Kenyans on twitter it felt like we are family because we wanted to tell stories that otherwise go unnoticed or ignored by the mainstream media when they go to bed with the same people looting our country of its natural resources and stealing from its future generation – that becomes even more literal when politicians grab school playgrounds to build hotels.

We are in this war because we are fighting against very powerful and influential people and we are fighting this war today so that our children could be free tomorrow. This is why we must all fight for a free online space where we can tell the small stories that will ordinarily go unnoticed by the Standard, Nation Media and Royal Media Services of this country.

Even though bloggers can and have at times been compromised by these people who rob us of our future, their sheer number and the fact that indeed anyone with a story to tell can create a blog and tell their story to the world or simply tweet it makes internet the most reliable platform for fighting against injustice in our society.

Today these freedoms are becoming seriously threatened by the Kenyatta administration. Apart from attempting to pass laws that curtail on internet and media freedoms this government has clearly shown us that it sees the blogging community as a threat.

Robert Alai is always in court for one or another tramped up charge, blogger Allan Wadi was arrested and sentenced to two years in jail in a record 24 hours, Dikembe Disembe has faced the same threats as Alai and yesterday they came for Mutai tomorrow it might be me or you…yes you and that is why you need to care about standing up for our rights. I did not mention Bongoko Bosire – we don’t know what happened to him two years later.

It doesn’t matter that one of our own is in charge of Digital Communications and Social Media at Statehouse, he can’t fight for us. He cannot stand up for his own people, he has turned his back and bit the hand that once fed him.

We can’t trust the digital government either because they see us as terrorists because we have dared to speak about the selfies and harassment of our colleagues. We have spoken loudly about digital corruption and land grabbing. We have unmasked the kingpins of ivory trade, we have become more dangerous than the Al-Shabaab because we have become a direct threat to the their very existence and now impunity is fighting back.

They know where we live and where we work, they have made it their number one goal to silence our voices. That is why when one voice goes out a thousand more voices have to come out and speak, they might have deleted Mutai’s twitter accounts and blogs but a new Mutai must rise up – not one, not two, not three. There has to be a Mutai in all of us. I am Mutai, You are Mutai, We are all Mutai.

Speak out for internet freedom because these stories have to be told.

What will it take to restore confidence in certificates?

Today, higher education in Kenya is under scrutiny following an expose’ by a leading media house on how unscrupulous staffers at the institution award academic transcripts and certificates to people who have not even sat for a minute in class thereby putting into question the reputation of the institution’s certificates.

Even though the investigative piece only highlighted what could be happening in one of Kenya’s private tertiary institutions, the practice is not isolated to that institution alone. With corruption even our public Universities and Colleges are not free from these vices.

While corruption is very ripe in Kenya today and the practice highlighted in the said story cannot be verified as a normal occurrence at the institution that happens with the administration’s blessings we should therefore shift our focus to how we got here in the first place.

Government failure

The government has indeed failed to provide thousands of it’s young population with quality education both at the secondary and tertiary level.

Every year thousands of pupils graduate from Primary schools but only half of them proceed to secondary schools because of the few places available. The situation is the same for those who are transiting from secondary to tertiary institutions where admission into public universities is based on bed capacity.

Because of that education in public universities has remained a preserve of those who are either too bright or those who are rich enough to afford self sponsored programs.

The government tertiary institutions or mid level colleges have also become money mints for their administrators and Ministry of Education officials. Getting into Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, Kenya Medical Training College, Kenya School of Monetary Studies and any such college run by the government will cost you a lot in bribes.

This scenario has in turn created an opportunity for investors to fill the gap left by the government through investing in private universities and colleges.

The rise of “third floor colleges”

While private universities cater for a rather different class, the colleges that dot the third floors of every building in town fill the gap that has been created by the government due to their failure to invest in expansion of existing institutions and creation of new ones.

As much as every student who scores C+ and above in KCSE should be admitted to university, this is never the case, in many cases the cut is at B+ instead.

The poor who cannot afford private universities or give a bribe to join government run mid level institutions end up at these “third floor colleges”

Maximizing profits at all costs

These colleges as much as they are filling an important gap by ensuring that this marginalized group can acquire relevant skills that are necessary in the job market are also in the profit making business. They want to maximize their profits will go for the cheapest labor they can get in the market, in most cases that is synonymous with low quality.

That is however the least of the problems, because they significantly charge low tuition fees (in most cases under Ksh. 50,000 per year) the only way they would make profits is through high turnovers. These colleges are always admitting new students, every month there is a new intake for the same course.

When the tutors are overworked and underpaid, we cannot then expect so much from them and that is the beginning of saturation of the labor market with half-baked graduates.

That is not to say all the students who graduate from these institutions are half – baked, some go the extra mile and pat their backsides in the libraries and managed to get some good skills. I know of many in my profession who went through these colleges and are stars at what they do.

Public universities joining queue

It would be rather simplistic of me to assume that this is only a problem of the private collages. Public universities have not been left behind with the commercialization craze.

Today the third floors also house satellite campuses of public universities. For a long time our universities have also been churning out half-baked Diploma and Degree graduates.

These campuses neither have adequate staff nor required infrastructure for learning. The trend has seen universities hire lecturers with undergraduate degrees, something that was unheard of before.

The move by the Commission for University Education to have the minimum qualification of lecturers to a PhD will go along way to ensure that our students are instructed by qualified professionals, that though is not the only thing.

Bringing back the value on certificates

To be able to ensure that the degrees and diplomas actually mean something, we must aggregate how teaching is done in institutions of higher learning.

The Commission of University Education should be actively involved in accreditation of universities and tertiary institutions to ensure that colleges and universities actually have the right resources to adequately train students.

To curtail on commercialization, we must ensure that institutions admit students based on their capacity. This will ensure that we don’t have very few lecturers teaching thousands of students.

Professional bodies should also take an active role in ensuring the curriculum taught at these institutions is relevant to the requirements in the market.

The Media Council of Kenya has set an example in this role by ensuring that it accredits institutions that teach Journalism and Media Studies and further accredits media practitioners annually. The Media Council has also developed a curriculum to ensure that grandaunts from the different institutions have similar training.

If that is actively embraced by other professions and corruption is eliminated in the process we will indeed restore the confidence people once had in certificates. Today though the pieces of paper might well indeed be “certificates of doom.”

Digital Migration – the truth, the half-truths and the outright lies

I have tried to stay away from the conversation around the digital migration save for a few tweets for the fear of being seen as biased towards my colleagues in the media.

I was however compelled to add my voice to this debate after a very engaging session held yesterday by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) at Nailab in Nairobi. I will however try not to insult your grandmother like Larry Madowo did in his article.

The session which was hosted by Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) gave CAK an opportunity to tell their side on the story on a neutral ground. You can follow the conversation on twitter using #CAExp.

What came out clearly from the BAKE Experience (#CAExp) and several articles (including Larry’s) that I have read over the last few days in the media and on the blogs is that both the Communications Authority and the “Analogue 3″ are being economical with the truth.

The Truths

1. Digital Migration is definitely good for this country. It will ensure that broadcasters can reach wider audiences than they would on their analogue transmitters. It also provides audiences with better quality sound and pictures.

2. We cannot run away from digital migration. A famous quote credited to French poet Victor Hugo goes, “not even the strongest army can stop an idea whose time as come.” Digital migration is one of those ideas. The wealth of opportunities for content creators, advertisers and audiences is just enormous for lack of a better word.

3. New players are accorded a level playing ground with existing media houses. We all agree that it is much easier to set up a digital broadcasting platform than an analogue one. The content producers or broadcasters do not even have to worry about signal distribution costs which is very prohibitive in the analogue setup. You might be wondering now that why then does the “analogue 3″ insist on doing their own transmission? I will address that under the half truths.

The half truths

1. The now infamous “analogue 3″ have been labeled as anti-digital migration. I don’t think these three companies are in any way anti – migration. If anything migration will give them a bigger audience and better reception in almost all parts of this country.

Every media owner dreams to reach their audiences with good quality signal something that is very difficult to guarantee with analogue transmission.

So why is this an half-truth and not an outright lie, the three media houses have for a long time enjoyed dominance of the industry mostly because of their financial might. They control more than 80% of the total viewership and advertisement revenue. This made it difficult for new entrants to join the market and compete effectively.

Like I said before, with the ease in which one can set up a digital broadcast, many entrants have entered the scene and without worrying about prohibitive signal distribution costs, these players might eat into their revenue. Probably why they want to have their own calibrated set top boxes that entrenches their monopolistic tendency.

KTN, NTV and Citizen did not switch themselves off.
2. The “analogue 3″ switched themselves off. The Standard Group, Nation Media Group and Royal Media Services did not wake up one Saturday morning and decided that they no longer want to broadcast to their viewers. Their signal was switched off by CAK and that’s the truth. At no point was any of these media houses supplying any third party signal distributor with a digital signal…the distributors took their analogue signal and distributed it digitally.

3. The current pay TV services are not infringing on copyright. What do you do when you pass someone else’s work as your own without their express approval? (I don’t need to answer that) That is exactly what Star Times and GOTv are doing. While pay TV channels claim that they only charge you for premium content, why is it that when you have not paid for your TV they also switch off your local content? That basically means that you are paying for them. The fact that these providers also have FTA decoders is a whole different argument. As far as I am concerned I pay to watch KTN, NTV and Citizen on GOtv, Zuku and Dstv (I don’t own a Startimes decoder but I know people who do).

4. That the “analogue 3″ do not have valid reasons to object to a third party carrying their signal. The fact that the third party carriers are selling their content is reason enough to be opposed to them carrying their signal. Why are we allowing these foreign players to reap where they did not sow? If they have to carry local channels, why don’t they carry KBC because at the end of the day that is the only must carry channel…(ignore the lie about 5 must carry channels).

The biggest concern however to these media houses is that having their signals carried by a government owned or foreign distributors makes it easy for the government to exercise censorship on unfavorable content.

We all know that KTN, NTV and Citizen TV (I am intentionally ignoring Qtv in this piece) regularly spend millions of shillings on investigative stories that “makes the government’s inside to turn.” Imagine how easy it will be for the government to switch off Jichopevu if it was carried by PANG or SIGNET. It’s not that the government has not tried it before, we all remember March 2nd 2006 when Michuki was minister of insecurity (pun intended).

5. Kenya is ready for digital migration. If a recent report by Ipsos Synovate is anything to go by, only 20 % of Kenyans own set top boxes.

Of the 20 percent that own set top boxes, 96 % of those set top boxes are actually Pat TV decoders – so the “analogue 3″ actually had a valid argument.

Whose fault is it that actually less than 4% of Kenyans own FTA STBs?

CAK, of course…even as the battle continues there is no clear civic education or public information coming from the industry regulator about the digital migration and the fact that Kenyans need to buy STBs. In fact to the ordinary Kenyan digital migration is synonymous to paying for TV.

At the #CAExp the CAK officials claimed that the three media houses thwarted their efforts to carryout public education on digital migration and I am here asking myself, does the Kenyan Media Industry only consist of 4 tv stations?

Why could they not use hundreds of radio stations, newspapers and the other TV stations like KBC & K24? Wait….somebody was expecting free advertisement. This is 2015, media owners want to make profit and don’t give a rat’s a$$ about public information.

The CAK is solely responsible for this and people’s heads should start rolling.

The rest of the world is moving over to digital broadcasting in 2015 June, what hurry was this that we were in that we had to switch over six moths before the rest of the world did?

I am not encouraging anybody to be a last minute man but truth is would we have lost anything if we allowed simulcast until May 31st midnight then switch off all the analogue signals?

In south Africa, they are switching over in 2017.

Is it too much to give these stations until May 31st to switch over because from where I stand we won’t be flouting any international engagements?

The outright lie

1. Hundreds of journalists will lose jobs to digital migration. This is a lie that has been peddled by some of the media houses. Digital Broadcasting is quite simpler and this will lead to redundancies of some of the technical personnel in our media houses. No journalist of producer need to lose their jobs because of this.

I know the technicians are people too but if we compare the random jobs that will be lost to the enormous amount of opportunities for independent content creators then the gains far outweigh loses.

2. That Kenyans suffer because of the blackout by the three media houses. The blackout has indeed given us a chance to realize that K24, KBC, Kiss TV, Ntaja TV and the likes also exist (not hating but they belong to the same category). We have as well realized that the content is still lacking. We do miss the three stations – Qtv might stay switched off for all I care.

I would love to know what you think, talk to me in the comments section.

BAKE Kisumu Chapter holds training for Kisumu bloggers

The Bloggers Association of Kenya – Kisumu Chapter last Saturday held a one day training on blogging and social media management.

The training which was held at LakeHub was attended by several social media enthusiasts from the lakeside city who wanted to improve their blogging and social media management skills.

The four hour training which was conducted by Denis Nyakach, Jael Lieta and Daniel Ominde from BAKE Kisumu covered:

* Basics of blogging and social media
*Personal online branding
*Basics of Public Affairs Blogging (Politics blogging)

For the first time ever #publicaffairsbloging by @iamominde #BAKEKisumu pic.twitter.com/oAO0dHhUKO

The session was attended by communications officers from various organizations in Kisumu, Social media activists, bloggers and members of Kisumu tech-community – LakeHub.

This was the second time that BAKE had organized a training for bloggers in Kisumu and blogging and social media enthusiasts who attended the training asked the organizers to hold another session soon to train them on intellectual property rights.

BAKE Kisumu is looking at engaging in long-term partnerships with LakeHub with the aim of
growing online content creation and building an active tech-community in the Western Kenya region.

You can follow conversations around the Kisumu training on twitter using #BAKEKisumu.