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.”