mAgric Innovations – Do they matter anyway?

Over the last decade, contribution of Kenya’s agriculture sector to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been below 30% but above 25%. Across East African countries, contribution of Agriculture has been similar to that of Kenya or declining altogether. The chart below shows the trend since 2001 in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

Contribution of Agriculture to national GDP remains significant but sub-optimal

Weight of the matters

Perhaps there’s no need to worry about this trend if it can be seen as a deliberate outcome of economic diversification strategies among individual countries. However agriculture continues to be the mainstay of most East African economies. Agriculture accounts for 61% of total employment in Kenya for instance. Contribution to national employment statistics by agriculture seems even higher among other East African countries as indicated in the chart below.

Agriculture contributes to the majority of employment opportunities

With such significance of Agriculture in employment creation, a question of proportions begs. That is the question of why the many jobs attributable to agriculture do not result in a commensurate contribution to national GDP growth by the sector in East Africa.

Necessary Mind Shift?

Everyone is capable of a radical mind shift at some point in their short lives. Health IT, eHealth and mHealth have been my favorite ICT4D areas for over half a decade. In 2013, I found myself shifting interests away from health towards agriculture. For avoidance of doubt, health is a great field to achieve results at a personal level, institutional level or otherwise. I wrote much about eHealth or related topic here in the “yester-years“.

In East Africa, the health sector has employed many brilliant minds especially in NGOs and government – from health care workers to health systems practitioners. Opportunities for innovation, entrepreneurship and even job careers in health continue to knock at doors of the region’s talented workforce. However this article in the East African based on a report titled  “Investments to End Poverty” by Development Initiative’s (DI) does much to present an alternative view which is validating my shifting focus.

According to DI’s report, “East Africa received nearly $9 billion of aid in 2011, with the biggest chunk channeled to the health sector“.  This according to the report is disproportionate to the real needs expressed by people in developing countries. The report suggests, “On the other hand, there are few political champions for those issues that top the list of citizens’ priorities in sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, such as jobs/income, security or infrastructure.” Furthermore, a World Bank Development Report in 2008 indicated that among developing countries, 1 percent GDP growth originating in agriculture potentially reduces poverty by at least 2.5 times as much as the same GDP growth originating in the rest of the economy. 

An all season water mass in a Kenyan rural under-utilized for Agriculture

Job creation and income generation for poverty eradication are the reasons I am betting big on mobiles for agriculture (mAgric) in 2014. It could be either mAgri or mAgric am referring to, or both. To me they both refer to the application of mobile technologies to help increase efficiency and productivity in agricultural value chains.There is the mAgri program of the GSM Association (GSMA) that makes generic use of the term mAgri difficult. To avoid confusing the GSMA program and the emerging discipline around mobiles for agriculture, I shall stick to mAgric as my reference abbreviation. 

Needless to say, mobile phones have become ubiquitous computers and communication devices in most developing countries. Mobile technology therefore appears top on the list before any other technology for fostering development in East Africa. This is already demonstrated in the area of financial inclusion. I have had my own observations, rants and raves on this in previous articles here. Ostensibly then, not much effort should be spent explaining the narrowing act of embracing mobile technology in development and not all information and communication technology in general. 

Agriculture is complex; Why mAgric anyway?

It should not be easy to convince everyone that advancements in mAgric innovation will single handedly solve the matter of sub-optimal productivity in East Africa’s agricultural sector. I shall argue though, that innovations and entrepreneurship in mAgric can play a big role in revitalizing and optimizing activities in agricultural value chains.

In his book “The New Harvest – Agricultural Innovation in Africa”, Calestous Juma, a renown professor of innovation and sustainable development argues that “Agriculture needs to be viewed as a knowledge-based entrepreneurial activity”. It is access to information and transactional efficiencies for value chain actors possible through mobile applications that I would bet on in mAgric. Such applications are bound to enhance the knowledge-based entrepreneurial activities that Prof. Juma refers to. 

growing array of mAgric innovations by local entrepreneurs

 Arguably, for developing nations serious about uplifting agricultural productivity, the role of mAgric in revitalizing agricultural practice is big. This is validated by the notion that for national economies to grow sustainably, deliberate premium has to be placed on a learning culture and improved problem solving skills in the productive population. These can be fostered through promotion and use of appropriate mobile applications in the case of agriculture.

Is mAgric stalling?

Many mAgric applications including Mfarm, iCow, eSoko, and M-shamba have been introduced to East Africa\’s agriculture actors over the last three years. Although it would seem obvious that uptake of such innovations will be rapid in East Africa, that has not been the case. m:lab East Africa has since 2012 organized a series of focus group discussions dubbed \”Wireless Wednesday\” that have highlighted issues bedeviling mAgric and the opportunities in the region. A recap of one such meet-up held in October 2013 highlights many issues including awareness and ease of use. Observations made in April 2012, are similar to those made in the more recent meet-ups and this beg the question of whether progress is being made. 

A video clip taken of Qureish Noordin (pardon the quality) from AGRA elaborating concerns from enablers\’ perspective below may help to demonstrate the complexity of issues affecting uptake of mAgric innovations in East Africa.

More efforts continue to be made to attract more innovations in the ICT for agriculture (ICT4ag)space. This is exemplified in CTA\’s ICT4ag competition in 2013 among other similarly themed contests targeting innovators in developing nations. The emerging concern among actors and enablers in the mAgric space is therefore whether any of the new or existing innovations can amass significant uptake for meaningful impact in the agricultural sector to be realized while achieving sustainability. 

Adjusted blogging interest ..

2013 had its own highlights and disappointments. One major highlight for me was a win against procrastination, whereby I got to register for long overdue doctoral studies. It is the apparent slow uptake, and sustainability challenges of mAgric applications that I shall be investigating in my PhD thesis throughout 2013 and beyond. That may explain the increased analysis and \”opinionation\” about mAgric applications, and the promise for agricultural prosperity throughout East Africa in this blog as 2013 comes along.

For now I shall leave you with another video clip (pardon the quality) taken of Safaricom\’s Peter Gichangi sharing his thoughts with developers at a Wireless Wednesday meet-up addressing the challenges for uptake of mAgric applications.


ATM fraud: Forget EMV; Try Mobile Money

This christmas did not pass without much drama for many Kenyans. Banks had for some days before the holidays sent what looked like panic notifications advising customers to change their ATM card PIN numbers. Although I don\’t recall being a targeted recipient of the \”Change your PIN\” plea by my bank, good old twitter amplified the message at some point on 23rd and 24th December.

As fate would have it, having been unable to scamper for the seemingly account-saving change of PIN, Christmas eve would be the day fraudsters would hit my account. In the resulting helplessness of things, where else to go but good old twitter to share the experience with the rest of the world?

So off went the message, if only to tell fellow Kenyans that the earlier \”Change your PIN\” messages were not to be taken as jokes. Some of what followed would become history with some coverage on Citizen TV.

When old friend Henry called me up for an interview on the fiasco, one key message was in my mind to tell their TV audience. That message was;

\”Using mobile money is comparatively safer than using ATM cards\”.

Obviously my message did not come out in the interview – it must have been so under developed in my mind that the editors could not infer much from what I said. Or perhaps the story needed to link better with the apparent agitation by Kenya Bankers Association and Pesa Point for banks to migrate their ATMs and card systems to the Europay, MasterCard, Visa (EMV) standard. The EMV platform also seems to be called the \”chip and pin\” system by journalists. The more I thought through my mobile-money-is-better message, the more the questions to myself piled on.

To begin with, lets see what technological challenges the fraudster has; :-

For ATM skimming; the kind of fraud that has apparently hit many Kenyans to happen, the fraudster has to have accessed the victim\’s account details – which details are usually encoded in the black magnetic strip on the back side of the card. The fraudster has also to somehow discover the victim\’s four digit PIN number related to the card; which is never stored among the other details in the card – in the case of magnetic strip cards. In short, armed with the information in the magnetic strip, the fraudster makes a clone of the victim\’s ATM card and the only other thing they need is the victim\’s pin number after which they can do anything the victim can do with the account at their safest, favorite ATM.

To setup their trap for gathering the above two pieces of information, fairly common place technology is used. In both cases of the magnetic strip ATM card, the fraudster has to overcome two technological challenges; that of cloning the information in the card and that of knowing the original card\’s PIN number.

In both cases, the technological challenge of knowing the victim\’s PIN number is easily surmountable with diminishing size and increasing abilities of spy cameras. The fraudsters\’ other option is to overlay a look a like key entry pad on the ATM\’s original pad.

To gather account information on the card matching the PIN acquired, the fraudster needs only to acquire a magnetic strip reader that can be appended in a disguised manner to the ATM\’s authentic reader. Similarly, a smart card reader can be appended to the authentic ATM reader in the case of EMV cards. Once the the information is read (copied) by the fraudster, their next move is to write (paste) it to their own \”fake\” card which becomes a clone of the original one in the victim\’s wallet.

For curiosity click here so read a fraudster\’s how-to – only if you will not join in the crime.

The human action challenge

Since most, if not all ATMs in Kenya have guards assigned to them at all times, the fraudster also must plan to either bribe away the \”soldier\” or somehow get the guard to sleep so that they get ample time to install paraphernalia on the ATM. The other cheaper way to get pieces of the information required by the fraudster is to be friends with a rogue bank (card center) staff or promise to share the earnings of the venture with them. For my discussion\’s sake I shall consider this a human challenge and not a technological challenge – the later being the substantive discussion here.

The SMS alert challenge (StanChart Scenario)

In my opinion, the fraudsters\’ greatest challenge for the magnetic stripe case is that of the SMS alerts sent to the victim\’s phone detailing when and where a transaction takes place. That allows the user to act promptly in response to the attack. SMS alerts related to Point of Sale purchases usually bear  names and locations of merchants where transactions take place. Specific location information is surprisingly missing in the StanChart SMS alert messages for ATM withdrawals. The alerts do not specify the exact location of the ATM which could assist in \”nubbing\” fraudsters if for some lucky convergence of factors there are contactable, and cooperative police officers or publics in the vicinity of the crime – among other factors. A workaround for the fraudsters in the StanChart case seems to revolve around the delivery time of SMS alerts. How SMS alerts seemed to get to victims 5 hours after the fraudulent transactions whereas under normal circumstances such notifications are received instantly is a puzzle. 

The Cloning Challenge

Data on magnetic stripe cards does not have \”copy-protection\” features and hence cloning of cards based on this technology is fairly straightforward for the criminals. This is not the case for EMV cards. At the point of making a copy of the original cards, fraudsters face a tougher technological challenge of cryptography. This is where banks, merchants and card issuers implement the EMV card system. Cryptography under the EMV standard prescribes a process where data in the smart card can be protected against modification or cloning. This is one of the features that EMV proponents have successfully used to rally banks the world over (including in Nigeria) to transition from the magnetic stripe – with Kenyan banks being left behind.

Although the EMV card system carries reduced chances of ATM fraud, Rober Murdoch  and other researchers at University of Cambridge have exposed a couple of vulnerabilities with EMV implementations. These include the wedge vulnerability, the pin entry device vulnerability, and relay attacks. Below is a UK video narrating two real life fraud experiences and a re-inaction of the fraud against an EMV card

Th more scary concern here is the insistence by EuroPay, MasterCard and Visa that liability for fraud affecting an EMV (Chip and Pin) card implementation MUST be borne by the cardholder. I leave that fight for the consumer rights activists to pick up as they seem to have success with the Digital TV migration issue case.

Mobile Money – Technologically Simpler, and Superior?

An now to my theory about better safety in Mobile Money withdrawals and purchases: This is building on a not so old article in Kopokopo\’s blog. In the article, Ben Lyon argued that it is safer to pay with M-Pesa than using credit / debit cards. Ben\’s argument relates well for \”point of purchase\” situations among ATM card holders and everyone needs to take note of that to begin with.

It can be argued for the specific case of \”Point of Withdrawal\”, that technological challenges for fraudsters capturing PIN numbers in the case of Mobile Money account holders are much greater than with the ATM case. The ATM is a public machine where anyone can \”legitimately\” access the physical installation. The mobile phone is a personal device. A technological pin capturing scheme by any fraudster against mobile money systems can potentially be reduced to spying on usage of individual mobile phone key pad. This seems much more difficult than setting up spy cameras or overlaid key pads at the ATM accessed by multiple account holders. The question is if the mobile operators can assure people that the communication channel between the mobile phone and the mobile money authentication service is encrypted, which would reduce options for the fraudster sniffing the line for peoples mobile money PIN numbers across the mobile networks.

The mobile money equivalent of cloning the account holder information seemed complicated for the fraudster, until I thought about Sim Cloning. Although there are arguments suggesting that sim cloning is practically impossible, theoretically a fraudster could clone a SIM card if they had enough reason. They might as well steal the original sim card / phone from the account holder if SIM cloning became imposible. Of course the parallel to stealing the SIM card in the ATM fraud case is that of stealing the card from the card holder which is not an area of comparison in this article.

Critics of mobile money will say that mobile money agents are scarce geographically and may not be accessible for withdrawals at night. The same applies for ATM infrastructure, and mobile money fairs better on the same yardsticks in rural areas. More importantly, withdrawal of mobile money from ATMs is possible without using the all-vulnerable ATM cards. Instructions for withdrawing Mpesa and Airtel Money from PesaPoint ATMs is evidence to that. Mobile money\’s early challenges of float for deposits and agent distribution are also surmountable.

The challenge on volumes of amount acceptable within mobile money is also real. One can pay bills of $2,000 using a credit card in the UK and thats not possible in with Mobile money in Kenya. When reduced to the context of money withdrawals, Mobile money and ATM systems seem comparable since ATM systems often imply daily or weekly withdrawal limits for security.

Putting your mouth where you money is …

With possible security loopholes in Magnetic stripe systems, EMV cards and mobile money, the discussion of which one to build on and enhance is obvious – to me. Kenyan\’s financial institutions, mobile network operators and independent innovators should invest resources in making their mobile money implementations more secure –  so secure that for security considerations, they stand out ahead of solutions fronted by foreign corporation such as Visa and Mastercard.

There is already a national competitive advantage built around mobile money among Kenyan institutions. From mobile money transfers to mobile banking to mobile money withdrawal Kenya is at the forefront in showing the world how to grow the platform. The solution to the ATM fraud issue should therefore not be obviously the expensive replacement of banks\’ the magnetic stripe card infrastructure with a smart card based EMV infrastructure. Part or most of the solution is for banks and other players to better embrace Kenya\’s mobile money revolution.

Conclusion: Job Creation

By the sheer fact that mobile money systems create jobs at the agency level that upgraded (EMV based) ATM machines will not create, it can be argued that putting our mouth where our money is by developing mobile money systems more is better than mass importing new ATM machines, Point of sale terminals and other related infrastructure items

Evolving thoughts on innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth

Entrepreneurs create new businesses, and new businesses in turn create jobs. New businesses intensify competition for existing larger businesses. Increased competition forces small and large entreprises alike to innovate and be more efficient in creating value for customers. Efficient value creation results in a more productive economy hence economic growth. 

Arguably, many large entreprises in East Africa do not face much competition, enough to give research and development the priority place required for innovation to grow. Furthermore, many of the larger entreprises within East Africa are multinationals whose research and development initiatives are controlled by their parent entities abroad. Therefore innovation for such multinationals is more likely to target global markets and not local markets in developing countries where revenue streams are comparatively insignificant. The other significant proportion of large entreprises in East Africa is comprised of parastatals and government entities which are by their very design incapable of being innovative. Generally, government related corporations are so stuck in public sector dynamics that innovation and value optimization for customers is rarely a real intention among their top executives.

The role of value optimization and innovation in East Africa\’s economies is therefore by default delegated to smaller enterprises, start-up firms and entrepreneurs driven by the opportunities or necessities created in the market place. In a 2006 paper titled \”Is entrepreneurship good for economic growth?\” Zoltan Acs used Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring (GEM) data from over 20 countries to argue that not all such entrepreneurial activity contributes to economic growth. The case is more apparent in developing countries where individuals are forced into entrepreneurship by necessity (lack of jobs) rather than primarily to pursue perceived market opportunities.

Very often, independent startup ventures in developing economies are likely to fail at some point for the following reasons :-
  • Derailment by alternative opportunities – Founders can get derailed easily by employment opportunities emerging with larger companies, NGOs and government institutions promising to afford them financial comfort – albeit for the medium term. Besides formal employment opportunities for founders, start-up firms often find themselves derailed by opportunities to service contracts that are not related to their core mission. This way their \’flagship products\’ suffer stunted growth  as the firm evolves into a \”general consulting\” outfit.
  • Start-up firms easily get locked into a sub-optimal operating state where they lack finances to increase awareness of their new otherwise viable products. They lack marketing funds to acquire critical numbers of customers to break-even in their operatons. Such startups end up not growing or closing down as they find it very difficult to penetrate the market. 
  • Individuals forced into entrepreneurship by necessity are likely to lack technical or managerial skills to grow their business beyond certain levels unless they raise funds to employ the people with the right skill sets. Startups are often unable to acquire the right human resources for growing their businesses beyond the vulnerable start up phase. As a startup begins to move beyond their minimum viable product, they rapidly require to shift focus on marketing, working capital management and project management among other aspects of business management without which sustainability is not assured.
The common thread the above reasons for startup failure is \”access to capital\”. A strong case exists therefore for entrepreneurs in East Africa to prioritize their fund raising efforts for sustainable growth. Given that debt financing for young startups is rarely an option in East Africa, entrepreneurs need to focus on other forms of financing such as grants and equity investment. That is not to forget the option of participating in entrepreneurship competition with significant prize monies such as Pivot East.

That grant financing would be preferable to entrepreneurs is a no brainer. However, although grants are accessible if one is lucky, equity based investments present better opportunities for serious startups raising funds for growth. Equity based fund raising ensures that founders think through their business seriously as investors will only touch them if they can validate their business models for significant returns on investment. Equity based investment also ensures that the founders have a better sense of business accountability by virtue of other people having a stake in the business. Equity based financing often comes with opportunities for business mentorship and networking linkages from the financing parties. The temptation among entrepreneurs often is to resist dilution of their equity ownership by introduction of investors. That mentality begs the question \”would you rather own 100% of a $10k company destined for stagnation or  would you rather own 70% of a $10k company on a solid growth path to $10m?\”

In conclusion, there is need for the entrepreneurs to take equity investment options more seriously for growth and sustainability of their businesses. That way the economies in East Africa can benefit from innovations and value optimizations expected from entrepreneurs and smaller businesses while the bigger corporates evolve to create value to customers more efficiently at a much slower pace.

Growing list of entrepreneurship competitions as Startup Weekend comes to Nairobi

In the last year or so Nairobi has been treated to a multiplicity of competitions and contest organised to promote local technology entrepreneurship. Depending on whether the chicken or the egg came first, one would argue that this has contributed to significant buzz and interest around East Africa’s growing tech start-up culture.

That the region is experiencing growth in the tech start-up scene is difficult to dispute. Doubting people only need to consider the tech scene’s coverage from global media houses such as The Next Web ( Mnachi Mdema’s article and Francis Pisani’s artice), the ReadWriteWeb (Curt Hopkins article), BBC (Egon Cossou’s article), and CNN (Dayo Olopade’s article) – to name a few.

Some of the entrepreneur competitions in the last one year that I can barely recall are IPO48, Garage48, App Circus, Huawei developer challenge. Some of the contests take a more global scope such as Nokia’s Create for millions Contest, infoDev’s Top 50 competition,Google Android Sub Sahara contest,  and Apps4Africa. Other global challenges that are still ongoing include Samsung’s Bada Developer Challenge,the Ericsson Applications Award and infoDev’s m2work Micro-work Challenge.

The list of competitions for 2011 above is almost endless. It is however incomplete without mentioning Pivot 25, the predecessor of Pivot East. Being East Africa’s premier mobile apps competition culminating in a pitching conference in June, Pivot East is to many perceived the grand showcase of mobile entrepreneurship in East Africa.

I have come across arguments in the local tech scene that developers and aspiring entrepreneurs have began to suffer from “competition fatigue” so we should “slow down” on them. I argue that we are not yet having too many competitions and that in fact we cannot possibly have enough contests of this kind in East Africa. This in my view will continue to be for as long as we have not as a society fully embraced the start-up culture. More so we should hold as many such competitions as possible for as long as our upcoming tech entrepreneurs have gaps in access to capital, markets, coaching, mentorship and other related entrepreneurship facilitation.

This weekend of 24th-26th February 2012 comes along with at least one more competition in Nairobi – Startup Weekend. The event will be hosted by Nailab at Bishop Magua Center which is gradually becoming Nairobi’s tech startup building. The competition organization in different locations globally borrows from a common format overseen and supported by Startup Weekend, a 501c(3) Non-Profit organization in the San Francisco – United States. It  is designed to be a “54-hour event where developers, designers , marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups”. The format is very much like Garage48 and IPO48 and goes as follows :-

  • On Friday Evening attendees present their best ideas in open mic pitching sessions.  
  • Over Saturday and Sunday teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, practicing LEAN Startup Methodologies and building a minimal viable product.
  • On Sunday evening teams demo their prototypes and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts.

In this weekend’s edition of the event in Nairobi, attendants buy tickets at a fee of Kshs 2,050 payable through M-PESA business number 111666 (received by Growth Africa Limited). Delegates attending the event finale on 26th February only, will pay an entrance fee of KES 500. More information on tickets can be found on the event website

The organizers have stated in their website engagement of re-known personalites in the industry for speakers, judges and mentors.  These according to the organizers include Virtual City’s John Waibochi, ICT board’s Paul Kukubo, Paul Mwachi of Isys Software, Capital FM’s Chris Kirubi, inMobi’s Moses Kemibaro, and Craft Silicon’s Kamal Buthabati. Judging from the results of other weekend long contests held in Nairobi where teams of entrepreneurs accessed prize money, entrepreneurship capacity building, early stage investment and access to valuable networks, I would encourage many upcoming entrepreneurs to take part in this event.

Many more start-ups participating in contests such as Startup Weekend can only make East Africa grow its knowledge economy through entrepreneurship.  When more of the upcoming entrepreneurs are empowered with skills, exposure and funding, one can only bet on East Africa being able to showcase great progress in the region’s mobile entrepreneurship. The region’s Pivot East Pitching Conference and other entrepreneur showcase avenues may therefore brace themselves for bigger challenges in selecting the best of the best. 

Gearing up for Mobile Web East Africa 2012

East Africa region continues to strengthen its profile as a mobile innovation hub. As mobile developers, entrepreneurs and stakeholders prepare for Pivot East, the regions mobile apps pitching conference in June, a couple of industry related events are happening as well. These events are helping to showcase East Africa as a mobile innovation destination.
This week on 22nd and 23rd February, Nairobi gets to host one of East Africa’s conferences on the mobile web ecosystem. The conference was first held in Nairobi on 3rd and 4th February 2010 and comes back to the City two years later. Much has changed in the last two years and the conference is an opportunity for many to catch up with the state of affairs since mobile phone penetration and  mobile data connectivity began to increase exponentially in the region.  The conference will be at the Southern Sun Mayfair and Kenya ICT board are its official hosts.

*iHub_ and m:lab East Africa are officially supporting the event. A 30% discount is granted for iHub members attending the conference for which registration can be made online here. The event organizers also are offering 50% subsidies on delegate fees to developers and start up companies under 2 years old and less than 10 employees. The event promises to be interactive and full of insights for developers, entrepreneurs and professionals playing in the mobile web sector. With a compelling agenda, the list of speakers and the discussion panelists, delegates are likely to appreciate better the state of affairs in the region’s mobile web ecosystem.

The conference starts with Kenya’s ICT Board CEO Paul Kukubo Reviewing the evolution of the Kenyan sector from 2010 to 2012. The CEO is expected to highlight successess and challenges around, Local content, app monetisation, startup/SME financing,  and innovation hubs. Kenya’s Permanent Sectretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication is expected on the same day to speak about the government dedication and support to the ICT sector. The conference is also expected to here from Research In Motion’s Technical Partnership Manager for Sub Saharan Africa – Michael Weitzel.

Mark Kaigwa, a partner at Afr-innovator, an African technology news portal will also be there to examine the “Silicon Savanah” tag and whether it carries much substance beyond the increased marketing efforts by the Government. Other presentation and discussion themes for the first day include mobile marketing and the opportunity for app monetization and growth of brands. Frank Maina of Sponge East Africa and inMobi’s Moses Kemibaro will be speakers in this session. Entertainment and media consumption on mobile devices will be another area of discussion with Johan Nel, Chief Executive Officer & Founder, Umuntu Media speaking. Emma Kaye, Chief Executive Officer of Bozza will talk about the prospects of growth in mobile film making.

The second day commences with Strathmore University’s Joseph Sevilla exploring the trend of tech focused youth that might drive the next generation of mobile content, services and companies. Judith Owigar of AkiraChix will also speak on efforts to enhance uptake of tech-entrepreneurship by women. John Carroll, Director of Technology at ForgetMeNot Software will speak on what it takes to to cultivate a startup culture. Other presentation and discussion themes lined up for the second day include using mobile as a tool for empowerment and social good.

The second and final day will culminate in an app developer competition where 5 entrants will battle it out for $1500 worth of InMobi ad network spend and blackberry handsets among other prizes and benefits. The competitors will have five minutes to pitch.

The conference will end with an open mic session where any member of the delegation can take the podium present and discuss whatever they like in 5 minutes. Each open-mic presentation will be followed by 5 minutes of questions and answers with the audience.

A full programme for the two day conference can be viewed in the conference’s website (

Key Points in Kenya’s new e-Health Strategy

During the month of August 2011, one of the many developments in the national Health and ICT scene was the launch of Kenya\’s National e-Health Strategy 2011-2017. The vision of the strategy is “To develop efficient, accessible, equitable, secure and consumer friendly health care services enabled by ICT”. The strategy also outlines a mission to “promote and deliver efficient healthcare services to Kenyans and consumers beyond our borders, using ICT”.

Hon. Peter Anyang Ngong\’o – Kenya\’s Minister for Medical Services officially launched the strategy on 11th August 2011.

Hon. Peter Anyang\’ Nyongo – Kenya\’s Minister for Medical Services

Calling for a paradigm shift

The newly launched strategy seeks to set in motion a process of compensating for the shortage of skilled health care professionals by harnessing ICT for improved healthcare delivery. It also aims to tap into the latent capacity of healthcare consumers to play an active role in the protection and management of their personal health. The strategy also leverages the imperative for the government to provide quality healthcare for all its citizens to build a nation with increased economic and social productivity.

These underlying themes constitute a requisite mindset to begin addressing the failures of the country\’s National Health Sector Strategic Plan – NHSSP I (1999 – 2004) and NHSSP II (2005 – 2010).

The Real Challenges

Challenges of the health care sector in Kenya are highlighted for attention in the strategy are

  • A shortage of healthcare professionals   
  • Emerging threats to public heath such as H1N1 ad H5N1 flu
  • Expectation of equality in service deliver among rural and urban populations
  • Silos of care resulting in duplication and difficulties for national health management     information systems
  • Inadequate health infrastructure and equipment

Strategic areas of intervention

To address the above challenges the strategy isolates five key areas of intervention forming a five pillar conceptual framework approach as follows:

  1. Telemedicine
  2. Health Information Systems
  3. Information for citizens
  4. mHealth
  5. eLearning

Although the document does not take time to elaborate specific roles and expectations for these pillars in the conceptual framework, the strategy acknowledges that the pillar will include technology service overlaps and that interventions might cut across pillars.


Stakeholders involved in development of the strategy prioritised the Health Information Systems Pillar for implementation. Indeed this is a clever move because it targets to build on progress made by the Ministry of Health’s division of health information systems to access some low hanging fruits. Arguably it appears to be a politically clever move to focus the Division of eHealth and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and the Division of Health Information systems on the same objectives.

The Health Information Systems pillar was further subdivided for implementation in the strategy into various functional domains as  follows :-

  • Patient Centric Information
  • Pharmacy and Medical Supply Chain Information System
  • Financial Information, including insurance and payments
  • Health Workforce Management and Training
  • Regulation

Curiously, this subdivision of functional domains seems to relegate health management information systems (HMIS) in which significant progress has been achieved with the ongoing national roll-out of DHIS2 (username and password available from HIS division).

One more notable inclusion in the strategy is a phase to design the Enterprise Architecture for e-Health Strategy implementation. Depending on how well this is done, persistent concerns among stakeholders such as effort replication, implementation silos and unproductive undercurrents on tools selection should be a thing of the past.

The strategy was developed by the Ministry of Medical services in conjunction with the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation and with the support of the World Bank Country Office. There also seems to have been a fair attempt to make the strategy development participatory. This was championed by Dr. Esther Ogara, Head of the eHealth and CPD division. Listed contributors to the strategy included physicians, pharmacists, ICT experts, supply chain experts, economists and development workers.

Of Mobile Money Reliability and a Case for Multi-SIM phones

Mobile Money in Kenya, and East Africa in general has become part and parcel of everyday activities. Often times users of M-Pesa in Kenya are seen complaining about how their mobile money payments (or transfers) did not go through in good time to much their hurry. Sometimes users complain about a complete failure of their attempted transactions. One would think then, \”if M-PESA is that unreliable, why not Use alternative mobile money transfer platforms?\” The reality is that the alternatives – the likes of Airtel Money, Yucash, Orange Money and Mobikash may not always be better. For instance, the alternatives might imply one driving for a long while looking for an agent to deposit money for the transaction as their agent networks are largely under-developed.

Critical minutes of need

At a critical moment this evening, I run out of power in my house (still learning to match KPLC pre-payments and usage). So having got used to the convenience of recharging the pre-paid meter account using M-PESA, I reached out for my phone telling people around that I would get power back in just a few minutes. I went ahead and used M-PESA\’s pay bill option for some units of power (business number 888880). After twenty minutes in darkness and not  having received a recharge token, I began ranting about unreliable M-PESA and slow delivery of SMS messages by Safaricom.

Emergency funds on Airtel Money

In the moment of impatience and grit (in darkness of course), I remembered I had recently loaded my Airtel Money account with some emergency funds.  Emergency it was, so I checked my Airtel 
Sim card option and used Airtel Money’s relatively simpler pay-bill service to order some units of power for the same KPLC meter. After about 1 minute, interestingly, I got SMS notifications on both Airtel and Safaricom Sim cards of the requested recharge tokens.

Simplistic conclusion

I waited 21 minutes to receive prepaid KPLC power units from Safaricom’s M-Pesa and 1 minute to receive the same from Airtel Money. There is probably an easy conclusion on the relative speeds of these two mobile money platforms. Those with more scientific minds might however wish for more “sample readings” for the same experiment. Regardless of the ultimate conclusion for such a rigorous approach, it is obvious that the speed of transactions is not the only factor for the choice of a mobile money platform.

While M-PESA may have an impressive national spread of agents in Kenya, the service is often down for various reasons (including congestion).  Orange Money, Airtel Money and others may be feature rich and perform better on transaction speeds. They may even boast of better international agent networks. However their local agent networks often fail would-be customers miserably.

Indeed there are ideal situations for instance where one has easy access to Airtel’s customer care center for money top up and Pesanet ATMs for withdrawals. In that case one might not really feel the pinch of a poor agent network. That would be more so if all they do is use pay pill options for utility payments and other integrated remittances. In that case the receiving party as well is not directly affected by the agent network’s extensiveness.

Enjoy from all sides

With mobile number portability efforts having failed to fulfill much of their promise, people may wish to try a time tested approach – getting the best from all sides. By keeping multiple SIMs – active or inactive, one can subscribe to services from all mobile network operators and enjoy the benefits from all directions. They can then invoke the service from the most ideal mobile carrier in their immediate context. With my little KPLC pay bill experiment (or accident) above am thinking I shall continue keeping at least 2 mobile money services with some emergency money for such situations. When more people begin to get smart in this suggested way, then multi-SIM devices become a necessity. The argument can be extended with much ease for voice and data services where pricing and service quality can vary significant across mobile carriers, taking into account usage at different times and geographical spaces.

Of Samsung (Wyre’s) Duos and others

Incidentally Samsung seem to have discovered the promise of Dual SIM markets in emerging economies well before other manufacturers. Samsung dual sim phones are the only ones that have worked for me over time (4 years now). Of late I have been trying Samsung’s Duos (C3222?) and I think it is as convincing as its predecessors in handling dual SIM cards. Sadly no manufacturer yet has dual SIM smart phone yet (forget the Chinese counterfeits).

In summary, multi SIM mobile phones increasingly have a way of saving consumers from unhealthy emotional attachment to their mobile networks. Gladly I think I recently convinced a friend – @techweez  to take this trend seriously. It is perhaps by recognizing the need for such mobile phones that manufacturers might endear themselves better to the peculiar consumer market in East Africa.

Child Count for A growing mHealth scene in Kenya

As the pivot25 competition progresses,  I have been getting curious over the nature of applications coming up in the category for mHealth. I thought to myself that perhaps an analysis of locally existing albeit underutilised mHealth applications will help to manage my curiosity.

Useful perspective

For some reason a lot of my last 8 years was spent working on information systems to improve community based health services. It is a shame that I did not get myself interested enough in SMS based data collection platforms for health service delivery  until recently. Earlier in the year, while reading through @mberg\’s blog post I was even surprised by a prediction to see a lot less discussion about the differences in particular platforms (CommCare, ChildCount+, FrontlineSMS:Medic, Mwana, MoTeCH). I could be excused for my apparently slow uptake of these tools because the Kenyan Health IT scene to which I vainly contributed has over the years been mark-timing. The apparent stalling of Health IT in Kenya seems to be caused by a 7+ year old inconclusive debate of which tools are best for electronic medical records (EMR) systems.

First encounter

Great initiatives like ChildCount have a way of eventually popping up the stack despite being implemented with muted marketing effort. I first heard about ChildCount in one of the annual OpenMRS meetings. I was not only impressed that ChildCount seamlessly integrates with OpenMRS for its master database. The SMS based platform impressed me further with its easy application in Kenya’s remote areas empowering communities to improve child survival and maternal health.

How it works

ChildCount uses  uses SMS text messages to facilitate and coordinate the activities of community health care workers (CHWs). CHWs are community based health care providers. Any standard phone can be used by CHWs to register patients and report their health status to a central web dashboard for as long as there is a slight mobile carrier signal. The system supports messaging features for communication between members of the health service provision system alongside an automated alert system which all combine to reduce gaps in treatment for local communities. By providing a central web dashboard with information based on the processed SMS messages, ChildCount also provides a real-time view of health of in a community.

The new improved ChildCount+ works slightly differently from the initial deployment but the overall approach remains fundamentally the same.

A combination of noble efforts

The ChildCount platform is developed by the Earth Institute in collaboration with the UNICEF Innovation Team for the Millennium Villages Project. ChildCount is now free and open-source software available under the GPL License. It is build on yet another open source framework – RapidSMS. An important provision of phone handsets for CHWs to initially launch the service was facilitated by Sony Ericsson in early 2009. Airtel Kenya, then known as Zain also assisted in setting up a toll free number for the project . The project has also benefited from having in its team Matt Berg, as its Technology Director. Matt was in the 2010 list of Time’s top 100 influential people of the world


Like many other open-source platforms, it is difficult to know how many installations of ChildCount exist across the globe. For sure though, after interacting with some good people at the millenium villages project like Maurice Baraza, I know that ChildCount is instrumental to their exemplary service delivery at their project in Sauri in Kenya’s Siaya County. At Sauri, the project covers over 65,000 people  with child and maternal health care services. They have also deployed the system at the Dertu millenium village project in Kenya’s Garissa County.

In the larger East Africa, ChildCount is deployed in at least one millennium village in Tanzania. In regional health informatics circles, word has it that the Rwanda government is considering a national deployment of ChildCount to support its community based health service delivery system. This does not come in as a surprise as the Rwanda government has recently been a regional leader in taking up ICT to improve its service delivery with more action than speak.

Less speak for more action

More information on ChildCount can be found on the project’s website. This pdf report might be useful for those wishing to dig deeper into the rationale behind the project and its initial success as a pilot. It should interest local mobile application developers and mHealth enthusiasts to consider building on ChildCount’s successes as they seek to further innovate mobile solutions in health services. RapidAndroid is definitely a natural platform to look at in keeping this innovation wheel spinning. We can only hope that pivot25, the Android Developer Challenge and other developer competitions will spur innovation in this direction. I shall leave readers with a video of the health care service delivery works going on at Sauri Millenium Village that I found useful

Nairobi\’s Tech Scene – Personal Highlights for Quarter 1 of 2011

My last article in this blog was posted in December 2010. That makes almost 5 months since I made a serious post.  It was by no means intentionally staying away from writing for this long. It was rather more of  \’the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak\’. To kick start blogging again I shall lazily try to recap the noteworthy developments I have observed in my small technology world during the first three months of 2011.

Mobile Monday with Pesapal – January 17
That was an inspiring moment especially listening to Agosta Liko of PesaPal. It was impressive to see a local technology startup begin to penetrate the corporate market place – with schools and banks. I still have not heard much from them regarding one of my wish list items though. They should think more through the possibilities for Kenyans paying monthly rent using PesaPal – their great payment information service. Liko\’s powerpoint presentation can be downloaded here.

OpenMRS meetup  – January 24
Despite the rainy morning, we had a great meetup with OpenMRS friends at the iHub that was ably organized by my friend @JWesonga. On the same day there was an opportunity to engage students at the university of Nairobi\’s School of Computing and Informatics which I had helped organise. It was lovely then to listen in to @ and @ as they sensitized the local computer science students who were mostly in second year on software development for good. 

Fireside Chat with Ken Oyolla – January 27th
I had this great opportunity to listen to Ken Oyola – Nokia\’s General Manager for East and Southern Africa during the iHub\’s monthly Fire Side chat. I had first met Oyolla when I was a form one in Mangu high school – he had \’cleared\’ from the great institution and was coming back as a mentor a year after. During the FireSide chat, it struck me how people do not change even after a decade or more of exposure to the world out there. Ken was still the same candidly inspiring strong personality. Am sure he will achieve another \’first one\’, beyond being the first African to hold such a high ranking position in Nokia.

Mid-Feb Transitional Period
Mid February was a transitional period for me as I left my fairly comfortable, no-real-pressure state corporation Job. It was time to take up a more challenging role with m:lab EAST AFRICA. The new role is really exciting and much worth the career shift as it fits magically into my ICT4D leadership aspirations. More so, it seems like the best opportunity to amplify my modest contribution to East Africa\’s knowledge economy.

Mobile Monday with Microsoft Guys – 21st February
In all honesty I do not have a history of being a fan of Microsoft\’s products. Having to say something about m:lab at the event, attending this Mobile Monday was mostly a duty call. I was impressed to see how Microsoft has been working hard to contribute towards positive social transformation across the world. They had a video of previous Imagine Cup winners from somewhere in Asia which was impressive. It was also my first event to hear about Craft Silicon\’s ELMA platform for rapid mobile application development of mobile banking solutions. The thought of having a mobile applications generator, for development without much coding sounded interesting – only I thought it will remove control and gratification from the local application developer.

It is a shame I missed February\’s Fire Side Chat with Larry Wall  (on 24th February). Larry Wall is the creator of the Pearl Programming Language for readers who would care to know.

iHub one year anniversary – 11th March
In the dying hours of the year 2010, I was reflecting and thinking to myself that inception of the iHub had been the greatest thing that had happened to Kenya\’s tech scene that year. I really wanted to blog my thoughts then but I realized I needed to avoid looking to oversell my hurriedly done late application for green membership. The thought passed by and in March I was happy to participate in iHub\’s first anniversary. Meeting the bigger iHub community was awesome although I had a rude culture shock of members murmuring away as ICT board\’s Paul Kukubo gave his speech. With me coming from a government background – it felt awkward. A parastatal CEO like Paul was meant to be revered and accorded maximum attention in public service circles – the murmurs felt radically different. Culture shock and assimilation aside, I look forward to a ground breaking year 2011 for the iHub community in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Mobile Monday with Moses Kemibaro of Dealfish – 21st March
This event was a must attend for me – not because of any duty call but because @MosesKemibaro is one of the most respectable bloggers in Nairobi\’s tech scene for me. I needed to find out what he had been up to after rumor had it that he was no longer actively involved with his DotSavvy company.  Moses is Regional Manager for Dealfish. His presentation helped to demistify Dealfish – currently a constant fixture in Nairobis outdoor bill boards and online google ad-words for the Kenya context. With tweets like this :- \”RT @ Dealfish are not sure how to monetize their service yet – they are not worried about this either \”, the message was loud and clear that Moses\’ new venture had deep pockets behind it. Moses fell short of being forthright on the issue of when Dealfish would start making money. His update later that Dealfish would turn on its money making machine at its own chosen time was quite telling on how serious the South African firm was about the Kenyan online market place.

During this Mobile monday it was also enlightening to know of m-order, an upcoming service from Hilda Moraa and her troop who were students at the Strathmore university. Nairobi\’s chapter of Mobile Monday has some good pictures of the event in their website here

Fireside Chat with John Waibochi of Virtual City 24th March
The iHub did it again with its March fireside chat. Then it was John Waibochi, the CEO of Virtual City on the raised floor. Virtual City is the Kenyan company that won 2010\’s Nokia innovation challenge with $1 million prize money. Mr. Waibochi\’s story was intriguing and inspiring as well. With the entrepreneurial tips of \’riding the wave\’  and exiting just before the wave\’s peak, Waibochi did well to motivate budding tech-entrepreneurs. His talk was much of a consolation also for me – to know that my corporate, MBAish background had a place in tech-entrepreneurship. It got me dusting down my  ERP, ISO 9000 and balanced scored card salesmanship cap with some rather unrealistic ambitions for my new career situation. Waibochi also offered tips on important global trends such as android and impact investment which he thought were more important than looking up to real life mentors.

Anticipation for Second Quarter of 2011
There were many developments and events I missed on in the first quarter of 2011. Indeed Nairobi has a thriving tech scene that no one person can keep track of all happenings. Watching the iHub\’s event calendar helps a bit though. In the months of April, May and June 2011, there are some important events I look forward to. One of them is iHub\’s Fireside chat for April which will have Mr. Joe Mucheru of Google Africa on the raised floor on 21st April. I also have much anticipation for this year\’s Pivot25 event that will see 25 mobile applications being showcased at Nairobi\’s Ole Sereni Hotel in June 2011. 

Sticky thoughts on Safaricom’s Direction with Bob Collymore

Two week old context

On the Saturday of December 4th 2010, I fought my way out of bed to make it on time for Mindspeak with Robert (Bob) William Collymore. Bob has been Safaricom’s Chief Executive Officer from October 2010 and many Kenyans were curious to hear ‘anything’ from him at the increasingly popular event.  Mindspeak is an event organized monthly on Saturday mornings by Mr. Aly Khan Satchu  (Chief Executive Officer of The venue for the event is  usually at the Nu Metro cinema, Westgate Mall in Nairobi’s Westlands area. The MindSpeak happened only two months after another insightful event I wrote about on ‘Reflections with Michael Joseph of Safaricom’ at the iHub Nairobi. A number of bloggers including James Murua , Tovuti Sanifu and UjenziBora have chronicled their observations at the MindSpeak event with Bob Collymore. A lot of the attendants were also tweeting the event live and their live feed was captured by afrinnovator using’s nifty tool. Mr. Aly Khan Satchu has also released a set of videos on the event in his Rich TV series. On this event, although over two weeks have passed and much has been documented, I still have a number of sticky thoughts to share. In this post I wish to hopefully enrich our view of Safaricom from my observations at the MindSpeak.

Excellent Marketing Opportunity

I have previously observed that the stiff competition among our four Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) will be won through presentation of genuine value propositions to the citizenry. Product attributes aside, it is the sheer appearance at MindSpeak by Bob that struck me as Safaricom’s marketing savvy that Yu, Orange,  and Airtel Kenya are yet to cath up with. Marketers have this argument that as competition increases it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish a product using traditional attributes such as price, quality and functionality. Perception management then becomes the other strategy to snatch extra points from the competition.

MindSpeak has this niche audience that has significant influence over Kenya’s increasingly important generation of young professionals and students. In the few MindSpeak events I have attended, I could not help but watch the speakers gleefully attempt to persuade the audience about their most intimately held sentiments. The persuasion efforts were all in acknowledgement of the potential influence of the audience particularly through blogs, twitter and social media in general.

Connection with the peculiar Kenyan citizenry

Throughout Bob Collymore’s presentation, it was evident that Safaricom intended to be perceived as a friend of the citizenry. In the presentation, Safaricom was quite ably endearing itself to the audience. Bob was stating Safaricom’s deliberate intentions to drive social and economic change in Kenya. The presentation related very well with Kenya’s dearest development issues including health, education and agriculture. It depicted Safaricom as a development partner and enabler, particularly (and quite strategically so) for rural Kenya.

For our fairly competitive telecom industry, Safaricom’s ability to connect with the citizenry through such a forum, articulating its most carefully packaged industry position was  enviable.  It is the essence of this deep connection with Kenya’s peculiar environment that Airtel and other competitors of Safaricom do not seem to understand – despite their often superior product offerings.

Arguably, Safaricom’s competitors are too busy packaging counter-offerings, forgetting the need to genuinely connect with their fairly unique operating context. Airtel for instance are still airing global or at most Africanized (one size fits all) advertisements in Kenya. Safaricom on the other hand is spending millions on custom Kenyanized  advertisements such as this acclaimed piece.  This is why Bob could confidently say that ‘the trust that the public has for safaricom is in itself a great asset’. Whether it is trust or the perceived connection with the citizenry, Safaricom indeed has accumulated for itself a wealth of such invisible assets.

Interests of Major Shareholder(s)

Throughout the presentation and the question/answer sessions, Bob Collymore would suddenly change to a very serious (almost cautious) tone whenever he talked about Safaricom’s shareholders. I found this tweet by Aly Khan Satchu useful :-
‘@alykhansatchu: 753,000 Shareholders keep me up at Night #Safaricom #Kenya #Mindspeak we have M-Pesa and Data 11:20am’

A member of the audience asked a question as one of the many small shareholders (many kenyans are) which I do not remember. At that point I thought to myself that perhaps Bob’s Pensive tone whenever talking about his shareholders was more about Safaricom’s Major shareholder(s) – Vodafone (40%) and GoK (35%).  As a Kenyan and a very small shareholder, I have continued to be frustrated by Safaricom’s disinterest in regional expansion – to Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and the rest of Africa. Bob confirmed my fears when he replied to a related question, saying that that Safaricom was simply not looking at a geographical diversification (regional expansion) strategy.

I have touched on Safaricom’s options for future growth in previous posts. Bob’s answer on the ‘would-be natural’ strategy of regional expansion reminded me of observations in those past articles. By virtue of Vodafone’s 40% ownership of Safaricom’s and them (Vodafone) having other subsidiaries in Uganda and Tanzania, a constraint is placed at the board level on any Safaricom ambition to enter the markets outside Kenya. Such is Vodafone’s influence over Safaricom’s future that any thoughts of venturing into other regional markets must consider Vodafone’s existing interests on the (foreign) ground.

The above constraint in my analysis has seriously limited Safaricom’s options for growth and remains its Achille’s heel. I have also argued previously that it is vodafone’s interests that cost Safaricom its ‘rightful’ stake in the ownership of the M-PESA patent. Consider that in one of the Bob’s answers during the MindSpeak, he reiterated the position that Michael Joseph – his predecessor had been retained by Vodafone among other things to be its ‘M-PESA ambassador’. Both Michael and Bob are Vodafone appointees. It should not take much rationalisation therefore to understand that Safaricom’s leadership will always steer the company away from competition with other Vodafone’s interests in Africa and elsewhere.

The feeling that Safaricom is not being genuine about releasing an API for kenyan developers to integrate business services with M-PESA is increasingly widespread. Safaricom is not convincing either,  that the delay in releasing this widely clamoured for feature is not about Vodafone/foreign interests. I did not find Bob’s answer to a related question adequate – that the delay was due to security concerns. Its been over two years since Kenyan developers started clamouring for the API and there are no signs yet of it coming soon.

Perception of Competition

Bob’s perception of Safaricom’s competition can be summarised in at least two tweets below:-
‘@alykhansatchu: #Mindspeak Airtel can afford to destroy The #Kenya Market We cannot @bobcollymore #Africa 11:21am’
‘@gmeltdown: #mindspeak safaricom has to pay for armed patrol on their fiber cable to fend off vandalism – says Bob 10:33’

Bob and others in Safaricom wished for the audience to believe that Airtel’s super low prices for voice and SMS were meant to destroy Kenya’s mobile network industry. See my article in October 2010 on Airtel’s move. Although I do not wish to go into the discussion in the first tweet, my take is that Airtel Kenya is only trying to cut down Safaricom’s market dominance of about 80% market share to lower manageable levels. Cutting down Safaricom’s market share will not destroy the industry in my view.

The second tweet is about Vandalism of the inland terrestrial optic fiber cables layed out by the competing data connectivity providers in the recent months. The vandalism depicts difficulties and costs inherent in Kenya’s business environment. Although Bob saw a pattern to imply competitor sponsored vandalism,  it appears that Kenya government is not doing enough to provide security of investor’s assets. Obviously the security issue contributes greatly to Kenya’s attractiveness as an investment destination. A lot has been written about the cable vandalism and there is hope that the government will eventually bring the menace under control.

Customer Focus

To many Kenyans,  Customer service is Safaricom’s biggest problem. Considering its huge customer base, it is on the same matter of customer care that Safaricom can argue to be the strongest among its competitors. I have previously argued that Customer Focus is one of the significant battle fronts among Kenya’s MNOs whose winner will collect for themselves many points in the dominance war.

I was particularly impressed by Bob Collymore’s articulation of his intentions to direct Safaricom’s corporate culture towards customer focus. His thoughts that Safaricom could not make the mistake of outsourcing its customer service (call centres) were quite profound. In a demonstration of seriousness about customer focus, Bob went ahead to express his desire for attributes like honesty, relevance, simplicity, ease of use and listening to customers in its products and customer interactions.

With the noble intentions on customer focus well articulated by Bob, then I could only come up with the tweets below :-

‘@gmeltdown: #mindspeak Bob wants safaricom to embrace customer obsession as a way of life. 10:53am’
‘@gmeltdown: #mindspeak an array of customer focus intentions presented by bob. hoping safaricom will wall the talk. 10:56am’.

As a user of most of Safaricom’s products, I must say that their quality of customer service can vary greatly with their categorization of customers (post paid and prepaid) and with the various products (M-PESA, voice, and data connectivity). It is this variability in quality of customer service that would need to disappear for many to believe the good intentions articulated by Bob.

In Conclusion

To conclude this long post it is worth noting that as the competition among Kenya’s MNOs shift gears, a complex multiplicity of parameters will have to be watched by each player.