We are not equal.

OUR JOURNEY TO UNDERSTANDING INEQUALITY#4: WE ARE NOT THE SAME!

 

We love to do the hard things in Thellesi: part of our mission in this world is to use our communications skills to influence change by engaging the public. Engagement in time of content overload (or more accurately content drowning) is a much needed skill. We have found a way to do it.

Every month, we come up with campaign briefs for our creative team to develop and run. For this month, we picked up the topic of Inequality. We asked our creatives to design a campaign that highlights 3 inequalities namely; inequality in education, access to quality healthcare and menstrual hygiene management.

How did we arrive at these three? We scanned around and found that COVID-19 has affected these three issues most adversely and the conversations around them were not encouraging.

Whereas some children have been able to continue with school normally despite the school closures, many others have not. There are those who have had unlimited access to the internet and those who have not. There are girls who have been able to stack up boxes of sanitary pads for their use, yet there are others who have to improvise. Some people have to travel many kilometers to access basic healthcare, yet for others it’s a ten-minutes drive. We saw how huge the divide is when a few people could afford quality private healthcare in private hospitals (equipped ICU beds and ventilators) while many Kenyans were ‘imprisoned’ in high school dorms that had been hastily converted into quarantine facilities.

We gave this brief to our creatives to try and unmask the concept of inequality in new ways that would connect with the hearts of wananchi and galvanize the minds of policy makers. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.

Normally, the creative team takes two or three days to get us the concept note. In this case, they took an unusually long time. Two weeks down the line, no concept note. Three weeks, nothing. Eventually when they sent it, we could not connect with it. They went back to the drawing board. It is normal to not like the first concept note, but the second one usually blows our minds.

This time, it didn’t. Three more concept notes were presented to us, and none of them sufficed. This had never been. It was abnormal. They have never seen nor experienced a concept note being rejected FOUR times! Frustration and anxiety checked in.

At this point, they begin to wonder where they are going wrong. They push further and finally we get one that we can run with. We develop the copy and designs and we begin the campaign.

When it goes live, we realize that we are not getting the engagement we had imagined. Immediately we begin to analyze what’s going on. We then established that the team was not feeling the campaign. They openly confessed that they were doing it only to tick a box. Their level of honesty was really inspiring. So we agreed to put a halt to the campaign until such a time when we would organise ourselves and come up with a campaign that we can feel.

Also read: Our Journey To Understanding Inequality #1: Why Should I Care About Inequality?

One of our directors organized sessions for our creative team to meet with teams from Oxfam and Fight Inequality Alliance, leading nonprofits in the inequality space. These two organisations understand the topic deeply and were happy to share their knowledge with us.

The meeting was to take two hours, but it took five! Five hours of intense conversations on the many aspects of inequality. Some of the most important points that I got from the meeting include:-

  1. Inequality is as old as life. We are born into it. This is one of the major reasons why we don’t see it. We found it here, and it became normal; part of life. It’s the way it is. We don’t know better.
  2. I never understood why we need to criminalize the rich. They have worked hard. They have spent sleepless nights, they have earned it. But I learnt one thing: we must learn to question power and capital. Where did this capital come from? At what/whose expense? Rich people buy influence. With influence, things go their way. But how did they get there?
  3. Inequality or equality is very very deep. It’s layered and it manifests itself in different ways. From income, to water, to gender, to housing, to education to healthcare. It’s everywhere.

We learnt that there are basics that we have to achieve at a minimum to give everyone a chance to thrive. We learnt that inequality activists are not asking for the rich to give up their wealth, or for everyone to be rich. They are asking for everyone to have a common base that affords them dignity and gives them a chance to be as legitimately wealthy as they can be.

Give people access to quality healthcare. Give people food. Give people quality education. Empower people to live in homes that are basically comfortable and allow them dignity.

Even if their salary is not good and these things have been fully catered for, then the people will be able to be more productive with the little money they get. They can be able to see different opportunities that surround them. The situation now is that with the little paymost people get, they are burdened with the issue of healthcare, food and education – it kills their ability to compete, to create, to innovate, to even see opportunities around them. A person who makes KES 500 a day has to focus almost entirely on food and the most basic survival. They have no time to think, no time to consider new opportunities.

As we kept brainstorming, I saw the need for the public to reawaken their imagination so that they can begin to imagine what it could be like: a world where we all have basic access to food, education and healthcare. It’s a hard task to try and paint this picture because we all have never experienced it.

One thing remained with me till now: Question Capital. “A child who is from a poor background can work 20 hours each and every day but s/he will never get to the level of a child of a rich person who works for two hours a day, why?” Asked one of our non-profit ‘teachers’.

“Because of Capital. The rich family has Capital. But we have to question this capital and the power it brings because the way it was found matters a lot, and it’s the genesis of this inequality.”

One of the facilitators also drew a graph of the rich versus the poor and I was shocked to see the trajectory of the graph. The graphical image is still alive in my head. I always thought it was  a diagonal, slow rise. Only to discover it’s very close to a 90 degrees angled graph.

The biggest question that I am yet to crack is how to communicate this issue to the public. How to make them begin to care. To make them aware that inequality is not supposed to be normal. There is a lot to be done. The assignment continues….. how do we communicate the invisible or rather what people don’t see?

I was challenged to begin scouting for inequality as I move around. Trust me, I am seeing it daily, everywhere. But your eyes must be open so that you begin to see.

 

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#3: YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW.

When you have been living all your life just comfortable with where you are, no matter how crappy it really is, it hurts. It hurts to find out that you deserve better, but that fact is hidden in plain sight. It hurts to know that we repeatedly give away our right to decent lives and brighter futures to people who further ensure we remain in the dark. It hurts to realise that most of us think that even the most basic of rights is a privilege that we cannot afford. IT SUCKS.

Let me paint this painful picture because for us to find our way out, it is important to know where we are. And where we are is summed up by one very common word. INEQUALITY. One of the most underrated factors of doom ever. Since we are in the season of pandemics, I dare call it the greatest pandemic yet to erupt. Like a cold war, it has been cooking chini ya maji (under wraps) for decades. The scariest thing is that it is right in front of us – it has been for a long time.

I see it every time I feel the loss of my 60 bob bus fare, yet when I step off the matatu, I see Range Rovers stuck in traffic that cost millions of shillings. Also how almost every slum is naturally bordered by an estate here in Nairobi Kenya. It never bothered me until I got the priceless opportunity to meet with a group of smart ladies from Oxfam Kenya and Fight Inequality Alliance. Together with my previous research and the fact that I am a Kenyan, their insights on inequality blew open the lids that covered my mind and eyes.

Like magnets, my experiences over the years plus the new found knowledge started forming links. Links that were unbelievably disturbing but made me more self aware. I hope they also help you snap out of it. I will start by taking you back in time. People from way back as far as the 16th century began categorizing people depending on various factors of who they were. The most common ones today are race, gender and wealth. Suddenly people could “own” other people and determine even their most fundamental aspects – their lives.

Now people could own more and live better than others, until they started to believe that they deserved it. Just for the record; They don’t. No one does. That is why some scaled up slavery to colonialism. With it came horrors and wars that changed humanity forever. Perhaps the most overlooked effect of this age was one subliminal lesson that poisoned even those who believe that they got ‘freedom’ is – Wealth means power. So our ‘leaders’ and ‘saviours’ began making themselves wealthy in the name of heroism, opening a Pandora’s box that has led us to where we are today.

This reminds me of the various incidents when a citizen was brutally clobbered for trying to gift his President back in October 2019, here in Kenya. From what I understood, as colonialism faded, capitalism took its place. In simple terms, this is where the infamous word ‘system’ comes from. It basically means a state in which private people benefit from economic and political structures put in place to benefit the nation. Fast forward to today and there are governments supposed to ensure that the people of a nation live good and prosperous lives. People built these systems and because of personal interests, they made them so that the common mwananchi had no option but to depend on them.

With this, the greed for power and money was born. This should at least explain the irony of having over 60 languages in Kenya, yet the constitution has been written in two main languages. Like I said, only those who understand benefit. And speaking about the Kenyan  constitution, here is how tricky it is. I am a learned 3rd year science student and it took me internet, typing skills and a bunch of false links to finally find this bill of rights, which frankly is too bulky. So I instead started looking for the rights I would enjoy when I start working and stumbled upon the Kenyan Employment ACT 2007. So I started reading “In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires…  blah blah blah!”

Of course it was after skipping a bunch of introductions and definitions. So I wondered, how the heck is my grandmother, my uncle and cousins who are in ushago (upcountry) going to understand this! What does it even mean? Now taking into account that there are about eighteen Chapters, all bearing Acts and fully furnished with a lawyers language… I mean, how is this supposed to be for the citizens? In the same way, these same laws are supposed to help citizens get equal rights that propel them towards prosperity!

Now we hear that only 0.1% of the Kenyan population own more than the 99.9% of people in Kenya. Kenya has 51.3 million people and counting. To make matters worse, only 300 of this are extremely wealthy (dollar millionaires). Magnify this on a global scale and you get mind numbing figures like the 1%. Get this; The world richest people, the 1%, own equivalent to 44% of the world’s wealth, the world has 7.8 billion people. Where does that leave the rest of the 99%, me included? Someone must be puling a hoax on the planet.

But the problem lies on a much smaller scale. It is about the citizens and workers who pour blood and sweat into generating this ridiculous amount of money. And yes, it is about money because that is what determines whether you sleep hungry today or not. Don’t get me wrong, being rich is not a bad thing. It is how this wealth is acquired. Those lucky enough to understand the system leverage this knowledge to reap maximum benefits at the expense of that one worker. Imagine one machine in a factory making one million Kenya Shillings a day, yet the operator of the machine is paid a meager 500 bob!

The worker cannot complain because he does not know how to use the Constitution or read it for that matter, and his desperate situation does not allow him to even try. Working for more than 16 hours does not grant the luxury of time to even discover or research. I doubt if 500 bob would allow him to afford the internet and cater for his family’s needs. But this is the situation on the ground. It is how many of us around the world have been forced to normalize inequality because we are caught in an endless cycle that almost means life or death if you break it.

It is no surprise that Sustainable Development Goal number ten reads Reduced Inequality instead of “eliminating inequality”. It has been normalised so much that we are now OK with letting it be, unless it costs a couple of lives – then we can strike. Our leaders promise heaven using fancy names like ‘The Big Four’ before elections and we trust them with a huge amount of power and wealth – our wealth. But they stay true to the rule of promises and just don’t deliver. Sadly, we never learn and their charms work every time. Why? We don’t know. We do not understand the information, therefore, we don’t care.

For you to be self aware, you have to understand how your Country works, what the laws mean for you and your wealth. How? It starts with communicating the system in a way people will understand. Only then can we start seeing action from citizens that assert their power over the power of who they elect – Kudos to Kiambu County for showing it is possible. Some like Oxfam,  and Fight Inequality Alliance  get it, and have been doing all they can to help the situation. But one key player is missing for this to work, and that is YOU.

Equity and Equality do not mean that everybody should be or will be rich. It just means that everybody deserves to be treated the same and to enjoy a decent quality of life no matter their financial value. Mama mboga should be able to have a good home, enjoy a balanced diet and to be treated well in public facilities even though she earns less. A life of dignity not luxury. That is all. So if we could only realise it Today, Right Now; then we can start working for a better future.

You deserve better. I just thought you should know.

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#2: IS ANYONE TO BLAME?

Growing up, I was always angry at my mother and my grandmother for not working hard enough to buy me the things I desired. Things that according to me, were basic things to have because every other kid in my neighbourhood had them. Things like a bicycle, remote controlled toy cars and a leather football. I knew they both had a job and that they came home tired all the time. But there was no money in their handbags. I was brought up to know that if you have a job, then you have money, and that is in part why everyone insisted that we work hard in school and get good jobs. My mom was a nurse, and my grandma worked in the chief’s office. Good jobs no?

At some point, I came to the conclusion that perhaps they were not working hard enough, or perhaps they were working in the wrong jobs… or maybe it was true that there exists a balance in nature, and that this balance dictates many aspects of life – including who asks for the price before purchasing and who asks for the bill after purchasing.

I had often heard people saying things to the effect that “poor people must exist in order to complement the rich, otherwise what would happen if all of us became rich? Who would mix concrete in our constructions? Who would milk our cows? Who would deliver our packages? Who would clean our houses and take care of our kids while we are at work? Who would do all the lifting and packing in our factories? Who would do all the important menial work?”

To be honest, this argument made sense to me. Thinking literally, I could not picture a woman in her nice suit and heels working a spade to mix concrete. Or a man in his white shirt chopping nappier grass for the cows. As I grew a little older, I would read that poverty is a state of mind… poor people are lazy… poverty is a consequence of natural selection… Rich people are evil… etc. And quite shockingly, poor people believe these things too. It is preached to them in their churches.

Now, having grown up, I came across the word “Inequality”. It is a word that means complex things. To put it simply, it is the gap between the rich and the poor in society, caused by many social, political, economic and religious factors. It is that there are people who live in Karen yet others just across the road live in the largest slum in Africa.

Johnny Miller

The quality of  lives of people in these two places contrast like sunlight and moonlight. While others are stuck at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (food, shelter, clothing, sleep, air and reproduction), others are frustrated because they cannot seem to make a choice out of two 5-star hotels they that they desire to spend their vacations in. If I lived in Kibera, I would have to worry about my next meal, water for domestic use, school fees for my kids, the sewage passing outside my house, whether the toilet we share has someone in it because I am pressed, rent for my landlord, if I will get a job tomorrow etc. Basically, I would live a very frustrated life.

Inequality dates back to a date no one knows. It was there before the times of Jesus, during the times of Jesus and has prevailed even now after Jesus. It was made worse by slave trade and colonisation, wars and now technological advances. For many who are born either rich or poor, this is just how life is. We do not realise that it could be different because we do not know anything else outside of it. Does this then mean that we should keep living our lives the way we know how to? And anyway, isn’t nature running its course? Why bother the balance of nature? We cannot all be successful, can we?

Enter activists.

If you asked me who activists are 3 months ago, I would have told you that they are people who seem to have excessive amounts of compassion and think they can solve the problems of the world by shouting and holding up banners. I still think that activists haven’t done much to make the world a better place, otherwise the world would actually be a better place. So activists came and they said, “rich people have made their wealth at the expense of poor people. They have robbed poor people, they have colluded with the government to make it easier for them to keep ripping off poor people and now we demand that this has to stop!”

They had a point. Rich people haven’t always made their money cleanly. They break the law and use their money to evade punishment. They pursue huge profits at the expense of their workers. They influence governments to put in place policies that favour them. Rich people have oppressed less rich people to acquire, keep and grow their wealth. But, fingers should not be pointed at them.

Activists seem to go after rich people. They seem not to recognise that for rich people to be rich, they also worked hard, invested, risked and failed just like everyone else trying to not be poor. They desired a good life and they went for it.

Am I saying that rich people are blameless? No. I am saying that the fingers need to be pointed towards someone else – the government. I am of the opinion that the failure of our governments is what has caused inequality in the first place. For instance, the government has the capacity to put in place and enforce laws and policies that safeguard the interests of both employers and employees. It has the responsibility to make sure that every member of society can easily access the services they require in order to live a decent life. If everyone had access to clean and safe drinking water, electricity, food, decent and affordable housing, decent work and a living wage, access to quality and affordable healthcare, quality education among others, then the stresses on our lives would be reduced, and we would be motivated to do better.

We (activists and nonactivists) should not demand for the benevolence of rich people to solve the problems of the world (they already are by the way – just look at who funds all these NGOs). We should demand and work with our government to implement the constitution fairly. And no, inequality can never go away, it can only be reduced. Everyone cannot be rich, but everyone deserves to be allowed to be the best version of themselves through access to unlimited opportunities and respect of everyone’s rights.

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OUR JOURNEY TO UNDERSTANDING INEQUALITY#1: WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT INEQUALITY?

I don’t understand activists. I admire their courage and occasionally attend a protest, but I’ve never connected with why they exist. I did not see why we need a reminder of everything wrong with the world. We know! That’s why bingeing on Netflix feels like a better use of time. If I can’t fix it, why care?

Ironically, my path has led me to work on content for the social impact sector and I came face to face with the people I don’t understand. To face the fact that I have no idea what they do and why it’s important. Therefore, when I was asked to come up with a concept for communicating inequality, I had a major brain freeze. I love the challenge of diving in to solve real human problems, but the depth of it can be overwhelming.

As I prepared for a Q&A breakfast session with a team from Oxfam and Fight Inequality Alliance, I didn’t know what to expect. Will I learn anything or will my brain hurt? I had dug around the internet and despite that, I had no idea why they exist.

Turns out, equality is about how we get to live our daily lives. I quickly learnt what equality is not. It’s not the quest for a utopia where we’re all at the same income level. It’s not a hatred of the rich, although it often seems like it. It’s the awareness of the access you have or don’t have, that makes your life easier or harder.

Have you ever felt an overwhelming feeling of helplessness? Especially when you listen to the news? Do you ever wonder if things will ever get better? Who will come to save us? I know I have! I went into the meeting expecting to ask cynical questions about why I should care. What can I, a regular citizen, do to make a difference? Then I realised something startling.

Inequality has numbed us. It normalised patterns where a minority have access to endless opportunity while the rest make do with scraps. Diving into inequality leads to the realisation that no one is coming to save you. In a good way. I have the power. You have the power. The agency to act, create and ask for change. In simple tangible ways.

Exploring inequality is about self-preservation. About protecting your future. You’ll never enjoy your wealth if your neighbours are suffering and stagnant. When we don’t intentionally drive development, we enable a vicious cycle where people are born into disadvantage.

That said, inequality conversations need a makeover. Urgently! It needs to flip and become about developing personal agency. Taking back personal power by understanding how things work. Realising the power of the people to demand for development and change. Most problems can be solved when you understand who to talk to and how to organise. Simple but critical concepts I never realised I needed.

Inequality is a deeply layered subject intertwined with history and power. Learning to take personal responsibility creates the muscle to gradually deal with the larger issues. People need a message that empowers. A message that tells them what they can do to help things change. A message of hope. Hope that lies in being intentional.

Note to self: Question everything you hold to be normal. Question the origin of your truth. Question your motives. Question the roles you get to play at home, at work or in the community. Then somewhere in there, you’ll know when to use your voice to change things.

Bob Marley was onto something. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. But first, become aware of the slavery. Only when our eyes are open can we follow the light.

THE INTERNET BLIND SPOT- AFRICA.

THE INTERNET BLIND SPOT- AFRICA.

Is Africa Economically Stuck? It has been dubbed the continent of  wealth, yet one of poverty – a disturbing combination if you ask me. So what are we missing? The key to success has by far changed, and like a shape-shifter, it now bears a new identity – internet access. Africa needs to spot the difference. Here is the story for most Africans.

Growing up, there is a quote that has passed through almost every African in born, if not all. Especially in primary school, standing under the majestic flag of one’s country, tense and under all the pressure for the days ahead. Looking at the vast number of student bodies, standing in evenly spaced- neat rows, you would think we are building armies on  every Monday of all school days. A voice always preaching “Education is the Key to success”.

The key fits in the blind spot.

There are over 50,000 graduates in Kenya and about 190,000 in South Africa every year. Imagine these two countries represent the African continent. Now trace back the numbers to when many countries in Africa embraced education in their cultures. The numbers are staggering. Yet even with this access to formal education, the African economy is a slug. Maybe that is why the quote is all wrong and people like Kayambila Mpulamaska correct it by saying that education is instead the key for success. Either way, we need to refocus our attention.

Read more: Success Requires Positioning.

No disputes to the narrative, but it is only fair to give everyone the same shot at success. COVID-19 has proven that for education to work, we need to rethink what our priorities are. The internet sounded like a rich kid’s privilege up until learners all over the world had no option but to catch up with classes online. Africa was not left behind, or was it? The truth still stares us smack in the face, clear as day saying, “Huston, we have a problem.”

By the time I knew of browsers like Mozilla firefox, my view was that it was not for people like me and certainly not for schools like mine. Now, I read that a 10% increase in internet usage could increase international trade by 0.4-0.6% (a whole lot) in Africa. I can’t help but feel that something was withheld from me and is still owed to a lot other African children. As if this is not bad enough, the pandemic has revealed a gap in our ability to use technology to help save lives. Why? Our internet coverage is poor and inadequate to support systems like contact tracing effectively.

Contact tracing is a monitoring technology that follows up on a person daily and everyone they come across. It mostly makes use of an app on the phone but more important, connectivity or internet coverage. The underlining hurdle to usage of this tech is poor internet coverage. Also, the governments have no stable policies that protect you and I from security issues and most of those in rural areas have trouble accessing smart phones. These are the blind spots.

Here is some good news though, someone always cares. With organisations like Mozilla pushing for policies that address internet safety and accessibility and the discussion happening around it like the one on ‘ Privacy, Contact Tracing and COVID-19 in Africa’, by Africa Law Tech Association; this blind spot has become exposed and the glimpses of light are promising.

 

Success requires positioning.

Success Requires Positioning.

Success requires positioning, and in the words of Albert Einstein, “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.” But when the COVID-19 crisis struck, the opportunity was as visible as a pin dropped in a haystack. The world was knocked off-balance. The health sector has certainly been the most affected, but the crisis has gone on to shock even the strongest economies. People we know have been laid off, some forced into unpaid leaves and the lucky ones got 50% salary cuts. At Thellesi, we were not to be spared as we were also thrown into disarray.

Closure of Office, and Mindset.

When on March 13th 2020 the Cabinet Secretary for health announced the 1st positively confirmed case of the virus in the country, we did not wait for a second warning. People’s health matters in no less ways than they matter themselves. We understood the risks we would be exposing our team to had we allowed them to continue commuting to work and going about their lives normally – as if the virus would decide to disregard them. So we advised them not to come to the office effective immediately as we monitored the situation. We also quickly sent out emails to all our clients informing them that we would be suspending business operations for 14 days, after which we would give them an update. Since Monday 16th March 2020, our office doors have remained closed.

Success requires positioning.

Everything, including our minds, simply closed.

For well over 3 weeks, our capability to operate efficiently was severely impeded. We were not closing new clients. The capacity of our company to continue fully paying its team now that no new business was coming in was diminishing. Even our ability to see a way out of these tough times was clouded. The disruption of routines we had developed over years caused us to recede into a lot of confusion and uncertainty. And understandably so.

You might also want to read: How to plan when the chips are down.

As the pandemic worsened and a return to ‘normalcy’ seemingly fading in the distance, dissolving away with it was team morale. It is our CEO who breathed new life into us. He reminded us that boredom inspires creativity. After about 3 weeks of staying home doing the same things in the same places with the same people, we began to wonder, “Could there be an opportunity for us to continue doing business even as the world was grinding into a near halt?” Our CEO inspired us to think critically about the choices we were making now. He insisted that we should allow that question to bother us, because if we found an answer, we would have unlocked new possibilities.

New Beginnings.

They say the speed at which a person runs depends on what is chasing after them. Taking salary cuts, unpaid leaves or being laid off were not options we wanted to consider. No one wants to consider such options. So, we agreed that it was important for us to resume work, albeit at home. We began to implement a few things that have gone a long way into restoring our morale and productiveness: –

  1. Every team member was advised to create a workspace at home where they will operate from. The space is to be treated with the respect a workstation deserves.
  2. With a workspace set, we started doing daily team meetings at 8AM. Everyone is expected to attend these meetings either in official or casual wear as one may please. Pajamas are highly discouraged as they do not represent the decency of a workstation.
  3. We reactivated activities we had put on hold and found ways of working on them even while staying home.
  4. It was also important for us to identify opportunities for our clients and write proposals. We are glad that many of these have gone through – meaning we continue to be in business.
  5. We reinforced our discipline in the use of project management tools like Asana for self reporting and project tracking.

Success requires positioning. Had we not decided to snap out of worry for things we have no control of, we would not be as busy as we are now, and we probably would have been pushed to close business. We are happy that our team is still intact, our full salaries are still intact and our office is still intact. It takes getting bored of the status quo to challenge it. Do not allow yourself to wait for the pandemic to end, it might take a long while. Evolve. Ask yourself: if this went on for 18 more months, would you still have your salary to meet my needs.

Two young people in a relationship holding hands.

The COVID-19 Effect On Youth Sexuality.

This past week has been an interesting one for us. We have learnt phrases such as “kunyonga monkey” which means to masturbate or to “take matters into your own hands” and

just another dead cockroach.

Just another dead cockroach.

kifo cha mende/cockroach style” which means the missionary sex position. But we were not out there looking to build our suggestive vocabulary – we were having conversations with young people in Nairobi as to how they have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

We note that at the backdrop of rising positive COVID-19 cases in the country, our young people are continuously defying directives issued by health officials to stay home and exercise social distancing. They are still meeting up, hosting parties and even going on road trips claiming that with majority of people at home, roads are clearer and smoother to test the speed limits of their cars. We also saw the case where of a senior Red Cross official, worried that her child would be locked out in the curfew, dispatched an ambulance to go and collect her and her friends at a party, where they had been drinking.

Such reckless behaviour does nothing to help the situation we are already in. We are caught right in the middle of a pandemic that no one knows how and when exactly it will end. What we know however, is that it will not last forever. The only difference between us prevailing over this virus and it prevailing over us is our behaviour. Unfortunately, not much praise can be given to our habits.

Youth are living up to their reputation of being young and restless. But perhaps before we put a label on them, perhaps we should ask, why are the youth not heeding to advice?

In pursuit of an answer and our passion to understand people’s behaviour, we have been organising several online meetings with youth in Nairobi to hear what challenges they have been facing in the wake of COVID-19.

On sex and reproductive health, we have learnt that there’s been an increase in sexual activity. One of the participants said, “I have not had as much sex in my life as I have had in the last 5 weeks- I’m not even sure my coil will hold.” Sex has become not just a coping mechanism but also a pass time activity for many. Those who do not have their partners near have taken to masturbation because as they said, “it is safer than to risk getting someone’s daughter pregnant.”

We found that partners have coupled up (are living together) to weather the storm. Others are still visiting each other during off curfew hours and rushing home back home just before 7PM. “I live alone,” said one of the girls, “My boyfriend knows I live alone. I cannot tell him not to come despite fear that he might contract the virus on his way to my house and bring it to me. Otherwise he will feel like I am rejecting him or he will start feeling insecure.”

This poses a great challenge, not just in the spread if the virus but also in the spread of other sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. We noted considerable doubts as regards to the effectiveness of contraception methods. The issue was that “these things backfire” and when they do, catastrophe! Even though its scares them, abortion seems to be the only way they trust.

There are doubts as to the effectiveness of contraception methods.

There are doubts as to the effectiveness of contraception methods.

Our hearts were broken to hear that some on most informal settlements, girls are lacking sanitary towels. It is tragic to imagine the tremendous discomfort that these girls must be going through. With most of them having already lost their jobs, the little money they have is used up in food because “utabuy food ama pads? (What would you buy, food or pads?).

In our view, we see a reproductive crisis in the next 9 months and along with it, more challenges such as increased stress, anxiety and even suicide levels. Early and unwanted pregnancies are likely to lead to school dropouts as gender based violence escalates. The demand for contraption methods is going to be high, as well as cases of abortion.

Similar read: https://pov.thellesi.co.ke/strategy-is-not-a-buzzword/

There is need for the government and civil society organisations to understand these challenges so as to accurately address them.

We still don’t have all the answers. We continue to hold weekly online discussions with various focus groups so that we can understand why our young people are not staying home and how we can help them address the challenges they face now and after the pandemic.

A black and white photo of a writing material called a pencil.

8 TIPS TO HELP YOU IMPROVE YOUR WRITING.

We probably cannot remember the first time we wrote something – either in the dirt with a stick or a pencil on paper. Either way, we all write in one form or another. But why do you write?

We write to communicate with each other. In today’s world, we also write to communicate with machines. Writing is important because aside from passing on information from one person/thing to another, it helps us commit to record or memory significant occurrences for reference by future generations.

Whether you are writing for work or passion, you want to express your ideas, thoughts and information in ways that can be understood by others. Being an effective writer is not difficult, but it can be. Here are some tips to help you be an effective writer:-

a. A writer WRITES.

There is no way around this. If you are a writer, you must write. Write something every day of your life. Write fiction, write and experience, write anything, so long as you write. Constant writing allows you to develop the muscle for it. Just like in anything new, it will be difficult in the first few months but gradually, it will become easy.

The other advantage of regular writing is that you develop other skills such as research, thought organisation, it improves your knowledge and ability to speak on diverse topics, and it also gives you the ability to merge various topics making your content rich.

An image of a girl holding a pen while writing on a notebook

An image of a girl holding a pen while writing on a notebook

An image of a girl holding a pen while writing on a notebook

b. Jot Down All Ideas.

Ideas form the basis of writing. Whether it is a ‘crazy’ idea or a brilliant idea. It all starts with that interesting concept that pops into your mind. In this busy world where we are continually bombarded with information left right and centre it is easy to forget that tiny spark. It is even easier to think that your idea is not good enough.

Always have something to write on. Whether a paper or Google Keep, capture that thought before it evaporates. Write it as it occurs: do not overthink it. The habit of writing down every idea that comes up gives many ideas to write about, and the more ideas you have to write about the more you will write.

c. Set Writing Goals and Schedules.

Set writing goals to give you direction and purpose for writing. Having something to work towards helps even with morale. Decide how often you will write and stick to this decision. It could be to post on a blog thrice a week or to a local publication twice a month. Create a writing calendar that indicates a schedule of what you need to do to make sure that you meet your goals.

In all this, motivate yourself. You may even decide to reward yourself monthly for publishing “X” blog posts. Doing all this ensures that you are consistently pushig out content as you develop muscle.

d. Write on Topics that Interest you.

You will lose momentum and psych if you decide to take on a topic that you do not enjoy – at least in the initial stages. It is important to start writing on things that interest you as you build up into writing on anything and everything.

However, while you write something that you are comfortable with, make your articles different from the norm. Develop your own unique style that distinguishes you from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. Give people a taste that is uniquely acquired and chiefly developed, an experience that would see them not jump into conclusions and judgments based on their knowledge.

e. Write through Creative Blocks.

All writers go through creative blocks. This is when ideas and words don’t seem to flow as easily. When this happens, do not despair – you are not the first and neither will you be the last to go through a block.

To overcome a writer’s block, get yourself out of your routine and do something new. Listen to a new kind of music, read different kinds of literary works, play new games and read articles like this one.

If this doesn’t work find another creative pursuit such as photography to take up your time as you process your thoughts in your subconscious.

A person writing by typing on a laptop’s keyboard.

A photo of a person writing an article by typing on a laptop.

A photo of a person writing an article by typing on a laptop.

f. BE REAL.

A good writer invests in originality. They create their own stuff. There is also no harm in doing something similar to someone else, just ensure that you add on to it by giving your perspective. On any topic that you would be writing on, give it the best of your knowledge by using words that would keep a reader on your article. Give them a reason to continue reading; express your feelings, emotions, thoughts, and ideas fully in every word.

 

Also Read: Embrace Video, Communication Is Headed That Way.

 

g. Learn from Professional Articles.

Subscribe to blogs and read books. The likes of Vanity Fair, Times Magazine, Medium etc will help you get to familiarise yourself with world-class writing. If not, walk by a street vendor who stocks old magazines and grab something – as good writing never goes out of style. Use the materials to take into account their deliberate use and mastery of words in every sentence, the flow and descriptions throughout the piece(s). You are sure to learn one or two things from them to improve your writing.

h. Test your skills and Be Open To Criticism.

Whether a beginner or a seasoned writer, it is not easy to have your articles negatively reviewed or badly rated. Engage a mentor or someone you trust to give you honest feedback. Let them read your articles and give you feedback on what to improve on and what to avoid.

Have an open mind to change, ask what you could have done better and constantly learn. It is possible the platforms you submitted or published on were not the best ones for your articles, so publish in different others. Be receptive of new ideas, adopt new trends, change your styling, your themes, your voice and keep up with the ever-evolving societal needs.

Finally, go through your work at every point check for spelling mistakes, avoid pointed phrases, and correctly use expressions. There are many digital apps that can help you do this, so don’t be averse to them. They can also help you improve your spelling, grammar and writing skills ensuring that you will not repeat in follow up articles.

There are many more ideas and ways to improve as a writer, if we happen to have missed out on any share with us in the comments below which one works best for you.

Census

The 2019 Census Exercise

Census is the process of collecting, evaluating, analyzing, compiling and publishing demographic, economic and social information concerning the entire or part of a country’s population at a particular time. The process of gathering census information is known as enumeration. The data provides information on the age, sex, population distribution, the mortality trend, employment status among other critical information. The government then uses the data collected to make evidence-based planning for policy formulation and development. 

Every ten years, the census is conducted, enumerating all citizens and residents in the country and abroad. The 2019 census exercise was the 8th one to be conducted in the country since 1948 and it commenced on Saturday the 24th and ended on the 31st of August.  It was the first digitally recorded census in Kenya’s history, at a time when the country’s citizens are debating and formulating laws and practices around data privacy & protection. 

In a pre-enumeration exercise conducted in 2018, it was estimated that 1 enumerator was to serve a minimum of 100 households. The enumerators were also trained on how to use the kits prior to the commencement of the exercise. To avoid repetition, they marked houses that they had already visited with special codes.  

In the run-up to the census, the government informed the citizens that the process was to be malice free and effectively carried out, the data would be electronically recorded and everyone was free to answer questions at their own will. 

Citizens were informed that the enumerators would be wearing yellow light jackets to authenticate their work, along with a badge and a village or area representative. This prior communication was effective and assured the people of the good intentions of the process.

In the past, census exercises have been somewhat uneventful, factual activities. However, historically, Kenyan political leaders have used the results for their personal gain. The highlight of the 2009 census was Kenyans debating on the tribal question and why it was necessary. Later, the information was used to conjure up the concept of “Tyranny of numbers” that later greatly influenced the discussions in and around the 2013 elections.

The Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, in his statement, informed the public that an awareness campaign was going to take place to delineate the pertinent misconceptions and concerns the public had regarding the Census exercise. In the weeks preceding the 24th of August, media stations talked about the exercise, brochures were issued, and stickers could be seen in matatus and other public transportation means. The communication urged citizens to get up and be counted. 

Yet despite the seemingly straightforward communication, the 2019 census already had the makings of some drama due to the Huduma Namba registration exercise that happened a few months before it. Citizens were wary of the census, in part, because the prior exercise to issue them with a single identification document was done outside of the constitution i.e. with no Data Protection Bill in place. Instead, it was only after the exercise that a Huduma Bill was introduced and hurried public participation allowed.

The day before the census, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) government spokesman informed the public that the enumerators would request personal identification information including National ID, passport numbers and, unfavorably, one’s Huduma Namba enrollment status. 

Noting that a census is an exercise that seeks to collect anonymous data, the sudden and uninformed addition of personal identifiers coupled with geographical data (all citizens were to be home on the night of the 24th and 25th of August) it seemed as if the government was set on bypassing court orders barring them from having citizen specific data linked to Huduma Namba.

The initial government communication stated that false information would not be tolerated, which was controversial since they had no means of verifying the information unless they linked it up with information given at Huduma Namba registrations.

Citizens were given the impression that sharing of information was not mandatory, however, the first respondents to the census, especially on the 1st Saturday evening, were given no such option. Instead, the enumerators indicated that if one did not answer certain questions their count would be null and void. Citizens, took to social media to air their grievances, and at the tail end of the count, they were given the option to not answer certain questions namely one’s tribe, Huduma Namba status among others that brought discomfort.

A more transparent way of conducting the 2019 census would have included informing the public ahead of time about the request for personal identifying information, and not just pounce such intentions the day before. It would have allowed for public debate and/or preparation, instead of catching citizens off guard and giving them no option to refuse to answer questions. 

Similarly, the government should have collected views from the citizens sourcing their opinions on the best questions to ask such as access to healthcare, medical cover, type of transportation used, financial status among others. The missing questions would have given citizens confidence that the government was truly interested in bettering their lives. Instead, the census came across as a data hunt akin to that of Huduma Namba and reminiscence of the tribal count that happened in 2009. 

Kenyan citizens will one day come to know the true purpose of the 2019 census, for now, we await the undoctored numbers in a few weeks and hopefully, the data used will be of benefit not division of Kenyans. 

Bloggers Breakfast 2

TALKING TECH OVER BREAKFAST

In a bid to continually provide our client’s with communications solutions, we hosted a focus group dubbed Bloggers Breakfast with the aim of talking tech with Kenya’s top bloggers and freelance writers. Our aim was to gain some valuable insights, the latter of which is life’s blood of our line of work; because not only are we in the business of creating solutions but we are also meant to ensure that those solutions are based on deep insights otherwise they will not achieve client’s agenda and/or resonate with target audiences.

Incidentally, you might think that our work involves writing press releases, organising press conference events, engaging media, providing photography & video coverage, posting designed memes on social media, and you would not be entirely wrong. However, more of the work we do is invisible and takes up a majority of our time.  This kind of work revolves around reading page upon page of long, jargon filled strategic and policy documents from which we extract context and content. It involves spending late nights going through tonnes of image and video footage, shot over weeks and months, to extract less than 3min of compelling content that best captures the client’s agenda. It also means connecting and managing relationships with media contacts across the continent, which is actually a vital part of our mandate, considering that we are now in the age of a revamped modern day Pan African movement, it is important to talk about what our clients are doing in the African context. 

Yet while we seek to play in the continental landscape, it dawned on us that there remain smaller but more impactful media players who are very critical in addressing the communications needs for both our clients and the audiences that follow them. They might not belong to the big, well known media houses, you might not find them on the list of top media personalities, and they might not be doing this as their full time job but at the end of the day they run channels and platforms that can be used to educate and engage a larger demographic of people who are interested in content that matters and has a direct impact on them as individuals. The era of mass broadcasting without catering to the individual needs of the viewer/reader/listener is fast fading.

In our realisation of this, we invited bloggers and freelance writers interested in the areas of Tech, ICT Policy, Data Privacy & Protection, Online Security, Digital ID, Social Media Taxation among other topics for a breakfast meet and greet. The agenda was to familiarise ourselves with what our guests were interested in and also to brief them about a client that we wanted to work with them on. The breakfast event was hosted at Lava Latte, one of Nairobi’s newest IG ready spaces but with great food to boot.

Eight attendees graced us with their presence and most importantly their thoughts. As you would expect from any ‘coming-together’ of young creative minds, 70% of the time was spent discussing and trying to solve world problems while 30% was spent on the topics set in the agenda. Overall, the discussion extended from the 2 hours planned, but apart from having prior commitments to attend to, it didn’t seem to curtail the vested interest in the ongoing discussion.

In our view, after the informative morning spent, we got to understand that topics related to Tech, ICT Policy, Data Privacy & Protection, Online Security, Digital ID and Social Media Taxation will not have ready uptake from writers and their platforms because they are viewed as not juicy or relevant enough for their readers. It was pointed out that a majority of Kenyans do not seem to care about their online safety or on matters related to data privacy and protection, in the same way their Western counterparts do. It might be in large part because it was felt that people don’t experience data breaches/online insecurities as individuals, the way a street robbery would, but that it affects a large group of people in one amorphous geo-location. In any case, considering the state of the economy, people would rather worry about more pressing issues. 

In the wake of Facebook and their Cambridge Analytica issue, there has been growing skepticism about the true intentions of organisations that purport to push agendas such as cyber security, data protection and privacy. We were asked questions like, What’s their catch and end goal of those putting out their stories and information? Isn’t everyone collecting data anyway and doesn’t that data make our online experiences better? Can we instead talk about how Tech is widening socio-economic gaps rather than making them better? Despite these tough questions, there remained strong optimism that organisations, through their agencies, would come clean about their true intentions of putting out certain information to the public. A suggestion was made to provide raw data/information alongside press releases/statements so that the bloggers and writers could decipher for their readers what would be of importance and relevance to them.

We got to understand that the bloggers and writers know their audiences and are keen on not having them lose interest. They shared simple filters asking if the story takes their readers through a real experience or if the information shared is factual. They all  agreed that in the era of fake news it would be detrimental to them and their platforms. Simply put anything unverified does not get published. 

Finally, we also got to appreciate that despite their interest in tech and related topics, each platform retains their own strong focus ranging from social justice, creative writing, lifestyle, education, experiential and analysis. Our job as an agency representing organisations is to give the bloggers and writers verified information, and give them leeway to take an angle of their liking to tell the story.

 

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