Shrinking Spaces for Protest.

On 07.07.2020 Kenyans took to the streets and exercised their democratic right to protest. The right to peacefully protest is enshrined in article 37 of the Kenyan Constitution. Which outlines that Kenyan authorities should allow peaceful demonstrators to proceed without fear of attack, and respect and support their rights to assembly and expression. The protest successfully went ahead despite state violence that was meted against protestors by intimidation, tear gassing, brutalizing and arresting us, but we were determined and remained unbowed. Saba Saba this year marked it’s 30th anniversary. The struggle for fighting against the brutalizing, dehumanization and disregard for Kenyan lives and the constitution continues. In the past couple of years under the current regime, it has been evident that the country is steadily reverting back to authoritarian ways, with criminalization of poverty being at an all-time high while the real perpetrators of violence and graft in the country remain securely perched in positions of power and leadership in the country.

Acts of Protest.

Protest exists and is exhibited in many forms. As we may very well know, in Kenya there is still an insurmountable amount of stigma towards ‘street protest’. I remember very well, bystanders during the Saba Saba March being exceedingly hostile towards protestors, this was coupled with the police force tear gassing and brutalising us. Protest can also be exhibited online as was the case with the #SabaSabaMarchForOurLives and #StopPoliceBrutalityKE hashtags on Twitter. Both online and offline forms of protest are valuable and work hand in hand.

The Internet, Protest and Freedom of Expression.

Kenya, a country still subject to occasions of power blackouts, with some locations devoid of the requisite infrastructure to power communities with electricity, is still struggling to consistently and effectively connect to the internet. Social media platforms and messaging applications such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram prove essential for community organizing. The world over, #BlackLivesMatter protests happened every other day speaking up against police brutality. Social media and messaging platforms were awash with phone data and physical safety advisories useful while protesting, meeting the urgent need of citizens looking to be informed on how to protect themselves against state machinery that doesn’t value human life. Several virtual meetings were also held to raise awareness and mobilise against state injustices, especially as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has hampered physical meetups for large groups. 

On the day of the protest Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan photojournalist, politician and activist involved in social-political activism, was via Twitter, reported to be arrested while sitting at a café, while merely awaiting the release of fellow comrades who had been arrested by the police. If it wasn’t for mobile phones and the internet, we need to ask ourselves how would Kenyans be made aware of the injustices in the country? If you follow Boniface on his social media, you will see that he uses his platform to share occurrences sent to him via his private messages, sometimes using the hashtag #SemaUkweli. These stories narrate injustices faced by Kenyans who have no way of getting their story effectively heard. This has now become the last recourse for Kenyans who have been denied justice. Afterall, justice delayed is justice denied.

The internet has suddenly become even more of an essential service than it ever was in the past. We need to realise that it is a vital component for freedom of expression, for all citizens regardless of their location and it must be protected at all costs. However, our comrades and neighbours in Ethiopia, have not been so fortunate with the recent internet shutdown. This occurred in the wake of protests against the killing of prominent Oromo musician and social activist, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. In response, the government in order to thwart dissension in the nation, implemented a country-wide internet shutdown

As community organisers rely even more on mobile phones and the internet for sending vital information before, during and after protests, the state is also keenly aware of this. During the #SabaSabaMarchForOurLives in Kenya, one of the protestors mentioned the police confiscating their phone thereby effectively preventing them from connecting with the outside world. Fortunately, a fellow comrade who was present at the time, was able to report this and raise awareness to other protestors who were on the streets to remain vigilant. It is not only using tear gas and batons that the state muzzles and limits freedom of expression, but also when they limit our means to communicate. State machinery understands the power of the internet, and is rapidly evolving and adapting. 

State Surveillance

As we expose more of these stories, state surveillance also  seems to be a growing concern. In an article outlining how poor urban youth are criminalized by systemic violence, Minoo Kyaa and Maryanne Kasina pen how police vigilantes profile youth in slums through social media and murder them. Are we concerned yet, because it is becoming increasingly evident that offline and now online spaces are now both precarious, for exhibiting our vital acts of protest. 

Some protest resources:

Safety During Protest

Protecting your data during a protest

COVID-19 Tapes

Initially, I wanted to have this titled , “Digital Rights during the COVID-19 Pandemic” but over the months during which I procrastinated writing it, I realised not only could I not write it, but I didn’t want to. That article had to die a sudden death in the brainstorming stage, because it wouldn’t be honest. Nobody prepares you for the lack of creative drive that a pandemic wroughts within you; and I was dealing with more than the pandemic itself. I greatly empathise with anyone who has felt coerced by their circumstances and probably capitalism, to continue churning out content during this time in order to keep the lights on. 

This article is going to be about all the thoughts that have been running through my mind in the last couple of months. Quite an unusual piece for my blog, but unprecedented times call for a break in the matrix. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the old way is no longer sustainable. Organisations and individuals have been pushed to consider new ways to pull through in these times, and since introspection is a thing I value, I believe strongly that there’s a place for  introspection, to figure out how we got here and what our collective futures look like. 

I had been struggling for months, so I quit my job some time in February. By the end of March (before we better understood what havoc COVID-19 was about to wreak), I had served my notice. That process was both heartbreaking and was one of the top three (and not number three) lessons I’ve learned in my life, but there’s just something about a new beginning that is exciting. During those first few months, it seemed certain I would specifically want to continue my work in digital rights. I was keen on getting back to the humdrum of my previous life. Most probably because it felt not only safe, but incomplete. I felt that I wasn’t done contributing to the digital rights community (I still lend my time a few months in a year to work on a certain digital rights publication and I hope to continue doing so), so I’m still enthusiastically well immersed in the space. However, what better time than a pandemic to reimagine futures? 

A dear friend of mine has reimagined what accessing content online will look like in these times and post COVID-19 with JijiBUZZ. JijiBuzz is a Kenyan platform inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic that aims to connect people and communities through social media. They provide crowdsourced information about live streaming events taking place online daily and information on how to help combat Covid-19 while social distancing.

I remind myself that we can both walk and chew gum (thank you Muthoni Maingi for the apt phrase), whenever I think about how the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly locked so many more people out of the online space, while still appreciating how the new ways we develop will rely more than ever on digital technologies. 

Right before my last assignment came to an end, I was part of a team that conducted a digital rights workshop for the elderly (ages 50 to 75). This experience was both incredibly frustrating and unlike other training sessions I’ve conducted. I wasn’t satisfied when I left them, stay tuned for a subsequent post about that experience. This must be why I feel like I haven’t completed my contract with the digital rights realm, because deep down my philosophy that we should all be digital rights advocates, may very well always be a fundamental part of me. Additionally, quite frankly I still have much more I need to say and do, and I hope to continue to write about it, right here. 

Digital Access 

Just like many other things COVID-19 has disrupted, education has been upended in ways that nobody would have expected. Children and parents across the world are now grappling with virtual classes, since schools have been closed indefinitely and formal education systems have officially moved online. We are yet to fully realise, at what cost. Is anyone asking this question? How about parents and children who are not able to access online platforms? Internet access is still not universal and Kenyans are still inundated with access issues such as cost, infrastructure (special shout out to electricity), quality of service, literacy and devices. The work that digital rights defenders do, has become urgent and important in this new world as inequalities suddenly become even more stark. Education is an opportunity to break cycles of poverty that encumber so many of our youth, but it has been stopped suddenly and indefinitely for 24.6% of learners according to Kenya National Bureau of Standards. With only 12.2% who have been able to access online learning. What are the new ways we are re-imagining education to make it accessible for all, while taking safety measures in light of COVID-19?

Future of Work

As children struggle with this new way of learning, parents too have had to quickly respond to a change in circumstances. Without notice, they now have to take a more active role in their children’s education and minding now that schools are closed and a significant number have transitioned to remote working. I came across a Twitter poll some time back that asked what type of person employees preferred to report to: whether: partnered, partnered with children, single or single with children. This resulted in a number of interesting DM conversations about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected workplace dynamics. These conversations ranged from privileges in the workplace, to productivity levels and who is picking up the slack during these unprecedented times. Will we see a renewed cycle of hiring bias depending on personal profiles especially as it relates to being a parent and/or being partnered?

A few people I spoke to confirmed my hypothesis that yes being a parent is an actual privilege because it’s viewed as a more ‘acceptable’ reason for you to be away from work, unlike say if you had a mental health emergency that pulled you away from work. I realise now, that these thoughts deserve a space of their own in a forthcoming post, stay tuned. 

It is certain that almost everyone’s productivity has somehow been compromised during these times. A good example is when we take a look at the creative industry. HEVA Fund ran an interesting survey that studied the impact of COVID-19 on the sector’s business activities and incomes and here are the results. 

This makes me wonder how those who are employed are faring. How are employers responding to COVID-19? Does your employer do regular mental check ins or have they provided this facility to employees? Has your employer created flexible hours? Has there been a dialogue to revise how your organisation operates? Have you been involved in this process? Human behaviour has always interested me, probably why social research remains near and dear to me, so these are questions that run through my mind. These are important questions that I would love to delve into and seek evidence based solutions to. 

Now that we are here, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work(ing) environment? 

Politics of Control

COVID-19 has destabilized our impression of control. It has been made incredibly evident that we do not have even an iota of control over things we thought we did. It’s difficult to control a person. Governments have implemented rules, curfews and lockdowns in a bid to control people and not the virus. See, these two things are different. Mechanisms to control people involve violence and ruling with an iron fist without room for dialogue. These methods lack empathy, these methods prevent seeing people and acknowledging their suffering and human dignity. Human dignity cannot be preserved if people go hungry, if people are not physically safe, if people do not have homes to go to and certainly, a virus will not be defeated if human dignity is not upheld. We cannot lose sight of the fact that, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc because it continues to remain inextricable from the human body while we continue to fight people, and not the virus. 

Some Governments have found renewed energy for the case of employing surveillance technology and I find myself at a crossroads, with more questions than answers. Fundamentally, I believe the lack of uninformed consent forever taints any form of data collection from a citizenry. Knowing what we know about COVID-19 will we need to be more open about sharing data with our governments? How can we make this a more informed process? How can we make governments more accountable with this data? How can we ensure governments are capable of securing and safeguarding citizen interests in this new world of less friction in data sharing? 

Friction

Now that we are spending more time in our homes, it remains evident that women face the inordinate brunt of violence in society, with cases of domestic violence being on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone who still refuses to see this or justifies it in any shape or form, is truly part of the problem. We have been saying violence is not only meted against women by strangers, but most especially by intimate partners and people who are well known to them. People who are violent towards women are not ‘unique monsters’ in society, they are regular people walking on our streets, sitting in boardrooms and could even be religious leaders. Violence is a political problem and this is why we see it spill over onto online spaces. During these past ‘pandemic months’ cyber security issues such as online harassment, non-consensual dissemination of intimate images and hacking have been on the rise. (insert citation)

We have created an environment rife with COVID-19 stigma where we are more concerned about making a livelihood than flattening the curve because truthfully, we need to eat, keep the lights on and economically survive this global health crisis. Many governments cannot will not step in. What this effectively does is build a culture of individuality. The result: people lying about their travel history, people lying about their symptoms and in a particularly morbid twist of events, people protesting for their right not to wear masks in public and their right to break social distancing recommendations. A toxic cocktail, whose main ingredients are: the complex systems of discrimination such as racism, oligarchy, capitalism, poverty, ignorance and god knows what else that has been broken out of Pandora’s box. In summary, it’s a big ol’ mess. 

Values, Ethos, Philosophy…

Oh capitalism, how you make us ache and suffer. 

I have a friend who bashes capitalism at every turn, and rightly so. I mean look around us right now. It has been exposed, knickers showing! It’s not often that you see organisations whose ethos include dismantling capitalism, but any time I come across them, I have hope. 

I’ve not only been thinking about the ills of capitalism and oligarchy during these months. With all this time on my hands, I’ve also taken the time to delve into the values I hold dear when it comes to relationships, one thing has stood out. It’s easy to build relationships based on things we have in common, in fact it may be the norm, but when push comes to shove do we have similar values? Are we going in the same direction? I plan to be more intentional about building relationships with people who have similar values to me in this new world. I need less friction and more purpose. I refuse to coast along in despair as a result of the ills that are rife in this world. Maybe that is why I recently took a closer ‘look’ at the Ukweli Party. I attended one of their cafes recently and honestly I was provoked by what Nduko O’matigere, their secretary general had to say. Amongst many thought provoking statements, one that stood out was that 2022 is too far to have elections and that #UhuruMustGo! I still haven’t made my submission, but this registration page remains open as one of my numerous tabs. I’m tired of pointing out the ways this country fails us and not doing anything about it, maybe this is a first step, just maybe. 

Flattening the curve will need a revamp in our value systems, not only in our operations. The question is, are we courageous enough to take on this task that we have been met with?

Conclusion

To close this incredibly long post, I fell sick recently. No, not COVID-19. Given the times, this has now become a disclaimer we must provide but also a thing we worry about. We wonder, that sore throat, that tightness in our chest, that cough, could this be the dreaded COVID-19? It gets more complicated when you realise health insurance is tied in with employment, at least most times; and that during this period a huge number of the employed population have been sent home on unpaid leave and their contracts terminated. Falling sick meant I had to reschedule a meeting that had been in the books for over a month. I felt guilty that my body failed me at this particular time and I was anxious about sending that message in case there would be backlash, especially because it was so last minute and unexpected just the way COVID-19 sneaked up on us. The person on the other end was incredibly gracious and hoped I was doing ok and proceeded to provide alternative dates for our meeting. Surprisingly, the world did not end as my mind had led me to believe it would. This act of kindness, reinvigorated me as I continue to mend and inspired me somewhat, to put all these thoughts together. How are you showing grace and employing empathy during these times? 

Legal issues, a stumbling block for creatives in Kenya

While planning out the program for this particular meetup, we (the research and governance team) had three main guiding questions that we thought would get the conversation rolling. The creative industry in Kenya, fairly nascent in its development has had several challenges with examples such as #PayCreativesKE being a visible example of how creatives in Kenya have struggled to be accorded fair and timely compensation. It is expected that this problem stems from a larger problem where the Kenyan landscape is still grappling with the idea that being a creative could be, and is a worthwhile career direction, which can and has the potential to contribute substantially to the economy.

October’s edition, a special mash up between #InternetPizzaFriday and Nairobi Research Buzz (NRBuzz) kicked off late in the afternoon, where the attendees participated in an interactive icebreaker dubbed “Spectogram” in which statements would be read out and the participants would either agree, disagree or remain neutral with the said statements and then go about debunking those statements. These statements narrowed in on the greater society’s view of digital art, and forced the attendees to pick their brains and reconcile their opinions with those of others’. There are many misconceptions about the ease of creating digital content and that most creatives receive lower compensation for their art and creations due to these misconceptions. 

An interesting debate that arose during the Spectogram activity was the statement, “digital art is easier to create, hence it should be cheaper”. A compelling argument raised during the debate was that digital creation makes it much easier to recreate offline scenarios that would otherwise be too expensive to recreate, hence shouldn’t the price reflect this?

The last session was a panel graced by Carole Theuri an IP lawyer and the Creative Commons Kenya Lead for Open GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), Chaxy of Jus Kidding podcast and UpSyd Digital Networks, Gathigia Kinyua a freelance photographer and moderated by Mel Mbugua, founder MNM Consulting. While we expected the traction of the conversation to go to monetization of artists’ work in the digital age, it took a different direction with questions mainly directing their questions to Carole on assignment and transfer of rights to other users and owners as well as forms of replication such as sampling and their legal implications.

Historically, copyright for any created work (with the exception of moral rights) in Kenya exists for the lifetime of the creator, and for 50 years post-death, after which the works go into the public domain. One of the common questions arising from this was regarding preventing the replication of work and representation of another’s work as their own by 3rd parties, to which Carole broke down the different types of Creative Commons licenses one can use to determine the extent to which they would wish their work to be reused and replicated. 

One key piece of advice meted out was the importance of having contracts set between creatives and the people they share their work. Gathigia says there needs to be clarity on ownership of the creative work, including moral rights. In addition to this, most creatives resonated with the need for users of any creative work to credit the original owners as failure to do so does not widen the network base for these creators and thus, they cannot reach new audiences for both monetary and recognition purposes.

The feedback from the attendees was quite positive with most asking for a sequel for this event with other issues targeting creatives in Kenya and with the opportunity to have more in depth discussion as well as counsel in conducting the legal end of a creative enterprise. We took this under advisement so watch out for the next event!

In response to the high number of creatives interested in getting legal advice as relates to contracting and content ownership and transfer, we are exploring the potential of hosting legal clinics here at the iHub specifically for creatives. 

If you are interested, please fill this three question survey that will better guide us as we develop this offering.

In case you have any questions please reach out to us at research@ihub.co.ke

Resources from the event:

Spectogram Activity

iHub team presentation

Creative Commons Kenya presentation

Calling all Digital Creatives: Visual Arts and the Culture of Sharing.

With the rise in popularity of various digital platforms, the ease of sharing content online has improved tremendously. Kenya’s internet penetration, fast approaching the 30% threshold, has seen platforms such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Youtube, become the most popular in the country. This rise in patronage of digital platforms in Kenya, has availed opportunities for ‘online jobs’ for digital artists, online community managers and creators, especially in the wake of Kenya’s unemployment crisis.

Beyond promoting entrepreneurship, governments have renewed their focus on the digital economy, as an alternative solution to unemployment with initiatives such as Ajira, spearheaded by the government of Kenya, with the tagline that online work is work. Globally, careers such as Social Media Influencer, Animator, Graphic Designer, Digital Artist, VLogger etc have become more commonplace, when we compare the current labour landscape to merely five years ago. Closer home, researchshows that the total size of the online Kenyan gig economy, as at 2019 is $109 million and employing a total of 36,573 gig workers.

Social media has presented the opportunity for the ‘going viral’ phenomenon, where content can be shared instantly across multiple online platforms and within a matter of seconds this content has been viewed across existing geographical, cultural and language demarcations. However, as the ease of sharing content across digital platforms improves, concerns around content ownership and sharing permissions increase.

The questions arising from this are:

  1. How then are digital content creators protected from 3rd parties replicating and presenting this content as their own?
  2. What are the avenues available to protect and improve monetisation of their creations?
  3. What are the opportunities available for creators to widely share their content with the aim of educating, informing and entertaining wider audiences without the fear of exploitation?

Is the Kenyan landscape aware of the concerns of digital content creators and keen on preserving their intellectual property in order to foster a more informed culture of sharing?

To answer these and more questions, please join us on 18th October 2019 at the iHub for a conversation centring the Visual Arts and the Culture of Sharing in Kenya from 3pm to 5pm.

To RSVP please follow this link to our eventbrite to ensure you don’t miss a spot! Strictly no tickets will be available at the door.

If you have any questions please reach out to us on research@ihub.co.ke

#InternetPizzaFriday Roundup – What’s privacy got to do with it?

In the past couple of months we’ve probably talked about data privacy and data protection as a nation, more than ever in the past. What with the huduma namba and the concerns surrounding it and further with the recent huduma bill, that goes against several aspects of human rights; Kenyans are now taking a more active role in the discourse around their data privacy.

Our third edition of #InternetPizzaFriday hosted by iHub Research took a deep dive into the realm of privacy for individuals as well as in relation to customers; with regards to entrepreneurs who handle client or customer data, in order to effectively supply goods or services. 

This Pizza Friday we were also honoured to host TripleOKLaw who gave us an overview of data protection laws, where the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took a centre stage especially due to the fact that Kenya is still yet to implement a Data Protection Law. This is in addition to the Constitution that highlights key general provisions of the right to privacy in Article 31 and the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, despite having a majority of its sections suspended.

Find here the link to TripleOKLaw’s presentation

Find here the link to Kenya’s draft Data Protection Law

Find here the link to iHub Research’s presentation

In case you have any questions or would like to collaborate with iHub Research on a Pizza Friday please write to us at research@ihub.co.ke

Why We Should All Be Digital Rights Advocates – Entrepreneurs Edition

Since 2014 iHub Research has been supporting the uptake of digital tools and platforms for purposes of community organising and accessing opportunities and resources online by citizens around Kenya. Through our research it has been evident that there exists not only a gap, but a widening gap as countries become more digitally reliant. Kenya’s internet penetration currently stands just above the 20% threshold according to a recent report by Research ICT Africa. This means almost 80% of Kenyans do not benefit from being online. In our evolving research we have had the opportunity to work closely with counties, namely: Nakuru, Kisumu, Uasin Gishu and Mombasa. Collaborating with youth groups and community based organisations in these counties has exposed us to the actual lived reality, rather than the utopian narrative that is commonly propagated.

Kenyans are still struggling to connect to the internet due to three main reasons: digital literacy, cost of access and devices as well as infrastructural challenges. During this phase of our digital literacy program with support from SIDA, iHub has supported the establishment of communities of practice in Uasin Gishu, Kisumu and Mombasa county. This was aimed at supporting a larger percentage of Kenyans in these regions use ICTs for community organising and for personal benefits ranging from employment, education and socialising.

Kenyans are still struggling to get online, so what’s next? This edition of #InternetPizzaFriday focused on the role of entrepreneurs in bridging this widening digital gap; do entrepreneurs have a responsibility? Several businesses today rely on digital platforms in order to offer their products or services to their customers, the same platforms that Kenyans are struggling to access affordably, conveniently or even at all.

How can entrepreneurs get involved in bridging the widening digital gap?

It goes without saying that as more Kenyans get online, the bigger the market share digital businesses, will potentially be able to access for their products or services.

The solution is then simple, tech entrepreneurs need to be actively involved in decreasing barriers to access such as cost, technology, devices, complexity of platforms.

Below are a number of practical ways that tech entrepreneurs can be actively involved:

Mobile friendly and simpler platforms

Majority of Kenyans access the internet via mobile which provides a different quality of access as compared to access via personal computer; it’s thus important to note that ‘not all access is equal’. By developing platforms, products and services that can be accessed via mobile and sites that do not require large amounts of data to access, tech entrepreneurs can effectively decrease barriers to access.

Policy Discussions

Often we may think contributing to policy discussions is something that should be left to civil society organisations and governments, however this is an inaccurate assumption. By participating in policy debates, tech entrepreneurs bring the expertise of understanding a customers experience in accessing their products and services which is vital in creating a ‘friendly’ digital environment for both entrepreneurs and customers. A multi-stakeholder approach is vital for any policy creation process, which eventually results in a thriving business environment. We need more tech entrepreneurs participating in the development of digital policy. These conversations often happen in unstructured forms e.g. on Social Media or in more structured forms such as on platforms like KICTANet.

Social Media

With over 12 millions Kenyans on Whatsapp and over 8 million on Facebook, how are tech enterprises transforming their customer service dynamics to take advantage of this reach? By meeting Kenyans on the platforms where they are already actively having conversations, without requiring them to send emails, access company websites and other options that are data heavy, tech enterprises effectively improve access to their product offerings.

Digital Literacy.

Years later, digital literacy is still a buzzword, basically because it is still a challenge that plagues a majority of the population. Across the world there exists different forms and techniques of digital literacy programs, but how should entrepreneurs approach digital literacy? Does your enterprise go beyond explaining the step by step process of accessing your offering? Do you have a Frequently Asked Question resource? Do you give your customers tips on how to access your platform in the cheapest and convenient way? Do you have a customer service team that hand holds your customers as they access your offering? These are just some questions you can consider as you develop your product offering.

The journey of bridging the widening digital gap needs all hands on deck, and entrepreneurs should not be left behind this call.

Find here the link to the #InternetPizzaFriday presentation.

Does Kenya’s Huduma Namba exemplify the elements of Good Identification?

Image Credits:HILTON OTENYO

In February 2019 the government of Kenya went ahead and announced the biometric registration of Kenyans to start in 15 counties. With the plan to register nearly 50million Kenyans aged six and above, a whopping 6 Billion has been set aside for this exercise.

Since this announcement it has been evident this Digital ID System, dubbed the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), has been marred as a result of political interests. This began with the questionable procurement process, the strict timeline of conducting the process in 45days despite insufficient notice and the threat of no access to government services e.g. passport if one does not have a huduma namba as was mentioned by the Director of Immigration, Gordon Kihalangwa. Why does there exist such urgency for Kenyans to register for this ‘huduma namba’, lauded to improve security and ease of access to government services?

On April 1st a court ruling suspended the mandatory biometric registration of Kenyans, making it an optional exercise. However, reports from counties such as Mombasa and comments from government officials illustrate that the process is still mandatory where duress and even brute force is being used against Kenyans who do not comply and disparage the process on social media.

The questions that remain, is it possible to stop, recalibrate and restart this process in good faith? Can we determine why exactly we need digital identification in Kenya (if at all) and what this process should and deserves to look like?

At the Internet Society 2019 African Chapters Advocacy meeting in Addis Ababa at the African Union Commission, between the 9th and 10th of April, we got to discuss at length how exactly this process should look like, where everyone’s interests are considered and protected.

Public Participation

The Public Participation Bill of 2018 outlines that the responsible authority shall provide reasonable and meaningful opportunities for public participation. On the matter of digital ID’s in Kenya, public participation was not employed to get perspectives from citizens and other stakeholders in order to uphold a collaborative spirit. By seeking opinions and feedback from stakeholders the government could have addressed concerns and put in place solutions as well as receiving buy-in from all involved in the process, resulting in a more harmonised process.

In addition to a lack in public participation, information on the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) still seems scanty hence casting doubt on the intentions of the government especially due to the sensitivity of the data being collected from Kenyans. Communication of the roll out strategy, objectives and potential impact based on evidence based research has not been done for the benefit of Kenyans. At risk of duplication of efforts, additionally how does the huduma namba supersede all the other numerous forms of identification that Kenyans have? This is information if delivered to Kenyans in a timely, clear and organised manner could change the negative perceptions of the lauded Huduma Namba.

Data Protection

Kenya still does not have a ratified Data Protection policy, so it would be folly for the government to conduct this biometric registration process, when no law exists to protect the sensitive data being collected from Kenyans; or even protect Kenyans from their data being misused to defend infractions against them such as surveillance, exclusion to services or even spaces.

The Omidyar Network identifies Good Identification as fundamental to inclusive growth and could unlock economic value equivalent to 3–6 percent of GDP on average by 2030, this is from a study conducted by Mckinsey Global.

What is Good Identification? According to the Omidyar Network, Good Identification is an empowering form of identity designed to be inclusive, private, secure, and controlled by the individual with the goal of helping people to participate more fully and fearlessly in society and the digital economy. Issuing Good Identification, backed by safeguards and principles, helps countries maximise the benefits and continental aspirations while minimising the risks for people, business, and government.

Here is a summary of principles on identification for sustainable development towards the digital age, that highlight the elements of inclusion, design and governance.

Currently the biometric registration still continues, albeit not being mandatory; Kenyans are being encouraged to voluntarily undergo the registration process. I believe it’s not too late to fix what has been broken, but we need to do an overhaul of the process, one that employs a multi-stakeholder dynamic, is transparent, ethical, secure and eventually valuable to Kenya’s economy.

Internet Rising Costs and What it means for Kenyans

If you live in Kenya you’ll have experienced the steady increase in internet costs as a result of increased excise duty in the recently amended Finance Bill 2018, which adopts a taxation of 15% on Internet Data Services. The result has been a progressive increase of internet package costs as exhibited in the screenshot above. 

Last month, Safaricom slashed the costs of buying internet bundles and has even began providing internet packages that offer subscribers free Whatsapp on select bundles even after the exhaustion of purchased bundles. They say this is in a bid to increase internet penetration amongst Kenyans, and comes after increasing M-Pesa tariffs on the basis of Finance Bill, 2018.

However, on Wednesday last week, Safaricom released a statement indicating that their headline price for voice calls and data would increase by 30 cents and SMS by 10 cents, as a result of the increased taxes passed in the Finance Act 2018.

What then will be the effect of this?

Some of the government’s flagship programmes namely Ajira Digital, The Digital Literacy Programme, Ease of Doing Business (eCitizen) and National Optic Fibre Backbone (NOFBI) all propose to improve access to digital spaces by Kenyans through customised online platforms, skills building and even infrastructure development. However, how will this increase in internet prices impact these interventions? The bottom line is that Kenyans must be able to afford internet services in order to benefit from these initiatives, and that already precarious reality has been threatened further.

This then raises the question of the methodology used by the government to review taxation levels, if at all it exists.

By increasing the costs attributed to getting online, assuming all other factors remain constant, Kenyans are only able to afford a fraction of the internet bundles they were once able to afford before the price increase, thus directly resulting in reduced internet access across the country. It is also important to consider that there will now be Kenyans who are completely locked out of even affording, the cheapest package subscription to internet bundles as a result of this price increase. Simply put, the resulting effect is a step back in the achievement of internet affordability for most Kenyans and even the complete locking out of others from the online space.

Bar reversing the taxes on internet services, what else can the government do?

Public Access Solutions

Introduce more working public access solutions for Kenyans to access the internet for free or at subsidised rates. This would involve making budgetary allocations to include internet access in public areas such as: libraries, schools, local centres, community centres, or public WiFi for use by community.

Policy Impact Studies

The government should adopt a multi-stakeholder model that enables them to form partnerships with organisations that advise them on the impact of various policy reform regimes. By taking into consideration recommendations derived from evidence based research studies the government can more sustainably review legislation to ensure maximum positive outcomes and minimal risk of negative outcomes on the economy and livelihoods.

The African Continent

According to Africans online, the internet has had a positive impact on many aspects of society, including education, the economy and personal relationships.

In the past couple of months some countries in the Africa region have undergone a different type of ‘internet taxation’, with Uganda taxing social media and Benin imposing a social media tax, that was fortunately later repealedCurrently, the internet has only penetrated 35% of Africa’s population, what does increased internet costs as a result of taxes do to this number? What is the eventual effect on aspects of economy, education and personal relationships?

How has this increase in internet costs affected you? What are you doing differently to adjust to this increase? We’d like to hear from you! E-mail us at research@ihub.co.ke or comment below.

Re-Imagining Social Norms on the Internet

(iHub Research’s session script from #FIFAfrica2018)

Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on culture, commerce, and technology, including the rise of near-instant communication by electronic mail, instant messaging, voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls, two-way interactive video calls, and the World Wide Web with its discussion forums, blogs, social networking, and online shopping sites.

With over 4 billion people on the internet, this number is only set to grow, especially with the age at which users are getting online steadily decreases.In Africa we have over 464 million users, with more male users than female.

Before we proceed let’s take a closer look at culture.

Culture is the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.  The internet’s genesis may not be African, but the very essence of having Africans on the internet, makes the internet African. Our unique identity marker, being african through our African culture, naturally spills onto the internet, making it unique to our own African reality.

What is African culture? How do we define it for ourselves?

Africa, a continent of 54 countries and over 2,000 tribes and languages spoken boasts a diversity unique, the world over. Clearly, Africa is not a country. However, our culture brings us together. Central to African culture, is the existence of values. A value here being a point of view or conviction; to live by and even in some cases die for. If we look at African values, they fall in different categories:

  • Social Values
  • Moral Values
  • Religious Values
  • Political Values
  • Aesthetic Values
  • Economic Values

Culture is passed on from generation to generation. The acquisition of culture is a result of the socialisation process. Culture is not static, it is dynamic, over the years coming from external as well as internal influences and humankind progression, as development occurs. If we look at African culture today, it has definitely expanded and contracted to accommodate the people we are today.

Cultural norms should seek to include rather than exclude people from participating in it, and hence the reason why these norms evolve over the years as people do across generations.

The year is 2018, African culture today is an integral part, when it comes to online interactions. The conversations had by Africans online, are for the most part informed by our culture. This is exhibited by the languages used, discourse on religion, arguments regarding gender roles and even enjoyment of art amongst other topics.

In our research conducted on Kenyan Women’s experiences online, we found out that:

  1. Women of different profiles experience the internet differently
  2. Women of different profiles get harassed online
  3. Women of different profiles respond differently to harassment online
  4. Women of different profiles need different support to be safer online

Another very important hypothesis that we validated from our research was that, women are harassed just for being women and this unwarranted abuse, often takes an ugly sexual turn. Patriarchal systems (those controlled by men) are pervasive in our schools, in our workplaces, our churches and even in our homes. So it it only natural that the internet wasn’t left behind.

But how does this serve us? Apart from preventing women from participating online and reducing the potential of connecting the next billion?

Negative and harmful traditional practices that dehumanise people and portray them as unimproved and backward people without future, should as a matter of urgency be discarded since culture is an adaptive system together with values that play a central role in giving the society its uniqueness. (Idang 2015)

This is what patriarchal systems do, they dehumanise and portray women as less than.

Using the example of FGM, this was a part of african practises, it is a practise that has been abolished because it risked the lives of women and took away their autonomy over their own bodies. Our beliefs regarding Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) evolved, why can’t we re-imagine our position when it comes to other cultural norms and practises that harm rather than add value to our collective identity?

In this room we have a group of digital rights stakeholders, keen on securing internet freedom for all, regardless of sexual identity, age, religious beliefs and occupational identity. Our goals are pretty audacious, realistic, but audacious all the same:

  1. Connect the next billion?!
  2. Close the gender gap online?!

Cultural norms are inhibiting us from reaching our goals as digital rights stakeholders, so how are we addressing that? Beyond increasing infrastructural coverage, digital literacy, policy reform how are we fixing the disconnect between our cultural norms and digital rights goals?

At the iHub we are taking the time to address these cultural norms that are inhibiting our progress online one user at a time, by providing young people with informal spaces to challenge these beliefs.

Policy Influence Dynamics in a Devolved Kenya

The Kenyan Constitution, provides sovereign power to its citizens, either directly or through elected representatives. The Constitution brought in several changes including devolution which is decentralisation and redistribution of power and resources. This study had two asks, 1) Has devolution affected policy making, and if so, how? 2) Additionally who are the key players in policy dynamics in Kenya and what is the media’s role in influencing policy? Are there stakeholders whose influence supersedes the other?

Our findings confirm that devolution has devolved policy making with some actors playing a more active role than others in influencing public policy in Kenya. We also found that the devolution process takes more time than previously expected, where for example health as a function has not achieved full devolution.

While we do identify the groups and level of influence, whether they do it successfully is another challenge altogether. Due to the complexity of relationships, circumstances around public participation and nuances that differ, thus affecting degree of influence amongst them. Actors employ different methods to reach out to stakeholders, via official meetings and/or semi-structured mechanisms such as calling in favours.

Kenyans, a conservative people also hold dear the opinions and counsel of religious leaders, chiefs and village elders who form key members of the community.

The media, a key player in policy influence dynamics, plays a role in dissemination of crucial information used to educate and inform. Throughout all our interviews, radio emerged as the most dominant and trusted medium of communication in both rural and urban areas for reasons ranging from accessibility and affordability.

It is evident that there are a number of active policy influencers, but even in the event of devolution, we still see that citizens are a major stakeholder group that not only civil society but also legislators take into consideration. In the course of conducting the study in Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa, we discovered that despite the differences in profiles of rural and urban populations, both are a leading influencer when it comes to policy in Kenya as explained later on in the report.

The Media, Civil Society Organisations, Politicians, Donors and International Organisations play a supporting role in enabling citizens to perform this role effectively through various resources both tangible and intangible. It is also important to point out that there exists a trilogy in Kenyan policy influence.

You can read the full report here.