#FRONTROW: We must learn to live with this technology-driven world order

Wednesday February 10 2016

A local taxi driver demonstrates against Uber,

A local taxi driver demonstrates against Uber, which is charging considerably lower fares. PHOTO| JAMES EKWAM 

By LARRY MADOWO
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A few Uber drivers have been attacked by taxi operators in Nairobi in the last few weeks. The violence is the latest after a period of hostility towards the American taxi-hailing service, which is eating at the very core of the traditional cab business.

While a typical Kenyan taxi will charge you about Sh600 for a short trip in the city, Uber will charge you the base fare of Sh300. The driver won’t pretend to be around the corner when he’s still half an hour away because you can track his movement on an app and you don’t have to bargain about the fare. Better still, you know how good a driver is before they even show up because they have already been rated by the community.

“Hopped into a regular cab to get some insight from the driver on Uber. His response? ‘Hawa uber tutawamaliza, ngoja uone.’ Silly fellow.” That was a tweet by TV producer Dorothy Ghettuba, perfectly capturing what the establishment feels about the new kid on the block. “We’ll finish these Uber guys, you just wait and see.”

I don’t know how these backward folks intend to fight an idea, but their opposition to it is almost comical. Granted, taxi drivers almost everywhere in the world have actively resisted the entry of Uber into their markets.

A female driver I used in San Francisco had to hide her Uber banner to avoid getting “hassled” by ordinary taxis. In London, Black cab operators are openly antagonistic to Uber drivers. It is not hard to see why. London cabbies have to pass “The Knowledge”, a test that is among the hardest to pass and needs years to memorise.

In one Uber ride I took, the driver turned out to be a Kenyan who had moved to the United Kingdom only two years earlier. He had no formal training and had never even attempted that notorious test. It is democratising what was previously an elite club and driving down prices for users.

As you probably know by now, the streaming service Netflix is a “threat to national security” and must be regulated. That gem came from the good people at the Kenya Film, Television, Netflix and Morality Control Board, or just KFCB.

It is strange that a regulatory body that has no mandate regulating tech companies is the one on the offensive when the people whose business is about to be disrupted haven’t complained yet.

Kenyan television stations, which air premium programmes once a week, and whose variety has continued to dwindle, should be running scared. It looks almost as if KFCB is holding brief for them under the guise of regulating morality.

Transformative ideas are meeting brick walls everywhere in Kenya. The Central Bank of Kenya — led by the very progressive Dr Patrick Njoroge — took out newspaper adverts to warn consumers about the virtual currency, Bitcoin.

“Virtual currencies are traded in exchange platforms that tend to be unregulated all over the world. Consumers may, therefore, lose their money without having any legal redress in the event these exchanges collapse or close business,” a notice last December said. “The public should, therefore, desist from transacting in Bitcoin and similar products.”

So that settles it; ignore this innovation because there’s some risk that the clever people at the CBK won’t protect you against. If we applied this same thinking to M-Pesa, we wouldn’t have a global pioneering mobile commerce product.

The resistance wasn’t just from the regulator. M-Pesa owner Safaricom blocked two Kenyan Bitcoin start-ups, BitPesa and Lipisha, from its service, and the matter ended up in court. ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, who was a minority shareholder in BitPesa before he divested, gets it.

“We need to change regulations to take into account innovations such as virtual currency as this is currently outside CBK’s mandate,” he told the Business Daily. He rightly pointed out that Kenya could not be Africa’s tech hub if regulations stifled innovation.

Now he has to deal with the small matter of Netflix and another regulator that wants to control it in the name of morality.

Adapt or die is the new mantra for navigating a world turned upside down by disruption. The post office in Kenya hangs on a thin thread because there are faster, cheaper ways of communicating. The Simu ya Jamii phase died because phones, as well as calling tariffs, became more and more affordable.

Kenya Airways dramatically slashed its fares on the Nairobi-Dar es Salaam route when the low-cost Fastjet started flying it last month. BlackBerry used to be the most prestigious phone in the world, until it wasn’t. Instead of violence, over-regulation or bans, Kenyans should learn to live in this new world order.

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ACCUSATIONS AGAINST DOCTORS SHOCKING

There are stories you hear and you think it is the plot of some cheap show on a low-rated channel. Then it turns out to be true and you can’t pick your jaw from the floor.

The Ministry of Health is investigating up to 880 doctors who might have taken bribes to refer patients overseas, especially to India. They’re not just doctors in public hospitals; even the fancy-speaking ones in private hospitals are in on it.

“It is really messy. If a doctor of whatever calibre is reported to the Medical Services Board, they will not only be named and shamed, but also be deregistered for that is a criminal offence,” said health Principal Secretary Dr Nicholas Muraguri.

That was the same week that NTV reported that the Supreme Court’s Justice Philip Tunoi was allegedly given a Sh200 million bribe to rule in favour of Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero in Ferdinand Waititu’s election petition.

They deny it, of course, and both say they have never met. Doctors and judges are supposed to be beyond reproach, like Caesar’s wife, but this is Kenya, after all. Without presuming guilt in both cases, even the existence of such allegations is shocking.

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CAN WE TRUST TRIGGER-HAPPY COPS WITH MORE EQUIPMENT?

The Kenya police are not the most restrained when it comes to using excessive force. Now, arms of it are getting what President Kenyatta explained as “armoured personnel carriers to increase their mobility and protective gear when deployed in volatile

areas.” Reports say the first 30 have already been delivered and will be dispatched to different parts of the country where there is a need. American police departments are some of the most militarised and most have very heavy-duty military equipment.

They have also been known to unleash them on seemingly ordinary protests, such as Black Lives Matter protests, even when they are not violent. I have not seen any direct correlation, but it is not surprising that they kill more innocent unarmed (mostly

Black) people than anywhere else in the world. Can we trust the trigger-happy Kenyan police with even more equipment that they might use to harass and oppress the long-suffering citizens of this country?

 

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FEEDBACK: ON THE GOVERNMENT’S CRACKDOWN ON BLOGGERS

I think there is biasness in handling the issue. For instance, on the issue of political bloggers, why is it that only those who “criticise” the government are on the receiving end? A number of bloggers on the side of government continue to write what they think is right and have resorted to calling the Opposition leaders names and even going as far as  photo-shopping their images to suit their insults. If there is a crackdown on bloggers who are considered a threat to the country’s unity, then shoka ianguke pande zote.

Fred

Larry, the government might be doing things the wrong way. After all, it is humans who are in charge of it. Yet criticism against it left, right and centre might not be productive. Why don’t bloggers change tack? Maybe they could start by blogging about

what the government has done right, for example, by allowing them to blog. Remember, not all countries enjoy the freedoms we have. After that, they can talk about the main issues they have.

K. Wakape

 

Absolute freedom does not exist, unless you are on your own island like Robinson Crusoe. Your freedom ends exactly where mine starts. You don’t gleefully circulate pictures of dead soldiers — brave men who fight and die so that you can enjoy your

“freedom” —  unless you are mentally disturbed. Naturally, such a person cannot be accorded any freedoms! The Western media and citizens, whom you guys worship, would never propagate enemy propaganda in the name of “freedom”.

You are lucky we are not ruled by religious extremists; they would easily chop off your head for much lesser misdeeds.

Ben