Kenyan chief fights crime using twitter

Friday March 2 2012

Chief Francis Kariuki in Nakuru during the interview on February 21, 2012.

Photo/SULEIMAN MBATIAH/NATION Chief Francis Kariuki in Nakuru during the interview on February 21, 2012.  

By FRANCIS MUREITHI [email protected]

Francis Kariuki is the simple chief of the dusty Lanet Umoja location in Nakuru County. His name may not ring a bell to many Kenyans.

The fact that he is now one of the most sought after civil servants by the international press, due to his innovative use of information technology, may surprise many.

The 47-year-old chief has moved from addressing small village barazas to addressing the international press that has been making a beeline to his office.

He has talked to CNN, Associated Press, BBC, Daily Telegraph and e-Africa, all this is thanks to the tech-savvy chief’s innovative use of Twitter to fight crime.

On February 20, Google wrote about how Mr Kariuki uses micro blogging for everything “from tracking down missing sheep to stopping crime.”

His District Commissioner, Mr Michael Kagika, is full of praise for him: “His simple innovation has... brought government services close to the people.”

Sending messages

“From a chicken to a human being, we are all safe here and if anything happens, it only takes minutes before the entire population is in the picture as our chief keeps us updated,” says 56-year-old elder Peter Kareu.

“We can now sleep soundly,” says Mr David Kimondo, a community policing official in the area.

While his peers in the rest of the country still raid chang’aa (illegal brew) dens, Kariuki has chosen a different path: He only sends warning messages.

“I used to be a chang’aa brewer but when the chief started sending those messages, I knew the police were also receiving them. I decided to find some other work,” says Esther Gathoni Kirie, who has since become a born-again Christina.

Young men in the village also tread carefully in their search for a tipple. “I have changed my lifestyle as I fear the chief may be keeping a close tab on me and might send a message to the police,” says a young man.

Using the Twitter name @chiefkariuki, he once mobilised residents to track down a lost nursery school pupil, who was found at Nakuru Central Police Station, 15km away.

On many occasions, he has been called upon to attend to women giving birth in the middle of the night through Twitter.

Although the residents do not have smart phones, he advised them on how to set up their normal mobile phones to receive his tweets as text messages.

“For those who are not on Twitter, I advise them to subscribe to Safaricom 8988. I only use one shilling to broadcast the message to more than 15,000 residents at one go,” says chief Kariuki, a former primary school teacher.

Chief Kariuki’s innovative use of Twitter to fight crime and other social evils in Umoja Lanet area, with an estimated population of 28,000, has catapulted him to international fame.

“I can confidently say the level of crime in Umoja Lanet has gone down drastically. I can  communicate with residents on any matter in the shortest possible time.”

He also updates Kenyans in diaspora who have invested in the area on the goings on at home.

Chief Kariuki, who is also a pastor at the United Methodist Church in Lanet, also uses his Twitter account to send motivational words to the residents.

What the government is not aware of is the thousands of shillings the chief has saved in costs as his communication is paperless.

His story was first broken to the world on February 2 on an online publication of the International Press Service under the headline “Kenya chief tweets his way to reducing crime”.

Since then, the father of three has held numerous interviews and gained thousands of followers on Twitter. His biggest challenge at the moment is lack of a computer in the office.

“I use my phone to transact office business. If I had a small laptop, I would do double what I’m doing now,” he says.