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Cameras will not save us

Sunday June 8 2014

Security staff monitoring images from CCTV cameras. There is no evidence that the gadgets will deter terrorists. Besides, they can be fooled using make-up, for instance, Waga Odongo argues.

Security staff monitoring images from CCTV cameras. There is no evidence that the gadgets will deter terrorists. Besides, they can be fooled using make-up, for instance, Waga Odongo argues. 

WAGA ODONGO
By WAGA ODONGO
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ometimes it is good to take matters into your own hands, and the President has recently become the face of a PR initiative to put cameras in every corner to guard us against the dark, unknowable present for the foreseeable future.

Cameras, we are told, are the cure-all needed in the fight against terrorism.

I am not sure why the head of state saw it fit to do this, or why this idea could not be fronted by one of his more expendable flunkies.

First, I think the President’s and his men’s approach to the issue is wrong. They seem enthralled, as it were, by all things shiny, in love with all that is young and digital. So we end up being drowned in a never-ending deluge of measures and initiatives based on silicone.

We are led by a team with a one-directional hope that technology will be our guide. We are told that microchips will deliver us from all our social problems.

We have a team constantly glorifying their technical competence while the President’s speeches are flown as deadweight and the Lands ministry still uses typewriters. I, for one, am surprised that the speeches are not flown to the counties by pigeons; it would be in keeping with the TNA logo.

THE POSITIVES

Let us now examine the idea of having cameras in every corner.

First the positives. Across all platforms, the advert for the idea is good. The president ends up looking very resolute in both print and television. I cannot think of a better way to spend public money than to take out a full-page colour ad in the Daily Nation.

Now to the negatives. The idea won’t work, is poorly thought out and will end up being an expensive mess.

There is no evidence that cameras will deter terrorists. London was the most watched city on earth but still got hit in 2005. The terrorists were caught on camera heading to the underground railway, but the cameras did not stop them from completing their mission. 

In Afghanistan, the Taliban record instances of teenagers blowing themselves up on camera.  The cameras save them the cost of filming the incidents.

In terror circles, the CCTV images of the Westgate shooters would be replayed ad infinitum and their role lionised. Terrorists actually want more media coverage, as this only makes it easier to disseminate rubbernecking footage to television stations.

FACIAL FEATURES

Also, the government does not have a database of faces to use. Indeed, while seeking to set up a national ID system, it acknowledged that the current photos on IDs are unintelligible to computers, so any new database will have to be cobbled from scratch.

Humans are still far better than machines at picking up faces. I checked in several technological magazines and they say computers are still not up to scratch at identifying facial features. It is also easy to fool cameras that try to recognise people, using make-up, for instance.

In fact, Anonymous, the online activist group, taught people how to evade recognition by simply tilting their heads. Unless the technology has been perfected at Jubilee headquarters, it simply doesn’t exist.

Cameras also need excellent lighting to work. The first step would be to install lighting with back-up generators in every nook and cranny in Nairobi and Mombasa.  

We are going to have cameras connected to command centres in a country where nationwide blackouts are still a concern. Mombasa is reeling from a 20-hour blackout that occurred last week. 

CULTURAL CONCERNS

More importantly, we should consider cultural concerns. It is accepted that some women can walk around in public with their faces covered. All a potential terrorist would require to move around unmolested is wear a niqab and a burka. But even then, there have been cases of female terrorists.

We are being forced to accept that only round-the-clock government monitoring is the solution to our security problem.

This is not the case. Ethiopia shares a longer border with Somalia than we do and has a longer history of meddling in Mogadishu’s affairs but it has markedly fewer terror attacks.

Embracing this new technology is also very expensive. This digital solution to our problem also requires a wallet-bursting contract. The contract will be single-sourced as usual because of time and security; the terrorists might be listening, etc.

We are looking at a bill of at least Sh15 billion before any training of those who will man command centres, not to mention the costs related to vandalism and maintenance.

MORE SCREENS OR MORE OFFICERS?

Ask yourself how many policemen Sh15 billion can employ and how many more patrols we could have? Do you want more screens or more intelligence officers?

Gangsters and terrorists are warned that they will be watched by “millions of pairs of eyes.” The cameras, we are told, will be in their thousands so why should you employ that many people staring at so few screens?

There are so many potential pitfalls in this programme that it beggars belief that the President would front it. You can’t PR your way out of insecurity with cameras.

We are challenging for bronze in the insecurity stakes in sub-Saharan Africa. The answer isn’t cameras.

We are a poor country. We cannot afford to have a CCTV around every corner when there are better and more analogue opportunities to stop terrorism.

Is he right? Send your reactions to [email protected] Email the writer @[email protected]

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Burning tyres equals using "alternative" energy? Go tell it to the birds!

Recently, I came across the claim on the website of a cement company in Kenya that tyres were an “alternative source of energy”, that burning tyres in kilns is a form of “recycling.”

The word “alternative,” when it comes next to fuel, has a halo. It is usually better than using the fossilised remains of animals and plants. It is good, renewable energy, or at least it is meant to be.

Burning tyres, though, seems like anything but using alternative energy. I have burnt a tyre. They let out plumes of very dark, very acrid smoke, with chemicals that have names longer than the average Icelandic surname. 

The temperatures involved can melt steel. The tyre usually turns into sticky semi-liquid mulch that burns like brimstone. If ever they run out of sulphur in hell, I suspect they will use tyres.  Burning tyres is horrible to the environment, and in Kenya, it is illegal to do so in public.

I asked a chemist friend whether burning rubber is worse than coal. She replied that tyres were worse when burnt in the open, given the fumes they emit, but cement companies use specialised chambers and have filters. The end result of the emissions is comparable between coal and tyres.

Tyres are not an alternative to coal; they are just as bad. In fact, out in the open they are worse.

The company should stop pretending that tyres are better than coal and touting their green credentials. The reason they use tyres is that they are cheaper and burn brighter than South African coal, used by cement companies in Kenya. That is why this company uses them — not because they are “alternative” energy.

Not in a protest or anything like that. I burnt it for my own recreational pyromania. Tyre burning is international semaphore for violent protest. It is an arsonist’s favourite play toy.

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It’s normal: men prefer younger women

A female university student was on TV recently talking about her preference for older men as opposed to those her age. As expected, Twitter ended up in its usual paroxysms of moral panic about the state of “our” university girls.

Men have always preferred their women younger. You probably only need to go back as far as your grandfather’s father to reach a time when polygamy was the treasured ideal. Successive wives were always younger than the ones married earlier. 

Men are known for moving on when their wives become ghastly grannies.

Gold digger is only an insult from broke men.

The student's admission is a throwback to values from a different age. It is nice that a woman finally recognises this and is unapologetic about it. Men being attracted to younger women, it was ever thus.

One of the advantages of becoming an old geezer is finally getting all the young pretty girls.

The geezers' hair may be falling out in clumps, a blubberous missile calcifying around the midsection and their knees locking, but they have the wherewithal and that is all that counts.

Also, nowadays, whenever the spirit is willing, the flesh can be given a chemical boost. So old men can get back in the game.

When we were at the university, we used to tell the girls who spurned us for our better-heeled fathers: “No worries, darling, we will go after your daughters.”

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