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Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Hallucinations of a caged night owl

Image Credit/FlexJobs

Fellow Kenyans,

I am making yet another feeble attempt to revive my writing career which has clearly failed to take off. This might explain the uncalled for salutation when my blog has only been read a disappointing six thousand times since I penned the first few enthusiastic lines as a wide-eyed freshman in 2012. I actually haven't given much thought to this post since the motivation to lethargically punch a few gradually rubbing-off keys on this Beijing-made notebook is something I have considered an asset for more than a decade but in recent years, I have been battling; nocturnality.

After lying in bed for two hours and counting backward from a thousand twice to no avail, my mind ever alert perhaps from the coffee I was pumping in earlier my thoughts have wondered to the wildest sectors of my imagination. When you really need to sleep because you have an early morning and a busy day ahead, but can't, you really get to understand the utter magnitude of time. The tick of the clock so distinctive, you realise how much time we have to chase our goals even in one single day. But since you don't want to be drowsy the next day, the wisest thing you can do is to get out of bed at 4am and opened your neglected blog to type an incoherent narration to an imaginary audience formally addressed as fellow Kenyans.

Of course, I could take refuge in an assertion that is surprisingly supported by 'science' that night owls are more intelligent than morning larks. Writing in Psychology Today, Satoshi Kanazawa quotes a study of young Americans that supports the prediction that more intelligent children grow up to be more nocturnal as adults than less intelligent children. I immediately dismissed this strange claim before I googled up the author (which you should always do, google me!) and found his remarkable credentials. Dr Kanazawa, who identifies as an evolutionary psychologist, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Management at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), ranked second in the world for social sciences and management subjects. Some of his other 'bizarre' publications I picked up from his research of over two decades include: Why do very unattractive workers earn so much? and Why beautiful people have more daughters  (for the book, click here). After finding unusual claims (without really reading them), I still wouldn't claim more than normal intelligence to be associated with my lack of sleep.

In fact, what I should be more worried about (obviously, other than the fact that I haven't invented something notable yet) is the possibility of chronic insomnia which is associated with daytime sleepiness, low energy, irritability and a depressed mood which when combined would explain my failure to invent. This is said to be caused by stress, anxiety, and depression or simply uncomfortable beds, caffeine or alcohol. But wouldn't that mean I have been stressed, anxious and depressed or sleeping in an uncomfortable bed etc. for the last 10 years? The last few months at LSE though have been nothing short of stressful.... but not depressing. That said, you want to read this beautiful piece by the reigning Miss Progress International - Kenya, the hopeless unromantic Audrey Rendo on dreams of the insomniac.

Now, without talking too much about myself (after founding no word to mean this), which earlier blog posts have been about and something I really detest in people and having been unfortunate enough to meet loads of narcissists, I am committing the next series of posts to be less about the little idiosyncrasies of my being and more on the peculiarities of our existence precisely now from a vantage point of the Global North.

After saying that I actually realise I might slip right back to 'me' and the experiences that have come to define my brief stay in London but you can be sure I will not be serving this with a pinch of "oh, look at me, am awesome!' or 'poor me, am stranded!'

Ideally, I was supposed to chronicle my postgrad life on this weblog for eternity but I have found every excuse to not type even a single paragraph (I did try a physical journal for two weeks, now I can't find it!) in the true spirit of procrastination till now.

We are still going to stay conversational dear fellow Kenyans. Now please pray for my friend Eddy Ashioya, a struggling writer by all standards [Citation needed], grappling with an unconventional genre, who is by his own admission, a proud career student at some village college he calls Woi University. He says he'll leave school when he has an audience as big as his soon-to-be-incarcerated mentor, Cyprian Nyakundi. Read him at your own risk.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Retrogression under Sonko: how the hell did we get here?

That the city is in the hands of an incompetent, clueless, uneducated pseudo-leader, an ex-convict with no documented management record is not in doubt.

I will be away from home for two years, possibly more and few weeks into my venture abroad I can’t help but wonder what city I will be coming back to. Recent uproar on the Kenyan social media space over inexplicable interventions by the Nairobi City County points at a worrying consequence of a failing electoral system.

Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko has lived to expectations as the ‘man of the people’ to unleash the mess that is the hawking community into city streets effectively undoing a milestone achieved by the defunct Nairobi City Council half a decade ago.

The governor, in what can only be explained as rewarding his support base has now allowed hawkers to occupy major streets in downtown Nairobi from midday to midnight to the detriment of small struggling businesses who are already hit below the belt by landlords charging the most unreasonable rates for tiny stalls.

This ill-advised move brings back memories from six years ago when I joined the list of the privileged few in my village to become city dwellers. The mighty hawkers reigned supreme in every street and with them hundreds of thugs, pickpockets who daily made a killing terrorizing innocent Nairobians hard-pressed to pay among other things the ever-monstrous rent and make ends meet. This memory of Nairobi is immortalized in the critically acclaimed Nairobi Half Life film (2012) in a scene where a city newbie is caught in the crossfire between the Kanjos and paper-chasing street vendors.

From the ridiculous, failed but nevertheless necessary attempt to kick out the over 30,000 matatus from the CBD even after all the tough-talking, the city boss is off to an embarrassing start to his five-year term at the helm of the most important city in East Africa and paradoxically, the most ‘intelligent’ city in the continent.

During his swearing-in, Sonko pledged to continue his populist approach promising to reorganize hawkers in the city and ensure they are treated humanely among other things including his pseudo-philanthropy in the form of ‘Sonko Rescue Team’. 

While his intentions might be good, they lack a solid backing of methodology and only serve the short-term purpose of ‘rewarding’ his loyal supporters who have propelled him from his wall-punching days as Makadara MP, to the Senate and now the Council of Governors. Pickpockets are now having a field day as hard-working stall owners get robbed of their livelihood slowly by the same governor they elected.

It is true, indeed, he cannot be judged too harshly this early. One might even say he’ll eventually get his footing and with the right advice, he just may become the governor Nairobi is yet to have. With this backdrop though, it is safe to say we can only look forward to a litany of poor decisions.

As one Italian diplomat once said, ‘success has many fathers, failure is an orphan’, our dear governor needs to realize his win in August set him up for failure and when the inevitable happens Nairobians will avoid his name on the ballot like the plague. The governor, however, has a chance to extend his fairytale in Kenyan politics and be the outlier he has proven to be so far and do some good if only he listens to the chatter in the public sphere.

The allure of London can be intoxicating, and I know it will take a while before Nairobi can boast of similar sophistication. I love my city, and I can only hope the people’s governor will make it better, not worse. Fellow Nairobians need to continue voicing their disapproval of retrogression.

Else in 2022, when he’s back in the campaign mode, the only question we’ll be asking is; how the hell did we get here?

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

What I learned today

It’s amazing what you can learn in just a day! Truly amazing.

Especially about oneself; there is just that one day that the school of life just decides to set up shop in your half-a-day and you’d only do better than to ignore it.

So today, I hosted the entire campus and yeah; I think it is wiser to have it in the public domain instead of selfishly copyrighting it.

You’d ask why I am so excited to write about myself and honestly I’d grapple in my response, but I would ask how amazing it would be if those stories you keep hidden in that volatile memory of yours were to be penned down and published.

My optimistic self ambitiously thinks the world would be a better place; because, really, all these challenges, dilemmas and triumphs we experience are not entirely new. 

The truth is that thousands, even millions others have experienced them albeit in a different context.

As such a priceless database (or call it menu) would be at our disposal from where we can choose from.

That doesn’t mean we would not be allowed to travel the unbeaten path (if that really exists).

Don’t underestimate yourself

When I walked into that interview room I couldn’t help but remember my previous experiences; the intimidation, fear of the unknown and unsettling tension; more like that bull that obediently follows its owner into the slaughterhouse not really sure if it’s being prepared for the next exhibition of livestock success at the ASK showground or the inevitable conversion into an array of 'cancer-causing' delicacies or just regular smokies (if they are really made using beef).

Turns out this time round I was halfway over the inexplicable disquiet I am still researching on, despite the subtly tough questioning. 

When I was done I realized how naïve I must have been to have pumped myself up with so much negative energy.

You are the best

This reminds me of Eva, a good friend of mine (interestingly, I never really got to know her second name) who has had this whatsapp status for a couple of months now. “I’m the smartest, I’m the best,” it reads.

And that’s how exactly her life is turning out; smarter and better.

Or my high school principal, who believed that his school needed and had to be the best in the province. He lived on the number-twos-are-irrelevant principle and he made sure we got that in our heads; at least until we were no longer under his watch.

Nothing could be truer than that. We rarely see businesses named after the man who came second to president Obama (in fact  I don't know who); neither do we get so excited about the second best footballer in the world or the coach for that matter. Of course with the exception of the ‘chosen one’.

If you are willing to bet on that elusive exception, then sit tight and wait. But for the enlightened ones and the ambitious, there is no pride in coming second.

At this juncture you will be forgiven to think I nailed it this afternoon; just hold on a little bit longer.

Ask, ask, and always ask

Instructions are crucial, so very just like it was in the beginning of mankind. If you read the Bible then you are familiar with the forbidden fruit and how curiosity and recklessness made us these beings we are today. You might not admit this, but I know you imagine how life would be if Adam had just followed the terms and conditions. 

There are two things that made our Biblical forefather trip; either he didn’t understand the instructions or he forgot/ignored them.

I cannot stress enough how much we need to seek knowledge, direction and clarification for issues, concepts and messages that we interact with in whatever sphere.

I learned that today.

Don’t beat yourself up

You made a mistake? Yes. You stumbled; you disappointed yourself or fell short of expectations? But you are alive and you’ve got another day to make it right.

So in just one day I appreciated the need to beat the dust off and to move on without regrets because genius is just a concept. 

Instead, letting every fall be a lesson actually works positively with your ego and can actually transform mediocre news anchor into a reputable media consultant.


If you believe in a higher order above all this humongous confusion that is humanity, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re a skeptic you might want to ‘experiment’ with the power of prayer and living a conscientious life.

You can never go wrong with constant prayer and hard work. If you are working hard towards getting brand visibility for that start-up or landing that dream job or just every single thing that means something to you; add prayer as a vital ingredient and see what happens.

Just to elaborate; try eating a boiled egg without adding salt and tell me how it tastes!

And least I forget,

It’s a rainy season and I know you really value those bright clothes. If you don’t own some wheels, this revelation that I am making public will prove valuable.

Try not to walk too close to the road especially near puddles of water (or worse raw sewage!) because our very talented motorists will be glad to add an array of colourful shades to that khaki trousers you reserve for worthy events (it happened to me).

Think you can possibly learn more in a day than I did? Share your experiences/thoughts/reactions in the comments section.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Obama mania and the lost fourth estate; A transcript on upturned news values

German Physicist and genius Albert Einstein once said "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what they learned in school". Some online quack made an attempt at explaining what the 19th century scholar meant.
He says;
After (or if) you forget what you have learned from your education or indoctrination into a specific or dogmatic way of thinking your mind is open to learn. Therefore what is left is an education from curiosity, reason and experimentation resulting in experience.

One lecture that I have failed to forget was in my junior year about news values, or rather what makes an occurrence newsworthy. Of course it did start with defining 'news', which we would agree to disagree on the intrinsic element of "newness". A more decisive definition of news would be 'newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events'.

A plain non-issue given prominence at an attempt to achieve the "shock value". the classical "Dog bites man" story
Now, with a zillion events occurring every other second in every other part of the world, and a dynamic audience with equally diverse interests, news publishers are faced with the mammoth problem of deciding what to allow through and what to trash/ignore. That's where the newsworthiness metrics were born.

My educators gave me a list of metrics; timeliness, prominence, relevance, conflict, exceptional quality, impact, shock value, proximity, human interest, it goes on and on. These and host of others factors including prejudice and the ever-fallible judgment of journalists, decide not only the content of the next morning newspaper or TV bulletin but also the headline and placement of the news item in the bulletin or pagination (newspaper) . What will be labeled BREAKING or warranting live coverage is highly judged on these metrics.

Take timeliness for instance, which takes the obvious definition of the 'new'. News is that which is new, as such an event can only be reported as recently as possible or otherwise no one will pay attention. An afternoon heist at a city bank would warrant a live NTV coverage and probably make first news item in the 7:00 o'clock bulletin. However tomorrow, unless there is a major development, the same story would not be mentioned unless it’s one of those 'dry' days. It's the most basic news value which mainstream media happen to have just been robbed control over by citizen journalists on twitter.
Prominence on the other hand is the media's way of telling you, that you don't matter. If a 12-year-old is bitten by a mad dog in a rural village somewhere or a teacher dies somewhere in Budalangi, the closest it can come to newsprint is in the obituaries section (paid). But if the first lady while at a charity event in the same village is bitten by that dog, journalists are sure to get interested. In fact, after that, a story on how rabies has been rampant in the area might follow.

Impact, as my then educators accented, should be the most sought after news value. It is that which goes beyond mere reportage to explaining the associated effects of the event to the audience who are the sole customers of the news business. It relates more to what is in the public interest than what interests the public. By pursuing the impact side of the story a reporter is halfway in fulfilling the media’s role of being the fourth arm that ideally tells what government doesn’t or cares not to.

The delivery of impact is in two-fold. One, is that occurrences of higher magnitude are most likely to be reported than those of a lesser degree, in terms of fatalities, geographical coverage, time etc. The second as alluded earlier, borders the precincts of news analysis.

Closely related to impact is relevance, or the ‘so what?’ of a story. News is tailored for a specific audience and as such their interests must be reflected. Tragedy is when a publisher fails to recognize the needs of its audience and goes ahead to package content for imaginary recipients. This is what is ailing Kenyan media as editors are still churning information for a media-illiterate audience that died a decade ago, seemingly oblivious of a savvy, skeptic majority.

The hashtag #KenyaMediaFailure really exhausted all the illustrations on how failed audience research can make a broadcaster bombard viewers’ with irrelevant newscasts of redundant misinformation. I really pitied some young smartly dressed journalist trying to squeeze information at the August 7th Memorial park when Obama made a stop, mostly going back and forth around three issues for a whole 10 minutes! I wonder how much an advertiser could have paid for a feature that long.

For a moment I was like, am struggling this hard to replace this guy? I mean is the media also supposed to drown in the frenzy? Of course I won’t mention the ridiculous Fashion show or Kirigo Ng'arwa’s classical creative arrogance rejoinder.

If the guys behind the scenes (editors) would have taken a peek at my news values transcript on Friday morning when they were deciding this weekend’s docket and just chose impact over prominence, am sure #SomeoneTellCNN would never have been followed by the excruciating whipping Kenyans on twitter inflicted.

It is one thing to choose what interests the public over public interest and another to fail to interest them anyway or as in this case turn the interest into apathy. Worse even is making ridiculous factual errors like that fact box on the Daily Nation that says the Obamas' met in 1989 and married in 1982!
I must ask, where is the education?

See, my online quack suggests that education begins only when you can go beyond what is taught and venture into the thrill of discovery. ‘Fresh blood’ is hired into media houses and taught how news is told, the result? Like a bimbo some replicate the same failed methods than have the decency of taking initiative and taking the unbeaten path.  And in the same breath, feign ‘experience’.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

When theory Meets Practice: How to speak to anyone?

There are two kinds of people in this life:
Those who walk into a room and say,
"Well, here I am!"
And those who walk in and say,
"Ahh, There you are."
                                                                            :-Leil Lowndes (1999)

When I walked into Impact Africa offices at Mombasa road in the afternoon, I was confident. Fully prepared to impress and walk back proudly with at least a promise of consideration, or in the least a referral to some equally successful Public relations firm.

You see, I just completed the second chapter of Leil Lowndes’ How to Talk to Anyone, published by McGraw-Hill  and as it were, I was to dare putting theory into practice. Lowndes methodically starts the first part with what most would agree is the most basic, yet immensely communicative non-verbal cue into a conversation; the smile.

I would never have forgotten how to make your smile magically different, or the ever so practical, how to strike everyone as intelligent and insightful using your eyes. Or I could have skipped to the second part where she majors on how to know what to say after you say “hi”; the intrigues of small talk and the trick to never wondering “what do I say next?”

Now that you know how much wisdom I was armed with, I should remind you why you had to do that same Chemistry experiment several times in the lab after only one overview of the procedure in the classroom. There’s a huge rift between theory and application; in fact after my experience today I think it may be even wider than most people are aware or care to find out.

Elevator door opens, enter fourth floor, Somak House. Right in front of the wide open elevator door is the entrance to Impact Africa. I must say that I did suspect the gentleman who had left the lift before me, had pressed some button that made it strangely accelerate, the ascend was too fast. The two were only divorced by a thin hallway that the entrances mapped strictly into each other. There was no point in delaying, I fumbled.

Whoever approved the open office plan must have been sent by the very goddess of intimidation. As I fought with the elevator door I could see most of the employees busy on their workstations. When I covered the distance between the elevator (which had now abandoned me to chauffeur some other somebody) and the entrance, and stood momentarily at the door, they suddenly looked up (I might have imagined that too!).

That’s the moment I realized the “why” stories of the tortoise cracking its shell were mere folklore of a people who had not a hint at a scientific explanation of their environment or their existence. Even more relevant I realized the likes Leil Lowndes’ “How” manuals to whatever social phenomenon that exists, are just chunks of texts that plainly massage our emotional deficiencies. At that moment, It was just that; a manual!

That said, I was to meet who checked out literally every item on Lowndes' communication checklist. I sauntered to her direction and managed to mutter what was left of sub-conscious ‘how to speak to anyone’ script.  

At this point I must say I couldn't tell which of the two kinds of people Lowndes outlines I was. Maybe there's a third one who says "Hell, Where am I?"

This lady, Vallerie, in the brief moment that I got to engage with her, did know how to make someone feel like an old friend at once, knew perfectly how to resuscitate a dying conversation, scored A’s on that magically different smile test and I could say she could make “Where are you from?” sound exciting.

When I walked out, the elevator had just come to my aid and I hopped in literally assuming that it knew I was headed for the ground floor.  I couldn’t help but compare the amiable reception at Impact Africa to the hostility that I have been treated with elsewhere. Like this annoying lady receptionist at a government bureau with a pseudo-aura of a chief executive, donning a third-tier Eastleigh suit and some Murang’a Road hells, who wouldn’t let me past the lobby like her name was on the door. Then I realized I hadn't pressed the ground floor button when some wiry old executive sent us to six floors above.

I am really having trouble understanding the psychology of the typical receptionist. I bet Lowndes’ How to sound smarter than you are, would suffice as an enduring fix to this grossly unchecked, and exasperating miscommunication.