Saturday, April 18, 2015

M-PESA's Homecoming

This weekend, Safaricom is moving their servers, which were in Germany, to Kenya. They've been harping this on their social channels as #mpesacomeshome. From their press release:
Early last year, we announced plans to migrate the M-PESA platform to Kenya. We can now confirm that faster transactions, improved stability and added functionality on M-PESA is a dream coming to life: M-PESA is coming home!
Here is what you will enjoy from the new M-PESA system:
  • Enhanced system stability due to reduced points of failure
  • Ability to enjoy more products and services on the platform
  • Faster resolution of system outages due to local support
  • Higher transaction processing capability
  • Easier integration into M-PESA for third parties
  • Leverages global best practice in technology security, business continuity and redundancy
  • Instant monitoring of systems
  • Enhanced stability translates to reduced downtimes for subscribers
We are on track to bring the system home by this weekend...
I don't know how this benefits anyone other than Safaricom. They claim that it will increase transaction times but I think it'll just be shaving a couple of milliseconds of the time. There's not been a complaint on that front as far as I know.

There has been a quiet hope amongst developers that this may lead to the much fabled M-PESA API allowing simpler  monetisation of apps built for the local market but Safaricom has been playing coy with timelines so I'm not holding my breath on that.

Speaking of monetisation using mobile money, there's one cool solution, a work around really, called chowder. More on that in a future post. Peace!!!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Universal Service Fund

The Universal Service Fund, created by The Kenya Information Communications Amendment Act 2009 (KICA 2009) and the Kenya Information and Communications Regulations 2010 (KICR US&A 2010), was to create a fund that would compliment the commercial roll-out of communications infrastructure.

The objectives of the Universal Service Fund as provided in the Kenya Information and Communications Regulations 2010, Universal Access and Service include:
  1. Promote communications infrastructure and services rollout in rural, remote and under-served areas 
  2. Ensure availability of communication services to Persons with Disabilities, women and other vulnerable groups.
  3. Support the development of capacity building in ICTs and technological
  4. Support expansion of communication services to schools, health facilities
    and other organizations serving public needs and
  5. Facilitate development of and access to a wide range of local and relevant
The Universal Service Fund is primarily financed by mandatory contributions from licensed operators which provide services in the various communications market segments, with provisions for complementary financing from other sources.
The fund now has apparently has 3.4 billion shillings contributed to it by telecommunications firms and now those firms want the fund audited and represention on the  Universal Service Advisory Council, which manages the fund. From the Nation:
The money has, however, not been put to use and some of the contentious issues they had raised with CA are yet to be addressed.
“We have not yet been updated on the issue of having private auditors for this fund including the status of a new access gap study,” Tespok Chief Executive Officer Fiona Asonga said in a statement to the Nation yesterday.
I think it's fair that they want to audits on the fund, something that their own framework says should happen. From section 3.2 and 3.3:
The Commission shall ensure that utilization of the Fund is transparent to the public, and subject to independent audit.
The Commission shall have custody of the account books, cheque books, securities, investment instruments and other documents and papers pertaining to the Fund and the Fund Account. The books of accounts of the Fund shall be always open for inspection by the members of the Universal Service Advisory Council and the Licensees.
The Licensees here are the telecommunications firms mentioned in the article. The Communications Authourity should give them access to all the books and accounts so they can audit them. As for the representation on the USAC, I would suggest the CA gives them two seats on the board, which currently consists of a mix of technologist and non technical people which I think is a good balance. Peace!!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Will Collymore's Contract be Renewed.

Bob Collymore's contract is up for renewal in 4 months, and he's yet to hear from the board, of which he's a part of, whether he's coming back. From the Business Daily:
Safaricom chief executive Bob Collymore has not heard from the company’s board of directors about the renewal of his employment contract, which expires in four months’ time. 
Mr Collymore’s contract ends in August, having been extended for two years in 2013. There is a strong expectation it will be renewed again in the absence of any overt succession planning.
I wonder what the board is waiting for on this. Everyone agrees that since Collymore took over, the company has only moved from strength to strength, particularly in non-voice/sms revenue.

Perhaps it has something to do with this:
Telecoms operator Safaricom cancelled a multi-million dollar tender it had awarded to Mobinets SAL Limited after it found out that the Lebanese firm bribed its employees to secure the lucrative contract, a Nairobi court has been told.
Safaricom says in papers filed at the Milimani Law Courts that Mobinets colluded with its employees to ensure the tender went to the Lebanese firm.
Mobinets, which went to court to get Safaricom to honour the contract, apparently has already poured about a billion shillings in honouring the contract:
Mobinets has completed the functional specifications that Safaricom approved, purchased and shipped equipment worth $6.2 million (Sh558 million), and entered into contractual agreements with external hardware and software solution partners valued at $5 million (Sh450 million)
I fall squarely on the side of Safaricom here. Though questions arise about which employees are these that Mobinets bribed, and does it have anything to do with the recent exit of twofour executives.

Meanwhile, I imagine that the board has some very difficult questions for Collymore on just how these oversights happened on his watch and perhaps this is what's holding up the the renewal of his contract. I'll be keeping my eye on this. Peace!!!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Focus on Safaricom (The Executives who Left)

I want to try something new guys, I want to try writing about one topic: Safaricom. Why? Because I'm interested in the company, it being the chief tech company in the country and the one with the largest market cap of 640 billion shillings.

This will be in the same vein as John Gruber who primarily writes about Apple as a company: giving insights, thought pieces, and theories on the company. So that's what I want to try do too. Unlike him, though, I currently don't have sources in Safaricom of any kind but if I keep at this, maybe, I'll get some.

So what makes me qualified to even write about Safaricom? For starters, I'm Kenyan and I use their products. Secondly, I read a lot about them and may be able to make connections that other people may miss, or not want to say. Third, I'm a techie and therefore able to look at things from that view. Time will tell whether I'm any good at it.

So for the first thing I want to talk about is the two executives who left the company recently. From the Business Daily:
“These changes have been necessitated by an appreciation that we as a business have become disconnected from our customers’ needs at various levels,” Mr Collymore said in an internal communication to the staff.
“These changes are necessary for us to be truly reflective of the demands of our customers and to prepare ourselves for the heightened competitive environment in which we are operating,” 
These changes are probably due to the fall out from the current bundles faux pas and also the competitions issues the company has had which led to all competitions the company runs to be called into contention. While there are probably other issues that led to them leaving, I suspect that these two issues brought things to a head and the two executives chose to leave. That's just my two cents. Peace!!!

Update[26-03]: Two more executives have exited:
The telecommunications firm on Wednesday confirmed the resignations of Moris Maina, head of content and internet and Timothy Nderi, the head of contact centre.
Given this I'm adding that this may have something to do with this multi-billion shilling tender here. It claims that senior employees were bribed to favour one company. More on this in a later post.

Friday, February 6, 2015

While in Nigeria

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Instagram would have noticed that I've been in Nigeria for the last couple of weeks. I'm here on a work, helping capacity building and providing technical support for a project that is looking to replicate our, iHub's, Umati methodology for monitoring dangerous speech online.

My friend and editor told me that he was expecting a blog post when I got back but I've been thinking about it and it sounds like too much of a chore to try writing a post on a whole month, so I'd rather write a series of shorter posts that capture some of the things I have to say.

This post will talk about a couple of things. First is the weather, it's hot and dry. It was the very first thing that I noticed when I arrived. I left Kenya really early in the morning, like at 4 am, so that means I was at the airport at 2am and Nairobi nights are always cold.

I had a two hour stop in Addis, Ethiopia and just something to mention about the airport there is the lack of WiFi. What's with that? Also what's with airports charging for WiFi? People already pay a shitload for tickets and it's unlikely that anyone is going to come to the airport to mulch off the free WiFi given all the security measures there. Any way it wasn't warm enough for me to chuck my jacket and airplane cabins are really cool but arriving in Abuja it wasn't 5 minutes and I was uncomfortably warm.

I've been asked to describe what the weather has been like and it took me a while to get it right, because I can't really say it's hotter than Kenya because you wouldn't want to be out walking in the middle of the day there either, but somehow this felt different and it was the dryness of it. It's almost total. It's weird, and Kano State, where I am now is even drier.

Second is how they drive, no not the traffic which they are apparently famous for I've not gotten in any jam I felt was particularly bad, maybe they only exist in Lagos? Just the way they drive. They drive on the wrong side of the road, the right. It's been giving me a headache these past two weeks, I just can't get used to it. They need to start driving on the right side of the road, the left.

Finally something you'll notice almost immediately is how they like to hoot at each other. I'm over taking you, hoot. You're over taking me? Hoot!!! You've stopped to take a turn? Hoot!!! I want to stop to take a turn? Hoot!!! I'm at your gate. Hoot!!! Someone is crossing the road two kilometers up the road? Hoot!! It's really annoying, it grates on your nerves but I'm finding that it begins to fade in background. I'm almost used to it. Almost.

That's it, for now. Peace!!!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Minor, The Vague and the Frightening of the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014

Let's talk about the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014. This bill first came to light a couple of days ago through the media and is currently rushing through parliament. I'm not sure if it's even legal how fast it's going through the process. I've gone through it and will now point out the parts that I have a problem with.(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice and these are only my opinions and interpretations)

As you can see from the sections above your landlord is required to keep records of their tenants. I don't really have a problem with this myself, it's good for someone to have these records in case anything happens to tenants. However the problem that I have is two fold. The first is that there is no data protection provisions for this information which means it can be used in any way. Second is that the police, rather any law enforcement officer, is allowed to request this information without any warrant. This is likely to be abused, actually, not likely, it will be.

The next part is likely to have chilling and far reaching effects not just for the media, which is how this section mostly being reported, but for non-traditional media, which we are all a part of. If you blog, run a website, have a public Facebook page or profile or a Twitter profile you are a part of the new media and this section can affect you. The real problem with this part, and it's a problem that a lot of sections suffer from, is that it's too vague and subject to interpretation.

This section is also completely open to interpretation and open to abuse. I imagine it in particularly being used to prevent the media from reporting on individuals in a way that “intrudes on their privacy”. I'm sure this part is here to deal with the recent stripping cases we've been having in the country but it's being used to sneak in dangerous language.

This section increases the powers of the NSIS, I'm not sure if they need the power. And they have been known to abuse it particularly the power to detain. Also my good friend Nyambura, pointed out that this amendment will also increase the number of total day you can be held in remand from 60 days to 360 days.

The problem with this section is not only that a third party becomes guilty for the actions of another but further more the burden of proof, that you as the leader didn't know anything,is placed on you. This is not how our laws are supposed to operate and it is certainly not in the spirit of the constitution where you're innocent until proven guilty

This section is so open to interpretation that it's ridiculous. I don't even want to think about it. This could apply to anyone on anything they say. I feel it could be used to attack political opponents of the government.  But more than that the vague phrase "indirectly encouraging or inducing..." What does indirect mean? Who decides?

This section is just as bad as the last section but seems to skew towards religion. That's all I'll say.

This section, though the others affecting the media count towards this too, may also well be called, The Fuck Moha and Jicho Pevu amendment, because it's so blatantly aimed at that show it's laughable. But it affects us, particularly the digerati, because we like to post things as they happen in real-time. I'd like to remind everyone that the images and news out of Westgate was first reported on twitter before the media got there.

Now let's talk about the wide sweeping powers the Director-General will be getting now. All he has to do is write a letter and you have to do what he says, you know as long as it's a “covert mission” and for “national security”. But that's not all these letter will also given his/her agents the power to search anything they like, take what they want, alter anything they like, listen to anyone they like and if that wasn't enough they tacked this on at the end “do anything considered necessary to preserve national security”. A well. I guess then “Death Squads” would become legal now.

This part allows unfetter monitoring for the vague purpose of fighting terrorism.

In the end all this makes this one of the very worst laws passed since we got a new constitution. It's problems range from the minor, to the vague, to the completely frightening. It grants sweeping powers to the NSIS in the name of national security, it allows gross violations of our human rights and I for one will not stand for it. If this amendment passes I will be heading to the Supreme Court(under the law I talked about here) to get it declared illegal and void. I hope that I can count on the support of like minded Kenyans. Peace!!!