Startup Governance in Silicon Savannah

There have been a lot of negative rumors and one-sided stories across Kenyan social media of late about the business changes at Angani, a Nairobi-based Cloud services company, and the subsequent platform outages that occurred. It’s an unfortunate state, as people I’ve known and respected for many years have not tried to get the “other side of the story”. A few have reached out, and after doing so have chosen to remain silent rather than go against the current meta-narrative that is being pushed.

That meta-narrative is, “white investors are abusing their money and privilege to push out black Kenyan founders of a company to steal it.” This is factually wrong and will have long-lasting negative repercussions if not corrected. The racial overtones alone demean us all. We’re better than this.

The real meta-narrative of this story is one of inexperienced management and the subsequent irresponsible behavior of startup founders, and how that reflects on the Nairobi tech ecosystem at large. It’s about growing pains and learning, and also about a community coming to terms with the need for more professionalism when scaling and growing companies. It’s about what independent board members and investors rights and responsibilities are.

To understand why these allegations are wrong it’s first helpful to understand what drives investors (from any country) and their actions.

On Investors

Tech investors are driven to invest in companies that can scale, gain market share and subsequently make profit. They look for great teams that have good ideas that they can execute on and pivot with as the business landscape changes around them over they years. Typically investors have financial interests in numerous companies at any given time, and depending on how much capital they’re injecting, they will take a seat on the board to represent their interests.

Because they have so many companies, the best case scenario is when a team is executing well and the investor has little need to be involved in anything but receive updates so he/she can help where asked. The worst case scenario is when you have to spend days or weeks working on a company and can’t give attention to the other dozen companies you’re supposed to be working with. In short, no one wants any drama.

That said, as an investor you’re also a significant shareholder and typically represent a number of other shareholders when you have a board seat. When you’re making decisions at board meetings, you’re doing so for these people as well, and your mandate is to find a way forward that increases that shareholder value.

So what happened?

Unfortunately, at Angani, an all too common story emerged of inexperienced founders (knowledgeable, but inexperienced in management) who couldn’t overcome personal differences in order to run a company, and had seen a decline in revenues over the preceding 3 months (37% in June, 17% in July and in August).

When you take a sizable investment your company isn’t the same anymore, if things get tough (as they often do at some point in a company’s life), then you’ll have others outside of the original founding team weighing in to solve issues with you. In this case, that’s what happened, and the independent board members did the job of oversight and governance. A number of viable options were proposed and considered, whether that be restructuring the company or changing executive positions, however two of the founders rejected any board recommended changes and opted instead, to leave the company instead and walk away.

Following this board decision was a period in which access to the company’s key infrastructure was supposed to be handed over. This didn’t happen, which precipitated even more issues that culminated in the platform failing and taking down client accounts. It was at this point when Angani issued a statement explaining the system failure.

This is far from the sensationally incorrect story of a hostile board takeover by investors. It’s an old story that can happen across any industry in any country.

Final Thoughts

Startups fail. Sometimes this is due to bad ideas, business or operating models, others to poor financial management, and some to founder disputes. This happens everywhere in the world and is unfortunately the norm for tech startups.

However, we can’t allow ourselves to change the dialog to something that it isn’t. This isn’t about race but instead the simple realities of how ugly and painful it is when a company goes through real management challenges. Nairobi has benefited from an openness to foreign talent and investment for many years – and it shows in the successes that have happened since. We should try to learn from this so that we don’t repeat these mistakes or, worse, that we develop a reputation as a petty and unprofessional investment market and further scare away foreign investments.

We’re one of the most dynamic and active tech communities on the continent, and because of this have high visibility to investors. Capital will not continue to flow to other startups in Kenya if investors believe that a gun can be held to their head on governance and oversight issues of their investments. There are other places that they can go where the community will be more investor friendly, and where they can fall back on the rule of law to protect themselves.

Our tech community is a work in progress, it takes all of us working together to make it better. We need to get this startup and growth stage of tech companies in Kenya right – we can do better, and we will.

“Iko Sawa, Iko Poa” The Kibo 150cc

I’m out test-riding this Kibo 150cc motorcycle today (it’s designed and assembled here in Kenya) asking boda boda riders what they think of it.

I'm out test-riding this Kibo 150cc motorcycle today, asking boda boda riders what they think of it

Since 2010 there has been a massive influx of motorcycles into Kenya due to the reduction in duty on bikes under 200cc, and until 2013 there was an extra exemption on import duties for motorcycles completely assembled in-country. Tens of thousands of young men have taken to the courier and two-wheel taxi professions due to this.

The staple of the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) drives is the cheap Chinese and Indian bikes usually around 100-150cc. The Bajaj or the TVS will sell for anywhere from 80,000 to 110,000 Ksh ($800-1,100), get approximately 40km/litre and carry a good 200 kilos. While not well designed or made, they do the job. Possibly as important as the pricing is the fact that you can get spares for them, and any tiny town worth its salt also has a piki piki mechanic in it.

Enter the Kibo

Henk Veldman is the Managing Director at Kibo Africa, and he’s part of the parent company Koneksie out of the Netherlands that came up with the idea to design and create a motorcycle for Africa. Their focus was for a bike that could be better and safer than the lower quality bikes that had been spreading across the continent, while at the same time making sure they were as good as the Japanese imports (Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda), while still being cheaper than them. It’s an interesting middle ground to choose, and the question the market will answer is if there is a customer base at that range.

A couple years ago they started to design what would become the Kibo motorcycle. Kibo is short for “kiboko” in Swahili, which means “hippo”. We saw this from the very beginning, as they used the iHub UX Lab to do some of their initial work with people – and they’ve done a lot of user studies as can be seen on this video.

“This was done in close cooperation with motorcycle experts and the local end-user. The motorcycle would have to be sturdy enough to deal with many hours of usage in addition to the poor, often unpaved road surface. At the same time, it would have to be affordable.”

“Our solution to the existing mobility problem in Kenya is a sturdy, safe and affordable motorcycle. We offer this motorcycle as part of a complete package, consisting of financing, training, a maintenance program and insurance.”


Basic information on the Kibo 150cc (K150):
Price: 395,000ksh ($4,000)
Includes: Insurance, advanced rider training, maintenance
Engine size: 150cc (made in Japan)
Fuel economy: 42 kilometres per litre
Weight loading: 250 kilos

Taking it out for a ride, talking to boda boda guys

Henk and team were kind enough to let me take out one of the prototypes this weekend. I spent time stopping and talking to a lot of boda boda drivers as well as taking it seeing how fast it went on tarmac and then how it handled on dirt roads.


First impressions
My daily rider is a Suzuki DR 650, so it’s hard to get used to something so small. However, it’s really not that small – it’s a much larger 150cc frame and bike than almost any other I’ve been on.

It rides smooth. Balance is great. Little vibration.

Since it has 5 gears, on a wide open road I was able to get it to 110km/hr. On a windy road past Gachie, I found it handled well on corners.

I took it on a few dirt roads. The ones that had been recently graded were fine, due to the nice tires, I could move quickly and had great traction. On the really rough dirt roads, I was surprised at how well the suspension handled the ruts and potholes. It really did do a good job and handled well.

My only beef on the test drive was being on one very steep hill, with big ruts and deep powder. After I slowed down, the bike just didn’t have the power to take me up and I had to help it out with my feet. Now, I’m not a small guy, but I certainly am not anywhere near the 250 kilo weigh limit of the bike either. I’m checking with Henk, but I might have gotten one of the bikes geared for Nairobi (high), and not for rural areas (low).

Talking to Boda Boda Guys
As I mentioned earlier, I stopped and talked to over a dozen motorcycle taxi riders and a courier to see what they thought of the bike. I let four of them take the bike out for a spin as well.

Before they left, they were all a bit leery, mostly due to the price. Once they got back, they were excited about how smooth and nice it was compared to their bike, exclaiming “Iko sawa, iko poa” (“it’s good, it’s cool”) to their counterparts.

Boda Boda riders pose on the new Kibo K150

Boda Boda riders pose on the new Kibo K150


  • Sturdy frame was greatly appreciated by everyone, for carrying loads and for laying it over
  • The double lights were a big hit
  • Tires are strong and will do well on rough roads
  • Digital display
  • Suspension


  • Passenger footrest needs rubber due to vibration
  • Move the muffler mid-pipe inwards so the driver doesn’t burn their leg
  • A windshield or fairing
  • Tires are too big and expensive (10,000ksh [$100] as opposed to the 3,000ksh [$30] normally spent)
  • A larger tank would be nice
  • It’s too expensive, no one sees this as something that they could buy individually, it’s only good for businesses.









Final Thoughts

Overall I like the Kibo K150, enough that BRCK will purchase one to see if we can use it for delivery into some hard-to-reach schools for our Kio Kit. I’d like to see it geared for a bit more power (though again, it might have been the test unit I had was geared for city).

The price seems to be an issue. Individual motorcycle riders will have a hard time affording it, so as far as I can tell it will largely be purchased by companies. I like that Kibo is bundling the rider training, insurance and maintenance with the price.

Testing the load of the Kibo K150 with the Kio Kits designed for schools in Africa

Testing the load of the Kibo K150 with the Kio Kits designed for schools in Africa

A busy week for tech entrepreneurs in Kenya

A photo posted by Ciril Jazbec (@ciriljazbec) on

National Geographic photographer Ciril Jazbec was in town capturing the tech entrepreneur feel of Nairobi and surrounds.

I’m about a week late on my post, but thought I’d round up some of the news from the crazy week that ended with the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi. With US President Barrack Obama in town, bringing some of the biggest names in tech and business with him, it was bound to be a circus.

We embraced the madness at the iHub and there were a great many events.

One of the highlights for the week was seeing our very own Judith Owigar, co-founder of Akirachix and long-time iHub member, up on stage seated between President's Uhuru and Obama on the main GES stage.

One of the highlights for the week was seeing our very own Judith Owigar, co-founder of Akirachix and long-time iHub member, up on stage seated between President’s Uhuru and Obama on the main GES stage.

Big things that happened:

Bloomberg came by and did a photo walkthrough of the iHub, featuring Ushahidi and BRCK as well.

There was a good piece in TIME magazine about Obama’s visit and BRCK’s work around education, titled, “Obama Sees Kenya as a Hotbed of Innovation — Not Terror

A timely piece on TechCrunch titled, “The Rise Of Silicon Savannah And Africa’s Tech Movement” came out.

VC funding in African Tech Startups chart

The Next Africa bookThe Next Africa book launched, written by Aubrey Hruby and Jake Bright, we had a session at the iHub to talk through it with some of the subjects, like Just A Band, Dr. Bitange Ndemo and IBM.

We did a Fireside Chat with Brian Chesky, co-founder and CEO of AirBnB, that was one of the best we’ve had.

A piece in Forbes, “Why Kenyan Tech Entrepreneurs Deserve All Obama’s Praise“.

IBM partnered with the iHub to launch the innovation @ iHub space, so we’ll be working a lot closer with them going forward and that means members of the iHub community will get a lot more access to IBM, its partners and its resources.

Jean and Steve Case at the iHub
Jean and Steve Case, AOL Founders and investors, came to the iHub and ran a social impact tech pitching competition. They brought with them other investors, including Jim Sorenson, and Nina Tellegen CEO of the DOEN Foundation. Here’s Jean’s writeup on the week.

Finally, the US Gov’t made a lot of commitments to African entrepreneurs.

While it was a big week, and it served to remind us how far we’ve come and a chance to celebrate it with the world, we still have a long way to go.

BRCK: Also designed in Kenya and made in the USA. We had a little fun at BRCK with the Obama activity... :)

BRCK: Also designed in Kenya and made in the USA. We had a little fun at BRCK with the Obama activity… :)

The iHub at 5

Celebrating the Community - iHub's 5 Year Tech Bash

Celebrating the Community – iHub’s 5 Year Tech Bash

43 companies in the Kenyan tech scene have come together to put on an event for 3,000+ people in the tech community, the #5yrTechBash at the Arboretum. The iHub is turning 5 and it’s a testament to the people and companies who make up this space that we’re thriving and have a chance to celebrate.

It’s a community event by all of us, for all of us!


Community as our Legacy

There has been a long history of the tech community in Kenya coming together, from Skunkworks and Barcamps to the iHub itself. I tend to think of community connectedness as one of Kenya’s key competitive advantages. Read this blog post by the founders of Angani, a company made up of some of the pioneers in the space, to understand some of the background on how this has come together.

If you read this post I wrote on “What makes the iHub Work” from 4 years ago, you’ll see that it’s a combination of many people that ultimately makes it different and why it still makes such an impact on people’s lives. Also take a moment to read Josiah Mugambi’s piece on the last 5 years.

The iHub community over 5 years

The iHub community over 5 years

Tracking the Numbers

One of the great strengths of the iHub is the serendipity that you have by coming in and running into people. However, that’s an inherently difficult thing to measure. I wrote a blog post 1.5 years ago about “what has the iHub done“, and it’s time for an update.

If you’re a place like the iHub with your own Research arm, then you measure other things, this from Leo Mutuku and the team at iHub Research:

iHub Startup Numbers over 5 years

iHub Startup Numbers over 5 years

In the second year of the iHub, we started the iHub Research arm and the m:lab, both of which have excelled. iHub Research’s job is to shares stories about the vibrant East African technology community by conducting ICT research on technology innovation within the community. Here’s what they’ve done:

iHub Research over 5 years

iHub Research over 5 years

To the next 5!

As much as the big bash today is a celebration of the past 5+ years, it’s also a time to get ready for the NEXT 5 years. While we’ve made a lot of progress as a whole, we’ve gotten much further than many thought we could in this time, we still have a long way to go.

A timeline of events in Tech in Kenya over 5 years

A timeline of events in Tech in Kenya over 5 years

A Gallery of Pics

EDIT: Wanted to add some pictures that bring me the memories of the faces and events of the past few years.

















2010-02-26 18.50.36

Screen shot 2010-03-04 at 6.53.24 PM













Kenya: Who Got Funded in 2014?

Which tech companies were funded in Kenya in 2014? I thought I’d compile a list of the ones I know of.

Send me any that I might have missed.

Early stage capital

Angani – Public cloud computing provider
BRCK – Rugged, wireless WiFi device
CardPlanet – Mobile money payment system aimed at business and NGOs
iProcure – Software for optimizing rural supply chains
OkHi – Physical addressing system for logistics solutions
Sendy – Motorcycle delivery service
Tumakaro – Diaspora driven education funding
Umati Capital – Factoring for farmer cooperatives, traders and processors
GoFinance – Working capital finance to distributors of FMCGs
BuyMore – Electronic student discount card
TotoHealth – SMS technology for children’s health
BitPesa – Bitcoin for African remittances
Sokonect – Mobile agriculture tool to eliminate brokers
BookNow – Buy bus tickets online in East Africa
Mdundo – African music on your phone
Futaa – Source for football news in Kenya
Movas – Global provider of B2B/B2C m-Commerce solutions
Hivisasa – A free, county-level online newspaper
Yum – Online ordering and food delivery service in Kenya
Akengo – Learning management system
EcoZoom – Hardware. Clean burning, portable wood and charcoal powered cookstoves
Jooist – A gaming network for mobile phones – A platform to connect hotels and distributors for bookings

Growth capital

MKopa – solar power financing using mobile money
BuyRentKenya – Real estate classifieds
Wave – US-to-Kenya remittance provider
Eneza Education – Mobile tutor and teacher’s assistant
Sanergy – hardware tech, building solutions for urban toilets and composting
Bridge International – Education in low-income environments, uses tech to send teaching content
Soko – Handmade jewelry and accessories shopping from East Africa
EatOut – Find and book seats in East African restaurants


M-Ledger (by Safaricom) – Monitor your Mpesa transactions
Wezatele – Mobility solutions in commerce, supply chain, distribution and mobile payment integration

A special thanks to John Kieti, Rebecca Wanjiku, Nikolai Barnwell, and Ben Lyon for refreshing my memory!

Sendy: Digitizing Motorcycle Deliveries

Motorcycle couriers in Timau, Kenya

Motorcycle couriers in Timau, Kenya

This year at Pivot East I had my first look at Sendy, which does for motorcycle courier deliveries and customers in Nairobi, what Uber did for taxis and passengers in San Francisco. At its heart, Sendy is about bringing the vast and growing motorcycle courier and delivery network in Africa into the digital and networked world.

Motorcycles in downtown Monrovia, Liberia

Motorcycles in downtown Monrovia, Liberia

This is a big deal, because those of us who live in large African cities know just how inefficient driving a car around the traffic-plagued metropolises can be. With the bad roads, traffic and high cost of fuel, motorcycle deliveries are a natural path.

Indeed, in almost every city, from primary to tertiary throughout the continent, you’ll find thousands of motorcycle guys sitting by the side of the road, ready to courier a package or serve as a taxi. They ride inexpensive $800-$1200 Chinese and Indian motorcycle brands, are generally not trained very well, have little safety equipment and are some of the most reckless riders I know.

When Alloys Meshack, Sendy’s CEO, stepped onto stage for his 7-minute pitch, I was hooked. It sounded like the right team, a good business plan, and one that could scale well beyond Nairobi. I met with him again this month, and got into a lot more details around the business, and this encouraged my thoughts on both him and his team, as well as the broader scope of the business that they are building. It is truly impressive.

How it Works

Sendy delivery - Android app screenshot

Sendy delivery – Android app screenshot

I also signed up for the service, and then used it.

It’s as simple as this:

  1. Download the Android app, or sign-in to the web app at
  2. Click the button that you have a delivery (or pickup) to be made.
  3. You can see the map for where the rider is – my wait was approx 5 minutes for the courier to arrive
  4. Give him the package and directions

There is a GPS transponder on the motorcycle, and you get an SMS update when the delivery rider gets withing 50m of the delivery zone. Once the package is delivered, there is another confirmation that the rider sends to Sendy, that comes to you as well. Payment is then made automatically by either credit card or Mpesa.

My delivery took about 25 minutes, from first Android app entry, to delivery about 5km away. At the end, you can rate your delivery rider, so that the best are known and get more business. I found my particular rider courteous and patient. He also told me that he makes about 5-6 deliveries a day with Sendy, and loves the service.

Challenges and Opportunities

The Sendy opportunity in eCommerce

The Sendy opportunity in eCommerce

With Africa’s growing need for logistics around eCommerce, Sendy presents a natural option for everyone from Jumia to your local supermarket. Motorcycles are already an accepted means of delivery for non-traditional business and large enterprises alike. The idea of capturing a large portion of this, without all the baggage of a normal courier company setup, is good for both Sendy and the everyday bodaboda/courier guy.

There are a couple hurdles to overcome to make this a simple process to onboard new customers, receive payment and then send payment to the courier riders. Unlike the US or EU, not everyone has a credit card, and the mobile payment options don’t allow for “pull” billing (instead, the customer has to “push” a payment to your service), which is clunky.

Sendy has corporate accounts (which is now used by both BRCK and Ushahidi), and for businesses, finding a good payment process isn’t a problem. However, there will need to be some creative thinking for individuals and small businesses in order to make Sendy as painless as it promises to be.

The service verifies the courier riders, keeping their records on file, and providing the necessary technology for both tracking of motorcycle and communications with the rider. This means that qualified riders are picked, lessening the chance of getting robbed, and the ability to rate a courier creates a system that builds trust over time.

The opportunities that Sendy represents are staggering. I encouraged Meshack to get Nairobi right quickly, then scale up and move beyond into other major cities in the region.

Sendy is raising a seed round of investment. If this opportunity is interesting to you, you should reach out to them.

5 Good Recent Reports on African Tech – 2014

I keep meaning to write blog posts on each of these reports on tech, most of them on Africa, but can’t seem to get it done. Instead, I’ll just post a link to each, a visual, and why I think it’s worth reading.

1. The Akamai “State of the Internet” Q3 2013 report

[Akamai Report – PDF Download]

Has good information on overall usage globally, and trends. In Africa, even though they have a node in Kenya, all we’re seeing is stats on South Africa, Egypt and Morocco. However, there is a really fascinating chart by Ericsson in it on wireless usage.

Mobile data vs voice growth globally - 2013

Mobile data vs voice growth globally – 2013

2. GSMA’s “Digital Entrepreneurship in Kenya” report 2014

[GSMA – Entrepreneurship in Kenya report 2014 – PDF Download]

The GSMA puts together some fantastic reports, due to the amount of data at their fingertips due to their association’s membership. Alongside the iHub Research team, they’ve done a deep dive into the tech entrepreneurship side of Kenya, and you can see the results here.


3. Deloitte’s “Value of connectivity” report 2014

[Deloitte’s – Extending Internet Connectivity report 2014 – PDF Download]

The Deloitte folks do a study and argue that an increase in internet penetration could have a large impact on an emerging market country’s GDP.

“Deloitte estimates that the resulting economic activity could generate $2.2 trillion in additional GDP, a 72% increase in the GDP growth rate, and more than 140 million new jobs.”

Internet penetration worldwide - Deloitte Report 2013

4. infoDev’s “The Business Models of mLabs and mHubs” report 2014

[The Business Models of mLabs and mHubs 2014 – PDF Download]

I’ve had a front-row seat to infoDev’s work starting and supporting places like the m:lab in East Africa. After doing it for 3 years, here’s their indepth report on what’s working, not working, how much money has been spent and what the future might look like.

Comparison of Key Results across mLabs - 2014

5. McKinsey’s “The Internet’s transformative potential in Africa” report 2013

[MGI Lions go digital_Full report_Nov 2013 – PDF Download]

Mostly useful due to the interest large corporates and banks put in McKinsey, this report makes that the greatest impact of the internet in Africa is likely to be concentrated in six sectors: financial services, education, health, retail, agriculture, and government. What they’ve done particularly well is gather a large range of numbers from diverse and various sources to make better sense of what’s going on.

Penetration and usage vary widely across the continent

A Suswa Excursion

BRCK Excursion: Mt. Suswa from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

We took a day ride out past the Ngong Hills into the Rift Valley and up Mt. Suswa. Here’s a (very) short video where were playing with a DJI Phantom 1 and a GoPro to do some flyovers of the vehicles. We went with 4 motorcycles (2 KLR 650s, 1 Suzuki DR650, and a BMW 650GS Dakar), plus a Landrover Defender 90. A good grouping of bikes and a backup vehicle, and a day with some fun dirt riding. The rocky road up to the top of Mt. Suswa is a lot of fun, and I was glad there had been rain the day before in order to reduce the dust.

The Masai live on Suswa, and though it looks bleak and unforgiving from down below, once you get to the top there is a lot of nice land for grazing and for growing crops. There’s also an extensive network of large lava caves. We explored through a few of them with our guide Jermiah (pictured below).

For this picture, we’re standing in the “Baboon Parliament”, a huge entrance to a cave, with it’s own skylight. The baboons live above, and they congregate, play and have meetings in the area where we are standing. It smells horribly, as all of the beautiful colors on the rock are from baboon urine, and all of the dirt below is baboon crap. If you go further inside, there’s a bat colony.

Here’s the BRCK sitting on the top rock in the baboon parliament’s cave.

We came back by the satellite dishes in the valley, through Mai Mahiu and up the Lower Road. Luckily we didn’t get any rain, though we did have to contest with cars deciding to come towards us on Waiyaki Way, when there was a jam going the other direction. It’s quite a shock to face oncoming traffic when you’re on a road with a wall between you and the other lanes…

Thinking about Blogging at WordCamp Kenya 2013

WordCamp Kenya 2013, Nanyuki

WordCamp Kenya 2013, Nanyuki

Today finds me in Nanyuki, Kenya at WordCamp Kenya 2013. The past couple years, I’ve been traveling during the event, but this year I get to come hang out with my blogging brothers and sisters.

As I was thinking about what to talk about, I thought I’d cover four areas:

  1. Why we blog
  2. My rules for blogging
  3. 3 things that are bothering me in the Kenyan blogosphere
  4. Using blogging as a tool

Why We Blog

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
– Lewis Carroll

The best bloggers are storytellers, they take you on a journey. They tell you why you should care about things, they’re opinionated and informative, and they understand what makes things interesting to their readers.

My rules for blogging

My rules for blogging

Commitment: to be a really good blogger, you have to commit to it for a long time. Success doesn’t happen over night, and if you take it seriously and really put your mind to it, you can leverage that for much greater things in the years ahead.

Quality: take the time to write well. Sometimes I’ll write a 4 paragraph blog post and it’ll take me more than 2 hours. That sounds ludicrous, but it’s because I’m trying to find the right phrase, link to the right places and put the right images in that make this worth someone’s time to read.

Consistency: this is where I’ve been falling down over the last year or so. If you consistently publish quality blog posts, you’ll gather a following and generate a community around what you do. I blogged consistently, 3-4 times per week for two years before I really got noticed. It’s important to remember that blogging is a long-game, and that if you stick with it, it will pay off.

3 things that are bothering me in the Kenyan blogosphere

1. The Kenyan elections
Back in March of this year we had the prolonged (5-day) Kenyan elections, where there was a lot of tension. Where I believe we traded “peace” for truth. I wasn’t surprised that the media didn’t do their job. I was surprised that there were so few bloggers who did theirs. I took a lot of heat for creating the IEBC Tech Kenya blog on Tumblr to track the facts around the IEBC technology failures, but I kept wondering where the other bloggers were.

Quote by @Gathara

One person who did blog was @Gathara, and boy did he blog well!

Our job as bloggers is to be independent voices, and we’re most powerful when mainstream media isn’t doing their job. When we do this blogging in a timely manner and get that information out there quickly and in a well-researched and circumspect way. We need to get back to our Kenyan blogging roots, which were just like this back 4-7 years ago.

2. Corporate sponsored bloggers
Making money off of blogging is fine, nothing wrong with that. I’m tired of cut and paste blogging though, where people take press releases from a corporate and get paid to just paste it with no changes. I want to know why what that company is doing is interesting, why I should care. I want to know what your opinion is.

Don’t sell out and lose your identity.

3. Kenya’s new media laws

Kenyan MPs have approved a contentious media bill that journalists say amounts to government censorship

I see articles on the East African, the Telegraph, the Nation, but only a couple blogs show up in Google search results.

Why? Already we have loose set of laws around media and information, it’s a slippery censorship slope that hurts all but the powerful in Kenya. This new law makes it even worse, it smacks of Moi-era censorship.

Where are the bloggers using this opportunity to push back? Don’t we realize that this law applies to us too?

Blogging as a tool

My final discussion points were about how even if you have very little, you can still use WordPress, Twitter and Instagram to build a brand. I talked briefly about where we’d come from with Ushahidi and the iHub, just using blogging and social media to get on the map. Now, we’re doing the same thing for BRCK.

The BRCK Eclipse Expedition

The BRCK Eclipse Expedition

I used the example and ran through the story of the BRCK expedition to Lake Turkana to catch the Solar Eclipse. I used my blog, as well as the BRCK blog to create the narrative, amplified by Instagram, Twitter and Vimeo.

Tools used to blog the BRCK Eclipse expedition

Tools used to blog the BRCK Eclipse expedition

When you’re building a new brand, what you write and the images you use, help people understand what the narrative and brand is about. For us, it was important to put a stake in the sand (literally too, I guess), about the BRCK being a rugged connectivity device. Nothing said that quite like the team behind it out and thrashing it themselves (and also thrashing themselves…).

The results of this were that by the time we got back a week later, there were many more people interested in buying a BRCK themselves, but also people who now wanted to partner with us and even invest.

Telling the story, creating the brand narrative

Telling the story, creating the brand narrative

Blogging is a long-term strategy. The Ushahidi blog has been a big part of our identity for almost 6 years. The team who built Ushahidi were all bloggers, so it makes sense that it’s part of our DNA. For the iHub the same. For BRCK the same. I don’t believe in press releases, I believe in blogging the story and if you’re doing interesting things and telling the story about them well, then the right parties will find you.

“When You Get to Kenya”

Because the falam is flooded, you can drive back through South Horr, then to Baragoi then to Maralal, alafu utafika Kenya (then you’ll be in Kenya)” Said a Samburu man to us in Northern Kenya.

There and Back from BRCK on Vimeo.

It seems that Northern Kenya likes me so much that it doesn’t want to let me go… This time, we only got back a day and a half later than expected. It took us 7 days, and we had an amazing adventure with a host of challenges thrown our way, overcome by teamwork, courage and tenacity, with the help of old and new friends met along the way.

I wrote about our adventure along the way on the BRCK Blog, you can find the posts here:

Day 1 – A change of vehicles was in order
Day 2 – Dust and Mud
Day 3 – Night Riders
Day 4 – Setting up for the solar eclipse
Day 4 – The Hybrid Solar Eclipse
Day 5 & 6 – Many roads and no progress
Day 7 – Home again!

Instagram pictures #BRCKeclipse
Flickr pictures
Crowdmap (pictures on a map)

It used to be called the NFD


Back in colonial times, the the areas north of Isiolo were called the Northern Frontier District (NFD), a land that was part of Kenya but far enough removed to be considered the “wild west” of the country. It still is today. When you talk to people who live there, they talk about going to visit Kenya, which means that they come down country to the big population centers.

I was 17 years old when I first traveled up north, it was on a motorcycle with 8 others from my school and a backup Landcruiser. We were on our way back home when we stopped in a dusty old town called Maralal for a cup of chai and a samosa break. In walks a tall, rangy old Brit, who promptly sat down with us and started regaling us with his tales of travels. This was none other than the last of the great African explorers, Wilfred Thesiger, in his final years. He had made all of his travels via horse and camel, and thought that the combustion engine was the devil’s handiwork. A few awkward moments later, us boys sidled over to our 2-wheeled combustion engines and rode off to the south.

The North of Kenya is still a land apart. It’s arid and dry most of the time, while people and towns are far apart and hard to get to. Fuel and water are in short supply and high demand, and there is unrest between the different ethnic groups, as well as visiting shifta (bandits) from Ethiopia and Somalia who stir things up a bit more. There is beauty and freedom in it, but also hostility and danger.

Our trip to see the eclipse

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
– Ernest Hemingway

As I mentioned in my last post, the BRCK team decided to test out our device in this environment, with the excuse of the hybrid solar eclipse as our focal event. We took 3 motorcycles and a Land Rover for this excursion on a 1900 kilometer round trip, 7-day trek to Sibiloi National Park, and back. Here’s the basic route we took:


This trip was a real test for all of us. From a broken down Land Rover on day one, to night drives and dust storms that meant we couldn’t see the actual eclipse, to limping into Nairobi with a flashlight replacing a headlamp and a dead alternator on the Land Rover to cap it all off.

Three Lessons I Learned

Work together. Helping each other selflessly makes for a happy bunch who can overcome almost any problem. Not just helping for one’s own well-being, but simply because something needs to be done and it’s good for the group as a whole.

It took all of us to unstick the Land Rover

It took all of us to unstick the Land Rover

When hands were needed to dig out the Land Rover, people stripped down to shorts and dug – for hours. I remember how hard Reg and Jon worked to unstick our vehicle, buried to the waste in mud and muck, trying to get the high-lift jack to find purchase. I remember Fady jumping on a motorcycle and learning to ride it in 5 minutes, so that he could ride the next 4 hours in the bush, in the dark, to get us all to Sibiloi. I remember Emmanuel packing, unpacking and repacking the vehicle so many times that only he knew where things were. I remember having to tell Philip to step away from the heavy equipment so that he didn’t damage his hand more as he tried to assist.

Think creatively. Push harder. When you meet friction and resistance to your mission, it’s easy to give up. Instead, think creatively and persevere. There’s a great deal of friction in everything up north, from bogged down vehicles, to broken clutch plates, to making a special solar eclipse camera out of odd parts, to dust storms that darken out the sun.


Last night on the ride home, we had already been traveling for over 12 hours, and the headlight on my motorcycle went out. The last place that you want to be driving at night is the Naivasha to Nairobi road without a light. We pulled apart the headlight, tested all the electronics, only to find the bulb was burnt out. Instead of giving up, we found a super intensity flashlight in Fady’s kit, and put it inside the bulb housing. It was like driving with your brights on at all times. This became my light, and I closely followed our car into Nairobi. You can’t give up and you have to be creative.

Always get back up. Life throws some punches, everyone has them and it’s a test of your character whether you let that stop you or you find a way.


Falling off a motorcycle is hard. Getting up and riding again is harder. Philip took a few tumbles this trip, especially on day two as we did a 3 hour night ride through soft sand – which is some of the most difficult stuff to deal with even in daylight. I knew we had a good leader on our team when he kept getting back up. I knew we would make it when I saw his resolve settle visibly, he relaxed his shoulders and rode on and fell no more.

The BRCK team of Philip, Reg, Erik, Emmanuel and Jon.

Everyone has different strengths on this team, and while there are experts in specific things, when we worked together it was amazing to see the results.