F*** the police

A while back, I saw this Twitter thread by Sham on how we could come together and do something for the Kenya Police and specifically, the Parklands police station that had hosted him a couple of days earlier. The good-natured me was almost moved to joining that noble cause. Only that then, I was going through enough struggles of my own. I had just quit my previous job and was hunting for another.

Today, I am actually glad that I did not get the time to help Sham and everyone else in that cause because I would be regretting it right now.

Some time back, for no reason at all, I was arrested, a couple of blocks from where I stay and I ended up being locked up in the worst place I have ever been in since I left Maseno School because, terrible as they might be, the dingy cells at Parklands police station are no match to the dreaded Mogadishu quarters in Archbishop Olang’s house.

I had had an eventful day at work. I can’t remember exactly what I was working on that day but I just remember it being a good day. For heaven’s sake I had worn my favourite pair of shoes to work and made sure to pair them with a matching pair of pants, shirt and even belt, the second time in as many days that I was actually doing so. Those who know me will tell you that that is as rare as Venus blocking the sun’s rays from reaching the Earth.

However, as fate would have it, no amount of good grooming was going to prevent whatever lay ahead of me from happening. Just as I made the final turn and was just a few gates from putting down my laptop and starting yet another episode of V. M. Varga’s rants in Fargo, someone I had never seen before stopped me.

Having just lost my previous work machine a few weeks earlier under mysterious circumstances, my initial instinct was that this was a thief. In fact, had he not thrown cuffs onto my hands over the engulfing next few seconds, I would’ve ended up in court the following day with a charge sheet that read something like “resisting arrest and assaulting a law enforcement officer”. I was going to kick him hard and run as fast as I could. I thought he was a thief.

There I was, with my laptop bag strapped on my back stopped in the middle of a busy road by a stranger. “Kijana unatoka wapi?” I can’t forget those words, uttered with a faint Somali accent, that reeked of utmost condescension. Up to that point, it hadn’t hit me that I had been stopped by a police officer. The man, probably in his early 30s, never made any attempt to identify himself. He did not have any police uniform or a badge. Nothing.

Being a few minutes to 8PM, I was, somehow, magically, expected to deduce that he’s a police officer. Yeah, because I am an all-knowing robot.

I hesitated to answer his question in full. Before I could finish saying “I am from work,” I had already been handcuffed to another riffraff they had picked earlier.

For the first time ever, what I was used to reading in books and seeing on television was happening to me.

All the while, no one communicated anything to me. No one asked for my identification documents or asked any questions. I was under arrest for God-knows-what. Wow. The officer who had arrested me, in fact, left us on the side of the road and went to harass other passers by. It was about 7.40PM on a cold Tuesday.

I remember telling the officer that I was just a few blocks from where I stay and his response was the kind of humour I am used to LOLing to on Twitter. “Tutakuonyesha mahali mzuri zaidi ya kulala.” The nerve!

None of the officers (he had a colleague or more accurately, an accomplice) would say another thing until the navy blue Parklands police station Toyota Land Cruiser would arrive half an hour later and whisk us (by that time there were five of us) away to a destination none of us had anticipated.

When we got to the Parklands police station is when the real intentions of our arrest were revealed. The mean-looking officer who hadn’t taken a second before putting cuffs on my hands asked me carelessly if I had any cash with me. Uuum, cash for what? I did not ask him that, of course because by that time I was already more mad than I’ll probably ever be this year and also because I dreaded being assaulted. I had just seen the same officer thoroughly beat a tipsy man he had rounded up. I told him I had no money and that I had already called for help so I was okay sitting tight until help arrived.

Since I did not have any money, that meant that I was useless to the police officer who had arrested me. I was quickly ordered to remove one shoe, surrender my valuables – my laptop bag containing, well, a laptop, its charger, my prized pair of aging plastic Sony headsets, several portable chargers, 4 smartphones, 3 external hard disk drives and some coins – and thrown into the nearby male cells.

Inside those cells is where I came face to face with the impunity with which the police operate. There were scores of young men arrested earlier on under circumstances similar to mine who had no money to bribe their way out and no one to call to come and pay for their freedom. The entire place was terrible. The pungent smell as a result of the urine that seemed to be in just about every inch of that cell’s floor is one that won’t be leaving me any time soon. As is the obscene graffiti on those cell walls.

For the next 2 or so hours, the graffiti on those walls would be my hallowed Bible app as I read inspirational messages, Bible verses, song lyrics, some of the illest pickup lines I have ever come across, constitutional clauses and insults. There were many of the latter. Too bad I never got to see even a single Tyrion Lannister or any Game of Thrones-related quote for that matter.

Was I the first Westeros and Essos fan to spend time behind those filthy white-turned-cream walls?

“Chenze!” It was the officer on night duty at the front desk calling my name. Help had finally arrived.

Help came a few minutes after 10PM.

I looked at the wall that I had spent the last two hours of my life leaning on since I just couldn’t bring myself to sit on that damn floor to stare, for one last time, at the sight of a drawing of a beautiful woman, never mind that it appeared that the artist had either run out of ink before completing her forehead or been knocked senseless by one of the cell bullies or, like in my case at that moment, seen freedom.

I was made to clean the Parklands police station reception area, which is no better than the kibanda where I buy groceries in Ngara, before being let go.

The beauty of working with the amazing people that I work with is that the police can’t get away with the sort of impunity they are used to getting away with without an explanation. I had notified my colleagues of my arrest and the boss had taken charge of the situation, calling to ask why I was being held and what charges were being brought against me. Idling/loitering, he was told. Yes, it is illegal to get home from work in this Nairobi of theirs, unless, of course, you are willing to part with anything upwards of Kshs 2,000 to secure the freedom that the constitution of Kenya gives you for free.

I was let go without paying even a shilling, something that must’ve infuriated the officer who had arrested me who was nowhere in sight at that time when he found out later. He’d probably already calculated my “dues” to him as part of his nyama choma budget for the following day together with his colleagues. What I was supposed to pay for, again?

This is not the first time I am hearing of this. This happens daily in Nairobi and in other parts of the country.

Previously, when investigative series like the recently-concluded Inspector Fisi series on KTN would show police officers in a bad light, I would sympathize with them and the tough conditions they operate in and probably blame their actions on the system and everything else but them. Not anymore. What have 19-year-old Architecture students going to study at their college in the evening got to do with your low salary? What has an innocent Kenyan just from the supermarket at 7PM got to do with your frustrations at work?

That night, I did not get to watch Mr Stussy sink further into the hole that Mr Varga had dug for him but I did get to learn one valuable life lesson, fuck the police!

 

Next

I don’t know how you came to know about me or my activities online but there is a huge chance that it was thanks to this thing called Android.

I have, over the last 6 years, pretty much indulged in everything there is to know about the world’s most popular operating system. I have written hundreds (maybe a few thousand?) of articles and blog posts about it scattered across many platforms on the web.

To just show you how much I was really sure that I wanted to write about Android, I went on a blog registration spree between late 2010 and early 2011 where I tried to “own” anything and everything I thought I would be needing once I had made up my mind what to call my Android passion blog.

Of course, things happened and I wound up with emmanuelchenze.com, a portfolio site that I ended up using primarily as a blog for quite some time. It had a good run. Nominated for the annual Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) awards twice, finishing as a first runner-up once (a campus kid’s 3 hours a day obsession beaten by a Pan African tech news site with a wide readership) and making it to Alexa’s top 200 websites in Kenya ranking (back when that really meant something) on a number of occasions. I have had my fair share of encouraging emails and person-to-person comments from early readers/followers of that “scrappy” blog.

Then I slacked, a bit. Mid-undergraduate school happened. Lots of activities (Google’s student ambassadorial program), trips, CATs and, wait for it, money, happened too. It is around that time that I also volunteered to be contributing to techweez.com and boy, did I have a good run! The blog was pretty much abandoned in the process and lived off referral traffic.

At techweez.com, I covered pretty much everything that, thanks to my background in tech, was remotely related to tech and I took (still do) great pride in that.

Deep down, I’ve always been that guy who’s always believed in telling Android stories no matter what and, while I have always had a home over at XDA Developers where I have contributed so much since 2011, I’ve always entertained the idea of converging all of that in one easy-to-manage place (my XDA page is not about to get cobwebs, I’ll still be very active. Since I use a pseudonym and my common/known username is all but there for SEO purposes, good luck finding me).

That’s why in February last year, while I was still mourning my late mother, I registered androidportalke.com because I never had any hopes of ever getting the domain I actually wanted, androidkenya.com. For all intent and purposes, that home/place was poised to be androidportalke.com until I consulted a few friends who were really for androidkenya.com and urged me on. So for a year, androidportalke.com remained parked and there wasn’t much happening to it. Until renewal time came in February and my registrar was breathing down my neck with reminder emails every 5 minutes (ok, it wasn’t that bad but you get it). I looked up androidkenya.com and voila! It was available. It took me I think 4 seconds to get it. There wasn’t even an extra second to think things over. It took me another hour before I slept the following early morning to put everything together. Easy.

For the next I-don’t-know-how-many-days, androidkenya.com will be that “one easy-to-manage place.”

Even though I never believed or thought that it was necessary, I quit techweez.com at the end of February just so that I could be able to pursue my Android love and passions on androidkenya.com without any perceived conflict of interest and stuff.

So that means I’ll have more time to eat, drink, breathe and sleep Android, right? Wrong.

AndroidKenya.com is a hobby. Pretty much like my self-imposed 2-books-a-month routine, androidkenya.com will be something I look at when I have nothing else to look at. That means if I find myself idle at 10AM, I’ll be there. 4PM? I’ll be there. 1AM just before I give in to the mosquitoes? I’ll be there. I just have to make sure my strict 2-books-a-month routine is not disrupted because that is more important.

Interest in androidkenya.com has so far been overwhelming even when just a handful of friends and other interested parties have been aware of its existence. I’ve maxed out bandwidth once already even before I’ve had the time to tell everyone I know, “hey, go check my new site” or spam everyone’s Facebook and WhatsApp with links to it.

What can you expect going forward? Maybe a post or two every day. Or just one per week. It’s all dependent on how busy/idle I am. There are no commitments to anything. There will be the occasional news item on anything interesting happening in the local space related to Android (the site has to live up to its name, after all), the occasional long (and boring) review on anything as interesting as an Android TV module to something as dull as the latest smartphone from Chinese brand X (I just need to find a job that allows me to buy all this stuff without thinking twice) or an updated icon of an Android app I really like (you have a problem if you find such interesting). It’s all dependent on a lot of factors that I may have already foreseen or not. My naivety, after all, has shown me a lot these last few days.

It will be tough but I plan to do it. It’s been 6–7 years in the making and everything just starts with one small step. So join me. If you can, follow Android Kenya wherever it has a presence on the web and let’s see how this pet experiment turns out. It might as well be stopped in its tracks next week for all I know. I may not be able to raise more cash to fund another extra bandwidth allocation.

Android’s best days as a platform are still way ahead of it. While many believe that we have reached peak smartphone and there are enough signs that tablets will never recover from their big fall from grace, there’s AR, VR (and their intersection, MR), Android Things, Android Enterprise, Android Wear, Android Auto, Android TV and many more to explore. Things are just getting started, just like androidkenya.com is.

 

Dear Safaricom, what is Cheza Games Club and why was I subscribed to it without my consent?

Last night, as I was just starting to celebrate Wales’ first ever last 8 qualification in the Euros and crossing my fingers for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal to make it to the quarter finals, something familiar happened. I received this SMS from Safaricom:

Why?

This was familiar because some time back I received the same message.

And it arrived at 9PM in the night. 9PM! As much as I don’t have a crush out there, it doesn’t mean that I am comfortable being texted by a network operator at such an hour. My loneliness levels haven’t gotten to such high levels, yet.

The most interesting bit about all this which is something most Safaricom subscribers are likely to be familiar with is that I had been on-boarded to a service I never at any given time subscribed to. What it cost me to subscribe to such a service I had no idea. Luckily for me, my airtime, which then stood at a meagre 49 bob, had not been deducted. Was there any assurance that a deduction won’t happen in the future — after the 3-day trial period that the notification alluded to?

To satisfy my curiosity and probably get some answers explaining my predicament, I did what anyone in my position would do: contact Safaricom’s customer care team.

I sent out this tweet to them:

The response was the obvious. As if no one understood what I had just asked, I was advised to go ahead and unsubscribe from the Cheza Games service. Yeah because I had subscribed in the first place. What sorcery is this?

I prodded further:

Then this happened:

So here I was, a Safaricom subscriber who was worried about a message I had received from my service provider, Safaricom, notifying me that I had been opted into a service I barely knew existed but, wait for it, I was supposed to contact a third party on the same?

I gave up and went back to cheering on Portugal.

As a customer, I only know of Safaricom. Now, unless I consent to using a third party service like those many premium rate services out there by various providers, only Safaricom is answerable to me. That point is not made out of ignorance or anything of that sort.

For instance, in my case, what is that Cheza Games service? Is it a betting service? Safaricom be damned if it is a betting service. On principle, I don’t bet and Sportpesa is something I hear from other people. Why am I subscribed to it against my will? Where does Huawei come in? When did I get into any contractual agreement with Huawei to sign up to Cheza?

I thought I was alone until, in the process of just scrolling through my timeline, I came across this:

Buoyed by this, I decided to take a keen look and see if there were other victims of unscrupulous subscriptions to the same Cheza premium rate service. The results shocked me. Apparently this has been going on since last year. I wasn’t alone.

For @lemanxq, this was just getting out of hand

We weren’t alone, there were more:

Some have actually lost money in the process thanks to this Cheza thing:

For this unlucky dude, this is how he started the year — with a Cheza subscription he never authorized!

And these are just tweets. There should be many more who are suffering out there and continue being ignored. The customer care team doesn’t seem bothered every time anyone brings this Cheza thing up.

‘Ah, it’s that? Just unsubscribe, no biggie.’

No, it does not work that way. I should only have to remember to unsubscribe from something I opted into in the first place.

I don’t really care what Cheza is. If I did and wanted in on whatever it offers, I’d subscribe. Someone doesn’t have to do it on my behalf. No Safaricom, I really like you but hatuwezi ishi hivi — this cannot go on. Get your act together!

For the second time in as many weeks, I have taken the time to go ahead and unsubscribe from Cheza Games 21660. I really hope this is the last time.

One more thing, I don’t go around keying in my number in the many scandalous pop ups that result in unintended opt-ins to services like Cheza Games. No, I don’t do that. In fact, such are blocked by default across all browsers I use. So there can only be one place where I was opted in. I think I (and everyone else reading this) know where.

I hope I don’t have to remove all my non-existent hair from my head before I’m heard kwa sababu huku ni kuzoeana vibaya sasa. Over to you Bob Collymore and team.

 

Modern day writers are not preserves of information — they are conduits and must act as such if they are to stay relevant

I blog about all manner of things happening in the tech world. Often, I choose to concentrate on specifics like mobile technology. I have been doing this for quite some time now and learned many things along the way. The most important one is that I, as a conveyor of news — good or bad — am not the end to my readers’ means of accessing information.

I’ve never been for this assumption that any information I’ve bumped into is exclusive to me. No, it is not. Just that not everyone is talking about it doesn’t mean that they don’t know about it. Plus, is that “everyone”’s work reporting? So, they are minding their own business and you shouldn’t assume that they don’t know. Just put yourself in their shoes and think about what you’d want to know more if you were them.

Thanks to the interesting times we live in, by the time I sit down to put something down on my laptop, chances are that my would-be reader has already heard about what I’m writing from another source that is not me or my publication. As such, it’s stupid for me to act all naive and go ahead with either a headline or content that assumes that I am breaking the same news to them.

The dawn of the age of the internet has meant that journalists, and now bloggers, need to do more than break news. Writers need to do more than just tell a story.

When you sit down to write (I’ve recently discovered that others prefer to write while standing so whatever works for you), remember that you are writing for a modern, updated and, at times, unforgiving audience.

News breaks on Twitter, opinions are aired on Facebook and images and videos with the backstory are shared on Instagram and Snapchat. As a journalist, blogger, writer or whatever you call yourself, you’re just a conduit and your content should reflect that at the very least. Since you are not delivering something that is unheard of — we’re no longer living in the days of the newspaper arriving next morning with all the news — do more!

Today, technology reporting is no longer a niche segment. Many still regard it as such but it has evolved. I have been covering wearables that are more stylish and likely to entice fashionistas than they are to excite geeks. When I’m writing about such, I have to cover the device as the geek would want — specifications and all — while still not leaving everyone who is not a geek behind or estranging the geek in the process since they are both my readers. It’s a thin line but I, and you, must walk it.

Tech, as we know it, has evolved to cover every sphere of our lives. When you have that at the back of your head then you will remember that your would-be audience may be a mile or two ahead of you every time and there’s little you can do to change that. It’s a new world. This complicates matters because to stay relevant, you must not only catch up but also try to stay ahead.

How do you do that?

Give your audience something that expands their already held view of the subject matter or that widens their perception of it. One of my favourite go-to sites these days is vox.com. Vox goes a step further every day to explain the things in mainstream press. Just look at how they brilliantly explained the Panama Papers story using a piggy bank analogy.

Not many of us will have the resources at the disposal of vox.com’s writers and editors for research and information gathering but we can all rely on our accumulated knowledge of different subjects and subject matters to offer something more to the reader. For instance, as someone who writes on technology, I can count on my experience covering certain subject matters over the last five years to explain things better. Or I can turn to my four years of studying tech in college to be in a better position to place things in context and give the reader more.

It is okay to cover things as they happen. It is not okay to just stop there. It doesn’t matter how you do it — inside the same news piece or in a separate post — just make sure you do it!

 

Writing Crap

I probably overuse the word crap when talking. People who’ve met me can attest to that. However, I believe I am not overusing or even misusing it in the context I have placed it in this article. I will tell you why.

It has been interesting watching blogging grow in Kenya over the last five or so years. To place it in a strictly Kenyan urban context, blogging is the new ‘DJ’ing’. Everyone and their cat has a blog. Just like everyone who had Virtual DJ installed on their entry-level HP laptop was a disc jockey back in college.

The beauty of seeing blogging in Kenya grow is that it has since reached levels where blogs and bloggers have become not just alternative media but also, the go-to media. You only need to read that hit Imperial Bank three-part series by @Owaahh to understand why.

I won’t get into the long-drawn debate of where the line between blogging and journalism is drawn or blurs. What I know is that the end result is the same: bloggers end up informing, educating, entertaining and even influencing policy, just as journalists and traditional media houses have done for hundreds of years now.

When you talk about bloggers in Kenya you are opening a can of worms since law enforcers regard just about anyone with a social media presence (which is basically all of us on the internet, ok, most of us) as a blogger. No, I am not referring to those. My limited definition of bloggers is those who post whatever they have on platforms like this one and others like Blogger, WordPress or self-hosted ones. Those ones.

As may be known to you, I do blog. Heck, I’ve been doing this for longer than I thought I would. Even as we revel in the growth of blogging in the country, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate what we are putting out there. Not in the same sense that some guys in higher places would want (to gag us) but at a very basic level. The writing itself.

I read hundreds of blog posts on any given day. In doing so, once in a while I venture from my fixed reading list to see what other new stuff there is. Once in a while I will find a fantastic blog that I immediately subscribe to. Most times, though, I find crap. Again, I’m not misusing that word, I believe.

I have formed a habit of sharing anything I read and find either interesting, informative or relevant to ongoing discussions on my social media feeds (like this ludicrous one of national values and morals being spearheaded by a film classification board chairman). Once in a while I will get an email or a WhatsApp message requesting me to share particular content since I do so often. I always share the same if it meets my very low threshold of being interesting, informative or relevant. Just that. Yet most of these don’t. Not because they are not interesting or informative or relevant. No. They are just, crap.

Why?

There are some basics. If you are going to write in English then make sure it is proper English. Basic proper English. Nothing complex. Not all of us are Jackson Bikos. Heck, if you are a tech blogger like I am then your work is not telling stories like Magunga does. You just get to your text editor and …

For most bloggers, what’s lacking is basic editing skills. You read a piece by a blogger and you start wondering whether they wrote it while they were half asleep or with a gun pointed at their head. At that time the said blogpost is on something very interesting, something you’re itching to share with your social circles but you just can’t get yourself to do it.

Part of the problem lies in the evolution of local blogs into authoritative news sources. Politics, business, technology, sports… name it. We have Kenyan blogs covering it all. In the process, basic editing skills have been thrown out in the rush to get the clicks, the mad traffic, the 1 million hits per month, the AdSense dollars.

I am not a big fan of Kenya’s print media but I am a big crusader of the freedom (responsible) brought about by blogging platforms. However, while we are at it, quality need not be compromised. In your rush to break news, edit your work, proof read, have someone look at it. For those with proper setups, have an editor who actually looks at things. You visit a rather high profile blog, look at the mistakes made on the articles being posted and you’re left just there wondering if this is the digital media that everyone is saying (correctly) is the future.

New native digital media powerhouses like BuzzFeed and Vox Media have grown by not just understanding the new generation of readers and content consumers but on also getting things out of the door fast (breaking news while traditional media houses take their time) while still not sacrificing whatever it is that will make you read a 700-page book for hours on end daily until you are on the last page.

Blogs and other forms of new media appeal to the younger generation that treasures 150-word news articles and the like but if there’s anything we can learn from print media then it is editing (not gagging) ourselves properly. Most foreign blogs I follow are so good at this. So much that I am left reading the published works and not seeing 12 mistakes in the first paragraph of a blogpost and 20 others elsewhere in the same post. You need not go far. Open your Twitter, check the trending topics (pick any hashtag) and see the links flying around. Pick any from a random blog. Look for me I buy you coffee if you don’t come across any that is, by your standards (not mine), crap.