The Nairobi Project

I Want to Draw a Cat For You! founder Steve Gadlin tells of how a young Kenyan playwright, Victor Gido, contacted him in 2009, offering original scripts.

This is how Victor contacted Steve (unedited):

hello names is Victor Gido from nairobi kenya and would like to ask i fyou people are intrested in any plays for the moment.i can assure you that you wont regret by doing so.please do reply with immediate effect.i will be looking forwad to hear from email adress is

After some back and forth, they agreed that Gido would write one to order for $50. In the words of Steve Gadlin, My gut told me that I was setting myself up to be the victim of a scam. But I was lured in by the possibility of producing the worst stage play, by the most unlikely playwright. Along with his $25 deposit, I sent Victor the following plot synopsis for his play:

A millionaire named Quack Quack Quimby has forgotten the true meaning of the Jewish holiday Tu Bishvat. His daughter goes to great lengths to remind him of its meaning, and make him happy once again….

The Nairobi Project begins with Gadlin at his laptop, trying to decide whether Gido’s email is legitimate, includes a video of cast auditions, and ends with a performance of Gido’s one-act play, The Price.

Victor Gido’s original work, The Price, was be performed VERBATIM, in its entirety, as part of this hilarious show based on a ridiculous plot by a writer with little to no command over the English language.

So, dear readers, what do you think of this? It seems that “success” is still only an email away!

Is There a Problem Here?

So last week I was with a friend of mine who does a lot of IT freelance consulting in the city of Nairobi. He wanted my opinion on how to solve a particular problem that he had come across. The problem is this:

There is a client who runs a certain business that generates a lot of text files (about 10,000 a week). These are small and simple text files but they are important hence they need to be backed up and also uploaded to a website online. How do you reliably automate this?

Apparently the solution he was looking for was a program that he could buy that does this. Nothing wrong with that, right? Yes. But this is not the first time I have come across such a relatively simple problem that computing can solve. All of them follow the same basic pattern: a company needs a way to automate one of their internal processes, usually to reduce some costs and they give their usual “IT person” the task to find a solution for them. Said IT person then finds some software to do the job or one that comes close. Almost always, the end result is a compromise because little software out there really ever does exactly what your company’s peculiar processes need.

The thing that nags me about all this is that most of these problems can be solved by a good programmer in little time. And the best part… the resulting solution will not be a compromise, the programmer can build a solution that exactly matches the needs. We’re not talking about huge programs like Ms Word or even Notepad or Ms Paint, most of these solutions can be done by a tiny little ‘script’.

So this begs the questions: are there no programmers who can come up with these little scripts? Why is the default solution always to look for some software “out there”?

Where do all the programmers go after they graduate from the seemingly millions of computer colleges in town?

Google Brings NFC To Kenya

I was aboard a CitiHoppa yesterday when the person seated next to me asked the conducter if he could pay via his Beba card. I didn’t really pay much attention to what followed but later on, I googled about it and found

In their own words, The Beba card is a smart card that makes it easy to pay for bus fare and helps you save money. It’s convenient because you don’t have to worry about getting change.

  1. To use your Beba card, you just tap your card on the card reader to pay.
  2. You can get a Beba card for yourself, family members or coworkers.

What really got my attention, though, was their Terms of Service. is a product offered locally by Google that utilises the much talked about Near Field Communications (NFC) technology.

NFC is not new. It is based on technologies that have been around for nearly two decades. NFC allows two devices to communicate when they are placed near each other (or when they touch each other). NFC technology is already big in Japan – you can use your NFC-enabled phone to buy train tickets in Tokyo or as a contactless payment system.

My guess is that the Beba card is an experiment by Google to try and determine whether this technology can actually work locally. If successful, in theory we could all get similar cards and use them not only for bus tickets but to pay for meals, for shopping at supermarkets, and anything else, really. Exciting, eh?

Learn more: What is NFC, and why do we care?

What do you think of this?

Aroma Cafe

The brilliant, curious, story of how one establishment in Mombasa has used the on-going debate on “husband battering” in Kenya to do some brilliant marketing:

From NTV Kenya:

The upsurge in the number of husband battering cases continue to dominate debates in various parts of the country but in Mombasa the issue has been captured in a different way. One café in the coastal city has chosen to put it in black and white. Aroma Café has written pro-men messages for anyone to see and the management say it is their way of discouraging the vice that has given Central Kenya a bad name. The high-class restaurant has even gone to the extent of preparing cookies labeled “Love Men” in their effort to condemn husband beating.

Lazy African Scum

This, my friend, is what is wrong with Africa Kenya:

They call the Third World the lazy man’s purview; the sluggishly slothful and languorous prefecture. In this realm people are sleepy, dreamy, torpid, lethargic, and therefore indigent—totally penniless, needy, destitute, poverty-stricken, disfavored, and impoverished. In this demesne, as they call it, there are hardly any discoveries, inventions, and innovations. Africa is the trailblazer. Some still call it “the dark continent” for the light that flickers under the tunnel is not that of hope, but an approaching train. And because countless keep waiting in the way of the train, millions die and many more remain decapitated by the day.

“It’s amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die,” the man next to me said. “Get up and do something about it.”

More: You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!

Education Reform in Kenya

I came across an article titled “The Golden Age of Education” which is really about the problems with education in the developed world. I read it and felt it was talking about the exact problems facing education in Kenya. Here’s a few paragraphs:

“10 years ago, if you did well in high school you’d get into college. If you went to college and finished your degree, with fairly high likelihood you could get a job with a respectable salary. Nothing in the world is ever truly a given, but I think it’s fair to say that what arose in colleges were certain tracks that you could follow to the end where there was a job waiting for you. If you studied Finance, Engineering, or Business, you were competing for the best jobs but you always had a fallback. Most other majors were in a similar albeit slightly less comfortable position. The occasional philosophy major aside, the career outlook was looking fairly bright. It’s in the news every day now though, the demand for jobs is not being met – winter’s coming or is already here.

There are a lot of theories floating around on what is the fundamental cause of the prevalent high unemployment rate, and with any complex problem the answer is probably some mixture of everything. A bad economy, jobs being displaced by software, and a generation not trained for the demands of modern society all likely factor into our current predicament.

It’s that last one that keeps me up at night. We spend 20 years educating our youth for a job that they will spend an average of four and a half years at, going through roughly 11 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 44 . The curricula taught at universities are completely out of date and out of sync with industries, and for most people you get a total of four years of professional education for the next 50 years of your life despite the fact that industries are created and destroyed in the span of a decade today.” [Read More]

Does this not just speak “Kenya” to you? In fact, I’d wager that in Kenya things are much, much worse. How many students who sat for their KCSE last year will even get the opportunity to go to University/College? Worse, how many university graduates will get good, well-paying jobs? Things do not look good at all in Kenya, do they?

In stark contrast, here’s an article about the remarkable success of the Finnish education system. Please read that article, it speaks of a drastically different approach to education that was taken by the Finnish government in an effort to reform its education system.

This is the kind of reform we need in Kenya. We do not need to make slight adjustment to the KCPE or to reduce the number of examinable subjects, we need to take a hard long look at our education system as a whole and pursue a wide far-reaching goal of reforming it as a whole (not just parts of it).

In university, I was in a class of about 50+ people. To this day, I know of only a handful who have found good, well-paying jobs or have started businesses. This has to stop. We need to commit ourselves to wholesome educational reform. Now.

Sitting in First Chair, but Playing Second Fiddle

Before I start out using a musical metaphor, I better define a few things. A ‘first chair’ is the leader of an orchestra. When the conductor is not there, they take over. It is usually the best violinist or ‘fiddler’ of the group. The person next to them is usually ‘second fiddle’, or, to use another metaphor, an understudy. If the first chair gets sick, they take over.

But what happens in business, and in life, when the conductor is almost always absent, the first chair decides to take an extended leave, and YOU are the second fiddle?

You’d think playing second fiddle would be easy. It isn’t. Being first chair is hard, everyone agrees to that. They have all of the responsibility of the conductor, plus they have to play an instrument. Being the conductor is a breeze in comparison. But when the first chair hits the road- your supervisor goes out to lunch mentally, your spouse says adios to responsibility- you, as second fiddle, have to take over.

Second fiddlers are not respected. They have to fight for every ounce of power they have. They not only have to take over the responsibilities of first chair, but they have to prove that they are capable and that the position, in fact, does need to be taken over. How do you prove the absence of something? Especially if the person is still, technically, there? Let me tell you, it is hard.

But somehow, you succeed. You are sitting in first chair. You have taken over the ‘seat of power’ and now it’s all up to you. There’s only one problem. You’re not ready.

It’s one thing to get the power; it’s a whole other thing to be able to wield it correctly. In your family: can you be both mother and father to your kids? Disciplinarian and comforter? Judge and intercessor? In your business: can you be co-worker and boss? Leader and listener?

You’re in the hot seat now. You are sitting in first chair, but you’re still only a second fiddle. You know that at any moment, the real first chair could speak up and you’d be knocked back to your former position. But, at this time, someone has to take control. How do you survive?

First, remember who you are. You are second fiddle. Either by choice or by design, you are who you are. And that’s fine. Not everyone is cut out to be first chair, not everyone wants to be first chair. Your objective is to do the best you can with what you have.

Second, relax. This isn’t your job and everyone knows it. If you take yourself too seriously, you’re doomed to failure. Listen to others, keep a cool head, and don’t make the same mistakes your predecessor did.
Last, be prepared to step down. Eventually, someone will come in to take over. Don’t fight it. Do your best to help out the new first chair, or support the returning one, without censure or blame. It won’t help anyone to add conflict to an already difficult situation.

Many second fiddles are taking on first chair responsibilities nowadays. Just remember who you are and why you’re doing it. You can only do the best you can. Everything else is in the Lord’s hands.

Author Bio:
This is a guest post from Laura Backes, she enjoys writing about all kinds of subjects and also topics related to internet service providers in my area. You can reach her at: laurabackes8 @