A Tech Storm Is Brewing In Kenya

A tech storm has been brewing in Kenya for a while, #UberTaxiWars, #NetflixInKenya regulation, Bitcoin at the crossroads are just some of the questions worth rethinking.

The storm in a tea cup spilled over into the court of public opinion when taxi drivers declared war on Uber drivers. Tyres were slashed, wind shields smashed and ultimatums issued to the government.

Netflix In Kenya

Earlier in January, Kenyans on Twitter (KoT) were ecstatic about Netflix’s entry into the Kenyan market, with the assumption being that consumers will have more choice when it comes to entertainment content, I wrote a pragmatic commentary based on realities on the ground.

Some people thought my outlook was pessimistic. Others like Marcello Schermer expressed some tempered optimism. Life moved on.

Then came the issue of Netflix regulation.

Is Kenya justified to regulate the streaming service viz. its national sense of morality and matters to do with national security?

With regard to issues to do with national security, the National Intelligence Service (NIS)  —  Kenya’s version of CIA  —  is best placed to answer that question.

But in matters pertaining to morality, yes.

Yes, Kenya has a right to censor some Hollywood-propagated values — the contentious moral issue being the attempt to normalize homosexuality by ensuring that popular TV series and sometimes, movies, have a lesbian or male homosexual scene.

Most of the time when I watch a Hollywood series whose story line is totally unrelated to homosexual rights and a homosexual scene is squeezed into the story, I feel disgusted, especially when I’m watching with family.

Back in 2015 when Kenya hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi which was graced by U.S president Barack Obama: Kenyans of all walks of life strongly urged Obama not to talk about homosexual issues during his brief visit, and we the nation sighed in relief when he steered clear of this topic.

The moral of the story here is, Sub-Sahara Africa has never been cool with homosexuality: as such, Kenya is justified in censoring entertainment content that attempts to advance this agenda.

After all modernity is not about swallowing foreign values and ideas hook, line and sinker, it’s all about contextualizing these values and ideas, and running with what’s socially-acceptable for a given society.

The Bitcoin Dilemma

BitPesa, a local start-up that facilitates remittances in Bitcoin where the recipient gets paid via M-PESA has been in and out of court with Safaricom, with the lowest point being a directive by Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) in the local dailies cautioning Kenyans against transacting in Bitcoin.

M-PESA got disrupted in the remittances niche where another dinosaur NationHela — by Nation Media Group — went extinct after much fan fare: instead of innovating their way around this new competitor, they chose to block them from using M-PESA viz. conversion of Bitcoin to fiat currency.

CBK need to remember how it took a risk with the M-PESA concept when no legal framework existed to guide them on how to handle the then young innovation.

In fact, most of the mobile money policy guidelines and laws emanated from this learning experience after discovering what works and what doesn’t, through a trial and error method.

Kenyan Uber drivers don’t know it yet, but having an Algorithm for a boss isn’t so rosy, with Uber’s surge pricing and all that. Tweet

Bitcoin is at the cross-roads, reminiscent of M-PESA in its early days, CBK should take measured risks with startups such as Bitpesa and see what kind of innovations Kenyans can build around Bitcoin: there’s so much more to be done.

Let’s not stifle innovation in its infancy.

Uber Taxi Wars

The proletariat rose against the Uber bourgeoisie. You see dear reader, Uber is not just another cookie-cutter disruptive innovation, it’s a violent disruptor due to it’s zero-sum game nature.

In Game Theory, there are two broad types of game pay-offs:

  1. Zero-sum, where winner takes all and we have a loser who walks away with nothing

  2. Non-zero sum , where a Pareto optimal solution, or to be more precise,a Nash equilibrium is sought.


Uber has been violently rejected in major cities across the world, the pedestrian analysis of the situation goes like:

Taxis need to wake up… change is the only constant… adapt or become extinct.

Blah…blah…blah

The most interesting aspect of the #UberTaxiWars in Kenya was that taxi drivers were using WhatsApp to mobilize their violent acts against Uber drivers.

So are these tech-savvy taxi drivers so redundant… are we to regard them as Dinosaurs who’s extinction is long overdue? I think not.

The problem with Uber’s disruption is its zero-sum game nature, hitting a blue collar market niche where business revenue is intermittent at best.

That’s why the Taxi Drivers Association asked to sit at the table with Uber in order to iron out some issues, and the Kenyan government is trying to establish a Fair business competition policy guideline viz. online enterprises: it will be interesting to see how they factor in Airbnb.

Kenyan Uber drivers don’t know it yet, but having an Algorithm for a boss isn’t so rosy, with Uber’s surge pricing and all that.

Plus, very few people actually make a stable living in the gig economy, it’s mostly about supplementary income for the driver who risks their car and their life while Uber reaps the real dollars out of their sweat.

Solution To The #UberTaxiWars In Nairobi

Epilogue

Airbnb’s disruptive effect is similar to Uber’s, but with the insecurity issues in Kenya that got compounded by Western travel advisories, tourism has been on a historical low for the last couple of years.

But when the industry bounces back, and Airbnb starts gobbling up the hospitality market… there will be blood.

Cover Image, storm is coming | Amy the Nurse

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