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Archive for October, 2011

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A lone woman slowly makes her way to her destination down a typical Murrum road somewhere in rural Uganda. She’s pushing her bike rather than riding it, perhaps the gradient is too steep. Most likely northern or eastern Uganda is the location for this photo as women riding bicycles is a rarity elsewhere in the country.

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It has struck over the last few days that I have accumulated a growing number of computer passwords, a trend that shows no sign of abating. If anyone thought we in Africa are of the ‘grid’, they had better think again because more and more of what we do is via one network or internet or intranet. Each stage controlled by password.

My predicament becomes more acute at the end of every month because my office network ‘insists’ that I change my password every 4 weeks. This is non negotiable, the computer does not talk to you as such, it just shuts you out. And it won’t let you back on the grid until you key in a new password and reconfirm the new secret code. No big deal one might think until you are told that your password must include at least 6 letters, some upper case, at least two number and a symbol like # or @. furthermore one cannot repeat the same password or something similar for at least 6 months! ( can you hear me swearing?).

Well just for my office network I have worked my way through the towns of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, south Africa, number plates, birthdays and now I am onto rivers of the world. However, it is not unusual for me to completely forget my new password and then have to call the chaps in IT to rescue me………I can almost hear them sniggering and suppressing laughter and derision.

Now why would I struggle with something as mundane as a computer password, one might ask? The answer is because I have to have so many just to keep my life ticking along nicely:
1. email address passwords X 3
2. ATM passwords X 2
3. credit card password X1
4. Internet banking password
5. M-Pesa password
6. Apple iTunes store password
7. Website passwords x4
8. Social media passwords x4
9. Laptop password X2

Overwhelming? Absolutely! And there is no hope in sight.

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A phenomenon that had died out is back with a vengeance. I am talking about the unexpected phone calls barclays bank employees make to me offering me all manner of financial products, all unsolicited by me.

These include:
1. ‘ We would like to offer you an unsecured loan’.
2. ‘ We have checked out your credit card usage and would like to increase your credit limit by giving you a Barclays gold credit card’.
3. ‘You have not really utilized your credit card limit, we can give you the available balance as an unsecured loan’
4. ‘ I am calling to to find out if you have used our mortgage facilities and if not can you allow me to arrange one for you?

What I have found very trying is that there is no sign of method in this madness. I may get one call a day, three in a week or two in a fortnight. The caller may be from the various Barclays branches: clock tower, ABC Place, Hurlingham, wetlands etc. they sound young and desperate to make a sale, no matter how uncooperative I may sound.

The banks marketing department has clearly sent out teams of young cannon fodder to seek out clients and hit targets that are probaly unrealistic, especially if the client is thoroughly irritated by an uncoordinated sales attack.

My question for the bank would be:
1. Do you other to keep track of who is calling who. If I say no today, chances are I will still say no for a few weeks to come.
2. Do your cannon fodder tele sales staff have access to my account details and balance! I seriously hope not, but they seem to know quite a bit about me and my unease is growing.

How do I stop this madness????

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Murchison falls is a spectacular cataract on the river Nile, half way between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert, in Uganda. it is named after an 19th century president of the Royal Geographical Society. though it has been subsequently named the Kabalega Falls, after legendary king of Bunyoro. the two names are used interchangeably and the same goes for the National Park with the same name.

It is not the tallest of waterfalls, only 45 metres high, but the entire flow of the Nile is forced through a gap only 6 metros wide! That makes for a very powerful rush of water indeed.

Down river from the falls can be seen a rich array of wildlife, all from the safety and convenience of a motor boat. This is usually the highlight of a trip to the area.

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The news that a gang of Somali gunmen in a fast speed boat had kidnapped a disabled Frenchwoman from her home in Lamu, off the Kenyan coast, has sent shock waves across the country. This is more so because it follows on a few weeks after the kidnap of a british woman from a posh, but isolated, beach hotel further up the coast. In that incident the victim’s husband was killed in the attack.

This has been a long time coming and the security apparatus should have been better prepared. the war in Somalia continues unabated and it has been left to primarily Uganda and to a lesser extent Burundi, to provide troops for AMISOM. They have succeeded in driving Al Shabab out of Mogadishu, for now, but also at great human cost.

The Kenyan government has had a rather Stand offish approach to the drama across the Somali border, even though reports and evidence show that young men are being recruited in Mombasa into terrorist ranks and shipped there for training.

The hands off approach has been tested over the previous months as hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured over the border, swamping already the largest refugee camp in the world, dadab. The porous borders had been unable to keep them out of the country, so the police has been deployed to try and at least keep thmem from getting to Nairobi, without much success as any resident will point out. The security implications are too ominous to ignore.

Piracy has raged on the high seas affecting seafarers from all over the world and Kenya too. This has caused the cost of shipping to sky rocket as the insurance premiums have headed north to keep up with number of ships being jacked and the increasing cost of maritime security.

With massive deployment of naval convoys around the Indian ocean it has been getting harder for the pirates to grab their quarry for ransom, a lucrative enterprise that they have grown accustomed to. Looking south Lamu must look like a candy store.

Now the north coast of Kenya is an interesting place, particularly Lamu. It’s an ancient stone town bathed in incredible history and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. There is only one car allowed on the island and it belongs to the district commissioner. transport is essential by donkey cart.

The charming historic town that rivals Zanzibar has drawn the rich, the powerful and the aristocracy from across Europe who have bought many of the old houses, restored them and converted them into mansions and luxury hotels. this development has been steady and unstoppable to the extent that the real-estate prices in Lamu are some of the highest in Africa. The regret is that the local people can no longer afford to buy land or a house in the area. Resentment simmers. For other kenyans Lamu is an unaffordable holiday destination because the cost of flights are inflated, the road up from malindi is in a bad state and the hotels are priced for the deep in pocket.

North of Lamu are several ‘Robinson crusoe’ like luxury hotels that seem to be the rage right now. Eco friendly and close to nature, clients pay top dollar to sleep under the stars or without doors and windows, close to the Indian ocean surf. Far from the maddening crowd they are easy pickings for Somali insurgents looking for a ransom payday.

The cost to the Kenyan economy is likely to be huge. Tourism is a major contributor to the economy and nothing turns down the tourism arrival switch like insecurity. It does’t matter that we are talking about the northern Kenyan coast, not malindi, not Mombasa, not the Maasai Mara. Western tourists have no patience to make those types of distinctions, Africa is Africa, period.

With the Kenyan shilling taking a beating from the world’s major currencies a drop in tourism earnings would be a catastrophe. So it is not surprising that the minister of tourism, najib balala, has been out beating his hollow drum. It will boil down to thepolice, the army and the navy to seal the border and stop these two incidents from becoming a regular fishing expedetion because that would shut down beach tourism for good.

The ominous spectre of Kenyan military involvement in Somalia grows more likely everyday.

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