Why Voter Apathy is Not an Option

All you need to do is switch on your TV set at prime time and you will be discouraged about the state of our country, our poor beloved Kenya.

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Corruption is out of control. Impunity seems the order of the day as those in power evade justice over and over and over again. The opposition is merely the mirror image of the government as the “it’s our turn to eat” narrative drives political ambition. Negative tribalism is disguised in talk of “strongholds” and “negotiated democracy” while many Kenyans begin to wonder if their vote – and their voice – matters in this whole charade.

It is easy to get discouraged as a citizen of Kenya. In fact, given the events taking place, it is the most reasonable thing to do. It was easy to be patriotic during the days of terrorist attacks. Back then, the enemy was tangible and discernible, and foreign. Both the opposition and the government had a common enemy. But now, now everything is all muddled up. The enemy is amongst  us, and often within us, and this has messed up with our collective sense of nationality. We don’t know who to trust anymore.

Outrage Fatigue?

Doctors have been on strike for almost three months ago and few people even seem to know what the issue is, let alone how to resolve it. News barely makes sense anymore. One day you are siding with the doctors, the next day the spin doctors have changed your mind and you are now siding with the government. Wait, does it even make sense to take sides if we are all “one country”?

There is such a thing as compassion fatigue (outrage fatigue?) and many of us are at breaking point. We are being pushed to breaking (no-caring) point. We just want to retreat to our little corner and focus on our job, family and friends and let the rest of the nation take care of itself. Life is too short to care about everything and everyone. Let us all eat and drink and (hopefully) be merry, for tomorrow we die. There are people who “run” this country and they will do whatever they want. We have no “real” control over their decisions and actions, so why even bother?

This is where many of us are, and where many more are heading. We are folding into ourselves. Ranting on social media has lost its appeal. Hashtags never go far enough and tweets never go deep enough. We are not seeing results. Those in power seem to have all the cards. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

We Are Citizens, Not Merely Voters

I am a communication specialist, and I have previously worked as a journalist for four years. I have noticed that the efforts that make the biggest splash in the political scene are usually not very complex or calculated. Stories are perennially powerful, and often all it takes is a good story being picked up by the right person to make a difference.

This is what I mean; more often than not, it is not the statistics about a particular issue that move people to action, it is how you leverage these statistics to evoke emotions. This means that one story about a person’s rape ordeal could be more powerful than displaying staggering numbers of rape cases on a PowerPoint slide.

Just look at what happened in India. Rape is not a new plague in the country. It has been rampant there for decades. But it took a few stories showcasing the lives of those affected to start strong movements and cause radical changes in the law. In a previous post, I wrote about how there are more ways to be a responsible citizen than merely taking part in a vote. I focused largely on what we can do in our “circle of concern”. In this post, my focus is more “political”. My aim is to, hopefully, wake us up to the political options we have as citizen to contribute to positive change in your country.

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These may not make sense at first glance, and you may even doubt how effective they are. But sometimes you need to be part of something to see and appreciate its power. Having worked as a journalist, I had the advantage of seeing the areas where citizen participation made the biggest waves in government and society. More often than not, all it took was answering “yes” to the following questions.

Have you ever:

  • Signed a petition?
  • Contacted your MP, MCA or area representative?
  • Gone on a protest or demonstration?
  • Contacted a government department?
  • Spoken to an influential person about an issue you feel strongly about?
  • Raised an issue in an organisation you belong to?
  • Contacted radio, TV or newspaper?
  • Formed a group of like-minded people?

When we begin to see our role and scope of responsibility as much larger than the mere casting of a vote, then we will realize that we wield power to cause real political change in our society. Voter apathy happens when we limit the horizon of our political participation to casting  the vote once every five years. When we see our politics and our politicians through the lens of the ballot, we are only displaying our ignorance.

You have the power to do more. Join a political party. Join a political cause. Get out of the house. Talk to your neighbor. Unplug your earphones and engage that person sitting next to you in the bus (yes, I know it’s awkward and you are an introvert). Make use of that suggestion box. Send a letter to that politician. Write to the editor of that national newspaper (very few people actually do this, you’d be surprised). Get up, get out and tell your story.

The reason we get voter fatigue is because we have too narrow a view of ourselves. We are much more than voters in Kenya. We are citizens of Kenya.

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How To Legally Access Movies in Kenya

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(c) tollywoodandhra.in

The ease with which one can access movies and music on the internet has made online piracy one of the hardest plagues for media owners and users to fight.

For many of us Kenyans, we have that “movie guy” who always hooks you up with the latest movies and episodes of your favorite shows (for just Sh50 per DVD!) You’ve probably never thought of this as piracy, especially since you are paying for the movie. But the reality is that these distributors illegally download the movies and shows and then write them onto DVDs for your entertainment.

Some of us are more internet savvy and we have installed torrent clients (e.g. bittorrent, utorrent) onto our computers and we download those pirated movies in the comfort of our homes. There are also numerous streaming services that give you access to thousands of movies and tv shows for free streaming (if you can get through the numerous pop-up ads).

The same goes for music. It is now possible to get a download of an American album within hours of its release without paying a dime for it. I admit that the jury is still out on some of the legal ramifications of downloading pirated copies of movies made in countries whose copyright laws don’t apply to us. In other words, Kenya is not part of the jurisdiction of many American copyright laws, which makes the issue of whether or not it is legal to download and watch pirated movies a tricky one.

But behind every law is a spirit an ethic, and a value system which the author of that law sought to satisfy. By making it illegal to download the film or show for free in the United States, the creator of that commodity intended that anyone anywhere who accesses it should pay for it (even if they can’t get prosecuted for breaking that code).

There is also the matter of artists who go broke and yet their music is making waves across the globe. However, this is not the post for that discussion. My aim here is more practical.

In the paragraphs that follow, I only seek to answer the question: “I feel it is wrong to download and watch pirated movies and TV shows, but it would be easier to avoid doing wrong if I had legal options for downloading and watching.” Here is my lame attempt at reducing the temptation and, hopefully, fighting piracy in Kenya.

HOW TO WATCH WESTERN MOVIES AND SERIES

The following are the only two service providers I know of that provide access to western movies and TV shows legally, but, of course, for a fee.

1. Netflix

The American online streaming service has been active in Kenya for slightly over a year. Kenyans can now access award-winning movies and TV shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, the entire Star Trek series, and hundreds others. For as low as USD7.99 every month, one can stream all these shows with a clean conscience. In November 2016, Netflix added the option to download movies and series episodes onto your phone or tablet for watching while offline. This is a great option for those who probably access affordable internet at the office and coffee shops and don’t have the same access at home. You can just download the episodes you want to watch then catch up on them at the comfort of your home.

  • PS: For new subscribers, Netflix allows you to access the full collection for free for the first 30 days.
  • PPS: My research also revealed that in Kenya, we only access about 400 of the more than 4000 shows available on Netflix. This also means that while Americans can access all the seasons of all the shows, Kenyans can only access some seasons and have top wait longer for the rest of the seasons. Copyright issues.

2. Showmax

This South African movie and series streaming service launched in Kenya just a few months after Netflix. While the collection is leaner than that offered by the American giant, sometimes Showmax gives Kenyans access to shows that are not locally available via Netflix. For instance, I found shows like Mad Men and Downton Abbey on Showmax and yet I could not access them on Netflix. So it may be good to subscribe to both services if you can afford it. Being an African product, Showmax also offers Nollywood films for Naija lovers. There is also a collection of some favorite Kenyan shows like Real House helps of Kawangware and the likes. For as low as Sh880 a month, you can access Showmax premium services, while Showmax Select is available for Sh330. Showmax also has a download option for mobile devices.

PS: For new subscribers, Showmax allows you to access the full collection for free for the first 14 days.

3. Amazon Prime Video

This service is barely two months old in Kenya and it promises to give Netflix quite a competition. It is currently available at the lowest subscription fee of USD2.99. But this will only be for the first six months, after which the subscription will return to USD5.99 (which is still a good bargain considering the collection that Amazon Prime Video has). Amazon Prime Video also has the advantage of exclusive content produced by Amazon and also features a lot of latest movies and series episodes, unlike Showmax.

PS: There is a seven-day free trial period for new subscribers, so you may give it a try

HOW TO LISTEN TO MUSIC

Currently, I know of only two music services that give you access to international music for free (with adverts in between songs) or for a monthly fee. These are Apple Music and Deezer (for android users). Of course some people can access music services such as Spotify, Google Music and Amazon Prime with a Virtual Private Network (VPN), but the issue of VPNs is another pandora’s box in the piracy discussion. For now, Deezer and Apple Music are the best options (for a monthly subscription fee of USD4.99)

HOW TO PAY FOR THE SERVICES

At the moment, the only payment options available for Netflix, Deezer and Apple Music are Visa card, Mastercard and Paypal. If you are too paranoid to use your Visa ATM online, you can obtain a Nakumatt Global Payment card and load money onto it via MPESA then use that to make the payments. That way, you can enjoy the movies and series without worrying about someone hacking into your bank account.

Showmax already anticipated this problem and now has an option for paying via MPESA Paybill. Just go to the Showmax page and they will take it from there.

I hope these options will be of great help in your efforts to fight online piracy.

Dear Kenyan, Your Vote is Not The Answer

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Fellow Kenyans, I know we are all rushing at the last minute to register to vote. Some of us have been too busy at work to find time to visit a registration station, and that’s understandable. Some of us have just not prioritised the process. That’s also understandable… sometimes. Kudos to those who have registered, those who have checked and double-checked their registration.

Kenya could use more people like you.

I know you believe that you are a model citizen and on that August morning you will queue for hours and proudly exercise your democratic right (duty?). Some of you are even planning to share your ink-stained fingers on Instagram and Facbook to confirm your participation. Good for you. But may I ask that you consider this truth for a moment? Your vote is not the solution.

You see, voting is the most visible part of the democratic process, but I am convinced that it is not the most important. Some of us treat voting as if it is the only responsibility the citizen has. We vote and have over the reins to the elctorate and then sit back and waiut for magic to happen. Allow me to burst your bubble. Voting is not THE solution.

However, voting is a solution. Voting counts, so please go out there and let your vote be counted. However, many of us act as if the right to vote is equivalent to democracy. Being a citizen in a democracy is much wider and involves much more than spending  a few hours every year to mark an X on a piece of paper and shoving it through a slit on a plastic vote.

I’m sorry to say this but, whoever you vote into power does not hold the silver bullet to all your country’s problems.

The reality is more complex. Real change is incremental, it takes time. Real change is communal, it takes all of us. Not just all of us registering to vote or showing up to vote, but all of us embodying that democracy every hour and every day of our residence in this nation. For democracy to work, all citizens must keep doing what we can in our circles of influence to be the change and advocate for change.

Where do you work? What do you care about? Are you an engineer? Then pay attention to the policies on construction and infrastructural development. Offer your expert opinions on those buildings that come crashing down on widowed mothers and their poor children. Resist that bribe and give up that questionable contract. Then go ahead and push your boss to push her bosses to push the policy makers.

Use your rare expertise and experience to highlight cases of bad policy and bad (or lack of) implementation in your circle of concern. The same applies to doctors and lawyers and journalists and social workers and musicians. Work for more than just a living. Work for a better work environment and a better economy.

Spend the four years between elections actually helping your politician’s manifesto come true, even when that politician abandons it. Your power is not restricted to the vote. Your power is only symbolised by the vote. But the real work happens as life happens. The real work happens in advocacy and water-dispenser conversations and boardroom meetings. Bad politics does not just thrive because of bad politicians, bad politics is watered and nurtured by a bad polity.

We all count for more than just being counted every five years. So get out ther and register to vote and then make the time to vote come August. And after that, go back home and be the change that you voted for. This is the only way we will get the Kenya we want.