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Kenyans embrace online groups to run estate affairs and connect

by Bedah Mengo NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Not long ago, Kenyans living in gated communities would hold monthly meetings through which residents deliberate issues affecting them.

At the forums, officials would introduce new residents, issue reports on payment of service charges and security status of the neighborhood.

Each household was expected to send a representative without fail and the minutes would, thereafter, be posted at the main entrance for all to see.

But that was before the entrance of online networks, which have ushered in a new era in the east African nation’s gated communities.

The communities have shifted their activities online, with meetings held on the social networks namely Facebook and WhatsApp.

From the several officials the groups used to have, the online communities are now manned and managed by one or two group administrators.

Monthly financial reports are timely shared on the groups, with members knowing households that have not paid for service charges on time.

This has therefore eliminated the practice of writing the names of defaulters on notice board.

New members are further introduced to the online communities soonest and estate bylaws shared.

More importantly, however, the security and safety issues are shared in real time, making the estates safer.

"Dear residents, please note that you could be harboring snakes in your compounds.

"I just found a black mamba in my backyard as I was renovating my chicken pen.

"Be very careful especially at night," Sylvia Aketch of Hill View Estate group in Kitengela on the outskirts of Nairobi wrote on Saturday.

"Scary. As it gets dry and hot, these guys will be leaving bushes in search for water in shelters. Let’s clear bushes and hedges," answered Kelvin Musembi, a member of the estate.

Residents of the estate responded by raising some money to clear bushes and hedges within the estate and outside.

"The online groups are the best thing to have ever happened to humanity, in particular for estates," said Aketch.

In the estate, members of all households are enlisted in the groups and those who vacate are removed immediately after clearing their dues.

"No one can therefore claim they did not see or know what is happening in the estate," said Aketch, the secretary of the estate.

There is also a landlord group where issues about tenants and development of the estates are discussed, since not every house owner lives in the gated community.

"Ever since we started the estate WhatsApp groups, we meet once every six months.

"The groups have lifted from us the pressure of meeting every month," said Joshua Ambani of Komarock estate on the east of Nairobi.

Ambani said their social media group has enhanced service charge collections due to timely updates, enabling them to pay for garbage collection and security promptly.

"Updates on payments are done as soon as they are made to the treasurer via mobile money, therefore, those who have not paid are known on time.

"The rate of defaulting has therefore gone down significantly since the defaulters are called out," he said, noting besides WhatsApp group, they run closed estate Facebook group.

In the affluent Loresho estate in Nairobi, residents recently used an online group to galvanise each other to stop the grabbing of land set aside for expansion of a water reservoir.

Some estates have also used the groups to push for better roads, enhanced police security and water supply.

Social media estate groups are growing in popularity in Kenya due to their ability to connect neighbours, ease in passing information and thus enable quicker resolution of challenges in the neighbourhood, according to Henry Ochieng, the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations chief executive.


Online government services boost Kenyan internet usage

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- About three weeks ago, 53-year-old Bernard Musimba, a resident of Busia in western Kenya, used the internet for the first time, and he cannot stop talking about it.

His son had sat for Class Eight exit exams in 2018 and had performed well, therefore, as all parents in Kenya, to know which secondary school the student had been admitted to, Musimba had to go online and log into the ministry of education system.

From the site, dubbed National Education Management Information System (Nemis), one would then key in details of the pupils to know which school they have been admitted to and then download the admission letter.

"I had never used a computer before but I was forced to by the admission process.

"It was exciting that my son’s name was in there and I got the letter with the help of the cybercafe attendant and now he is already in school," said Musimba on Tuesday.

His experience mirrors that of many other parents across the east African nation, who for the first time, had to use the internet to get secondary school admission letters for their children as the Kenya government turns to technology to fast-track its processes and take them to masses.

About a million pupils sat for the exams in 2018, according to the ministry of education, therefore the process involved thousands of parents.

The move by the government to take its services online has come as a huge boost to internet usage in the east African nation as millions of citizens, especially those outside towns, use computers and go online for the first time.

Some of the government services that are currently being done exclusively online in addition to the admission of students are application for driving license, passport and personal identification number used for tax payment purposes.

Student’s higher education loans, national health insurance, filing of tax returns and payments and renewal of driving licenses are all done via the internet and mobile money.

The Kenya Police is also working to automate its services including access to P3 forms filed by victims of assault or sexual abuse for medical examination and police abstracts, according to Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.

These are documents that one had to physically walk to a police station to access them.

"I got my driving license after registering my details online on e-citizen and on the National Transport Authority websites and then paid the required fee via mobile money," said public bus driver Antony Kimani, who also opened an email account for the first time during the application.

Internet subscription posted a 2.7 percent growth between July and September 2018 to stand at 41.8 million from 40.7 million during the previous quarter, latest data from the Communication Authority shows.

The number of internet users, therefore, is about 50 million people as more people in rural areas turn to the service.

"Use of online system to access government service has definitely become a huge boost to internet usage especially in rural areas.

"It is one of the best things to be happening in Kenya as we fight corruption and seek to enhance efficiency and transparent in government service provision," said Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT Solutions in Nairobi.

Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed noted that the ministry adopted the online system to streamline the secondary school admission process and curb fraud.

"The online admission system helps us create a complete database for all students, which will be used in the allocation of grants from the government under the subsidized learning program and registration for medical insurance," she said.

Further, through the Nemis system, which was used this year for the first time, the government would also be able to have clear data on transition rates from primary to secondary school and further to colleges.



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