Monday, November 19, 2012

HOW OBAMA USED TECHNOLOGY TO WIN ELECTION

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The Obama Campaign’s Technology Is a Force Multiplier By STEVE LOHR

Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press President Barack Obama visits with volunteers in the call center of a Columbus, Ohio, campaign office Monday. Technology doesn’t win political campaigns, but it certainly is a weapon — a force multiplier, in military terms. Both sides in the presidential contest mined click-stream data as never before to target messages to potential voters. But a real edge for the Obama campaign was in its use of online and mobile technology to support its much-praised ground game, finding potential supporters and urging them to vote, either in person or by phone, according to two senior members of the Obama technology team, Michael Slaby, chief integration and innovation officer for the Obama campaign, and Harper Reed, chief technology officer for the Obama campaign. A program called “Dashboard,” for example, allowed volunteers to join a local field team and get assignments remotely. The Web application — viewable on smartphones or tablets — showed the location of field workers, neighborhoods to be canvassed, and blocks where help was needed. “It allowed people to join a neighborhood team without ever going to a central office,” said Mr. Slaby. Another ground-game program was a tool for telephone canvassing from people’s homes instead of having to travel to a campaign office and work from a telephone bank. The call tool was a Web program that let people sign up to make calls and receive a list of phone numbers, names and a script to use, noted Mr. Reed. Often, the profiles of volunteer callers and the lists they received were matched. So the callers were people with similar life experiences to those being called, and thus more likely to be persuasive. Here is a YouTube video of a 91-year-old World War II veteran, who joined the Obama phone corps. In 2008, there were some remote callers in the Obama campaign. But this year, there were ten times as many, Mr. Slaby said. The sheer scale of the online outreach and data collection dwarfed the effort four years ago. For example, the Barack Obama Facebook site had 33 million “likes,” compared with 2 million for the previous campaign. A Facebook like, Mr. Slaby noted, is the “just the first rung on a ladder of engagement” but it is a starting point. Another truly important change was in the technology itself. “Cloud computing barely existed in 2008,” Mr. Slaby said. This time, the Obama campaign’s data center was mainly Amazon Web Services, the leading supplier of cloud services. The campaign’s engineers built about 200 different programs that ran on the Amazon service including Dashboard, the remote calling tool, the campaign Web site, donation processing and data analytics applications. Using mainly open-source software and the Amazon service, the Obama campaign could inexpensively write and tailor its own programs instead of using off-the-shelf commercial software. “It let us attack and engineer our own approach to problems, and build solutions for an environment that moves so rapidly you can’t plan,” Mr. Slaby said. “It made a huge difference this time.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

THE MEANING OF OBAMA'S REELECTION

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By Peter Anyang' Nyongo' 18th November, 2012 On that evening in early December 1995, if my memory serves me right, Prof. Roger Kent Oden, a colleague of mine at the University of Chicago where we both did our graduate work in Political Science in the seventies, invited a Kenyan neighbor to his Hyde Park residence for tea where I was spending a week's holiday with him. That neighbor was Barrack Obama. Barrack had just failed in his first attempt to be elected to the Illinois State Congress, and Oden was one of his campaigners in Hyde Park, part of the Congressional District where Obama had just contested a special Congressional primary election. He sat there in Ayodele and Roger Oden's living room not very enthusiastic to talk about the lost campaigns but more ready to hear the latest news from Kenya. I obliged, reminding him that I had known his late father, and actually filled in as the father's driver in the evenings in the late seventies and early eighties when I was lecturing at Nairobi University. I could not have guessed that this lean and calm University of Chicago law lecturer, with an ambition to join Illinois state politics, would one day brave the odds to become the first African-American president of the US, and to be re-elected for a second term. Whatever happened recently during his first term as President of the US several years later with regard to Kenya need not occupy us too much now. What we need to focus on are the ties that bind us with him, and hence the strings in these ties that we must pull and tighten to our advantage and to the advantage of Americans. We must make it easier for Obama to link us with the US, because now he is in a position to get news from Kenya with the pressing of a button in the White House. I will tell you how. Americans, whatever race or country of origin, never forsake their roots. Few that do only do so because economically they cannot visit their motherland, and after several generations the offsprings can only narrate nostalgic stories of a home they once left behind. For African-Americans, Alex Haley's publication of his book ROOTS: The Saga of An American Family in 1976 brought home the reality of Africa to all the descendants of the slave trade and slavery. All Americans of African descent could trace their steps to their original homes and mere nostalgia could now be replaced by a sense of adventure by a people who could rebuild their own history. African-Americans, in the post-Roots period, started visiting West Africa in their hundreds of thousands every year. They started to replace their Anglo-Saxon names with West African once, like Kwame Toure instead of Stockley Carmichael. One wonders why Obama cannot kindle an interest in Kenya among African-Americans the way Haley's Roots did it in the late seventies with regard to West Africa. That keen interest on Kenya that Obama showed Roger and I is still there, but as President it has to be shielded away within a morass of bureaucracy and policy-makers in the US government. We have to get through this shield and reach Obama the Kenyan. Our Ambassador in Washington, and all those diaspora Kenyans who are always hungry to do something for their country, have their job cut out for them. Somehow, like Roger and Ayodele Oden, they must break the shield and invite Barrack for tea to begin something going, something which will make a difference for us in Obama's second term. Who, if elected President of Kenya, is likely to take up this agenda and run with it? But more than that, let us not let the Kogelo people down. Twice they have helped propel Kenya into international headlines, with prime audiences glued to their TV sets during US presidential elections. BBC commentators, while reporting on the just concluded US elections, never stopped reporting on what was happening in Kenya, particularly Kogelo. As a tourist destination, we must build on this. There are many Americans who could do anything to come to Kenya and just experience what this country is all about, particularly Kogelo. Let us invite them for tea! If the tourism industry and its Ministry have any shred of imagination they need to pick the cue from this tremendous exposure and run with it. Let us not forget that the American President, among other things, is an intellectual and an avid writer and reader. Let us rope in UNESCO in what I am just about to propose. Johan Galtung, the Scandinavian academic well known for his conflict and peace studies and writings, made history by calling upon us to focus more on looking at the political economy of the "structures of peace" if we were to find real solutions to conflicts. A prior existence of structures of peace would readily minimize the emergence of conflicts; and where conflicts are a menace their elimination by sheer military might may only be temporary if structures of peace don't follow in the wake of any defeat in a war or suppression of so called rebels. One of Galtung's most famous quotes, very relevant to conflicts anywhere in the world today, runs as follows. "The top dog may win the game of force. But not the moral issue--and when that dawns upon him and his allies, change of consciousness sets in, and demoralization starts thawing the frozen heart. The game is over." President Obama's first term was preoccupied with dealing with conflicts across the globe, from Afghanistan to Iraq and Syria, from the Arab Spring to pirates in the Indian Ocean, from the insecurity in Latin America caused by drug cartels and warlords to a Pakistan equally threatened by national disintegration by drug cartels and religious fundamentalism. Kenya is best placed, with the support of UNESCO and UNDP, to invite the world to an international conference on "Building Structures of Peace in a Conflict Ravaged World." Barack Obama is to be invited to open this conference and to stay for a week visiting his fatherland. Many people will come to Kenya after that if such a conference is well publicized and organized.

THE AMERICAN ELECTIONS ARE OVER. THE NEXT BIG THING IS KENYA

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By Jerry Okungu Nairobi, Kenya November 16 2012 Finally it was over mid last week. The most riveting general election in the world had come and gone just like it comes and goes every five years. The reason the American elections capture the imagination of many souls across the globe is because whoever gets elected automatically becomes the most powerful man on earth. Since 1989 when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down and with it the fall of the USSR Empire, the United States of America assumed the role of the only super power to exist and wield immense power in the post Cold War era. Therefore, whoever gets elected president of the USA inherits massive military might that no other nation can match. Power aside, the last two American elections have been unique in one aspect. For the first time in America’s over 200 year history, that great nation has elected an African American not once but twice in four years. When Barack Obama first sought the Democratic nomination in 2007, most pundits, black and white wrote him off as a nonstarter, more so because he dared to challenge Hilary Clinton, a former First Lady whose husband, Bill Clinton was a household name who had run the Federal Government for eight years between 1992 and 2000. However Obama’s audacity of hope mesmerized the Democrats’ old order and surprisingly got endorsements from the likes of the late Ted Kennedy who likened him to his charismatic brother, JF Kennedy who was assassinated while barely in his third year of his first term in office. Obama’s blackness and obvious roots in Kenya made him a soft target for racial attacks. At that point, especially after winning his first primaries against Hilary Clinton, attacks and attempts on his life intensified making him the most highly guarded head of state in history. Compared to China with a massive population of 1.5 billion people, the USA doesn’t come close with a paltry 300 million across its 50 odd states. Therefore in terms of human resource and consumer base, China is five times stronger than the United States. However, over the years, the United States has invested heavily in technology, especially defense military hardware. The advancement has been so massive that its military can today deploy unmanned jet fighters to hit targets thousands of miles away. Despite this scientific advancement, the American politics we saw in 2008 and 2012 has been local and basic to say the least. Bigotry, racism and class discrimination have not been banished from the shores of the great America. There is still inherent fear of “foreigners” they call immigrants coming over to take over their country. The most affected and terrified by this imaginary fear are the white American populations who see African Americans, Hispanics, Mexicans and the rest of the Third World flocking in to their shores for new opportunities. Much as the main candidates tried to stick to issues of the economy, debt reduction, job creation and universal healthcare, some simple minded Americans could still preoccupy themselves with partisan politics, where Barack Obama was born and if indeed he was an American! Why did these birthers preoccupy themselves with where Obama was born? One can only deduce that this angle of debate was brought in to undermine Obama’s credibility as an American. Had the larger electorate bought the lie, Obama would have come across as a conman masquerading as an American when in fact he was of another country Yet, a little history of the United States is very clear that the Great America was never a white man’s land in the first. The indigenous Red Indians were massacred or rounded up to give way to the mostly European settlers from England, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Spain and of course African slaves that the same superpowers of the time forcefully exported to the Americas to work the plantation fields. Over the years, Chinese, Japanese and many nationals of South East Asia and the Middle East have joined in the fray to settle in this land of opportunities. Indeed America has more than ever before become a melting pot. And if this trend continues uninterrupted, White Americans will soon be the minority in that land of opportunities. Now that the American elections are over, the world attention will definitely turn to Kenya not because Kenya is another super power in the same league as the United States of America. There are several reasons why the world will turn its attention on Kenya. First it is ther birthplace of the father of Barack Obama the current USA President. Secondly, the American president has made it quite clear that some serious reforms should take place in the land of his father. These changes are in the area of good governance, respect for human rights and better management of Kenya’s economic resources. During the 2007 elections, Kenyan shot in the limelight all for wrong reasons. Presidential elections were disputed culminating in one of the bloodiest conflicts in Kenya’s history. At the end of it all, the international community intervened to stop the carnage. Being the launching pad in dealing with conflicts in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region; being the third largest UN host country outside New York and Geneva, the world has invested so heavily in Kenya that it cannot afford to see Kenya go up in flames again. For these reasons, Kenya is the next big election to watch after the USA. The world must make sure Kenya gets it right despite the signs that all is not well with our politics. jerryokungu@gmail.com

Saturday, November 3, 2012

IS THE KENYAN JUDICIARY DERAILING ITS OWN REFORMS?

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Justices Riaga Omolo, Bosire, Okubasu among those the Vetting Board found unfit but appealed against removal By Jerry Okungu Nairobi, Kenya October 31, 2012 For the second time in less than a month, Kenya’s Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board has addressed a public press conference in protest against the same judges they are supposed to vet. Apparently these judges of the High Court seem to think they have jurisdiction over the Board’s decisions, something that the drafters of Kenya’s new constitution did not envisage. The drafters made sure the Board was protected from any litigations in the courts. First, it was a three bench court that sat to suspend the operations of the Board for two weeks pending another court of appeal case. Incidentally, one of the judges that made that ruling already had a date with the same Board. He was due for vetting. That act so incensed the Board that at one time it considered disobeying that order. They never went that far. This time round, four Court of Appeal Judges that the Board had sent home having been found to be unfit to sit on the higher court took the matter to the High Court to challenge the Board’s verdict. Thanks to the procrastination of President Kibaki who should have degazetted them three months ago; these same judges got a reprieve from the High Court. Now they have to remain in the judiciary and possibly be assigned duties until their appeal is heard and determined. Now that the High Court has set a precedent that indeed the Vetting Board can send you home and you can still come back and drag the Board endless through endless litigations as you continue to enjoy your salaries and packs, one must question the wisdom of vetting judges and magistrates in the first place. Yet, the much needed judicial reforms that Kenyan yearned for that made them overwhelmingly pass the referendum was precisely this; to rid the courts of dead wood and incorrigibly corrupt judges. Before the new constitution gave Kenyans a new Chief Justice and a Supreme Court, the joke in the corridors of justice was; why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge? This standoff has incensed many stakeholders not just in the constitution implementation commissions but has equally annoyed the Law Society of Kenya and the Judicial Service Commission in equal measure. And it is an open secret that the Vetting Board is preparing to challenge the latest court ruling in the highest court in the land to settle this unnecessary irritation once and for all. Among the eminent lawyers in the Board, one foreign expert from Zambia has protested loudly that he was hired from retirement for a job that was supposed to end on October 25 2012. And being a retiree, he is not ready to continue working without any firm deadline as he insists he wants to go back home and enjoy his retirement. To date Chief Justice Mutunga and his Supreme Court together with the Judicial Commission have done a commendable job. Indeed reforms have been going on well. Blatant corruption has considerably gone down. The judiciary is today more transparent than ever before. Backlog cases are being tackled with considerable speed. More importantly, judges and magistrates now know that the public is watching them and can report them to the CJ any time. However, one would be foolish to look at this reform sabotage in the judiciary in isolation. We have in the recent past seen instances where either the Executive or Parliament has tried to short-circuit reforms. We have had instances when the Presidency has tried to appoint top government officials without going through the due process as stipulated in the constitution. A case in point was when the President purported to have pointed the Chief Justice, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions without consulting his Prime Minister or getting the appointees vetted by Parliamentary organs. However, due to the public outcry, the three appointments were rescinded. Another Executive attempt to circumvent the constitution was when the President again appointed 47 County commissioners to the newly created counties that had not been set up. However, since the constitution had no provisions for county commissioners, civilians went to court and got the appointments nullified. But, instead of commissioners vacating their offices, a permanent secretary in charge provincial administration defied the court order and asked the “commissioners” to stay put. Even the legal advice from the country’s Attorney General did not move the Executive. In this clamour to water down the letter and spirit of the constitution, Parliament has not been left behind. When it comes to harmonizing their salaries, MPs have defied both the taxman and the commission that the constitution set up to harmonize all public officers’ salaries and remuneration. Parliament has equally watered down bills that deal with integrity, ethics and morality. MPs don’t want to be vetted as per the constitution. They have equally repealed huge sections of the law in the Political Parties Act. Now Kenyans must rely on the Supreme Court to guide through these teething stages of transition. If it fails, Kenyans will quickly revert to the bad old ways that gave birth to the new constitution. jerryokungu@gmail.com

THE MURDER OF ODM CHAIRMAN, AN INDICTMENT ON THE SECURITY SITUATION IN KISUMU

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SHEM ONYANGO KWEGA LYING FATALLY WOUNDED IN HIS CAR By Jerry Okungu Nairobi, Kenya October 31, 2012 In one short week, three murders of no ordinary men have taken place in Kisumu. One, a medical researcher with the American Center for Disease Control, followed shortly by the brutal murder in broad daylight of my long time friend Shem Onyango Kwega. However, while the city was still mourning the deaths of Dr. Odhiambo and Aircraft Engineer Shem Onyango, another murder of a prominent businessman took place in Mambo Leo in the outskirts of Kisumu! The police in Kisumu may find it easy to dismiss these murders as pure robbery with no political connections however, if they are serious law enforcement officers, they may need to see the connection- the frequency, timing and location. Odhiambo was murdered in his house in Tom Mboya Estate one evening just a few days before that of Eng. Shem Onyango. Incidentally, Shem has his petrol business next to Tom Mboya Estate. The third murder took place just down the road past Kondele in Mambo Leo area. All these three people were men of means. As for Shem, they took off with cool 1.2m in cash. This trend; this sudden murderous thuggery is strange to the Lakeside City. Yes, we have had our share of crimes but they have been of a petty nature. Most of the residents of Kisumu have no culture of murdering people in cold blood. This type of violence is foreign to Kisumu. The more reason the provincial police department, if it is keen on apprehending these criminals, it shouldn’t take them long. As these murders are taking place, we cannot turn a blind eye to the political campaigns taking place all over the country. Strangely enough, crime has suddenly surged in Nyanza, Coast, Tana Delta and North Eastern regions. Suddenly the usual hotspots such as Molo, Elburgon, Burnt Forest, Eldoret and volatile borders between Kisiis and Maasais are quiet. The National Security Intelligence Service, the custodians of information about security situation in Kenya should explain to Kenyans what this new pattern is all about. And as political players, more so those campaigning for governor, senator, MP and representatives go about their campaigns, security for the residents of the county should be top on their priority list now that these criminals have claimed one of ODM’s prominent leaders in the county. At a personal level, I have fond memories of Eng. Shem Onyango ever since I first met him nearly four decades ago. At that time, we were just coming out of the university but Shem and his fellow airmen were already established socialites of the Nairobi City. In his company were the late Joash Onyango Oyugi and Abil Okello Jua Cool, the three of them being what were then called Flight Engineers of the East African Airways and later to be absorbed into the Kenya Airways when the East African Community collapsed. One other thing, they were all graduates of the then prestigious East African School of Aviation in Soroti, Uganda. The y used to hang out with three equally flamboyant pilots- the late Steve Rapuoda, Joe Opere and Jim Ouma who all went on to become Chief Pilots of Kenya Airways in the 1990s. There was something about this group; for their age and in our opinion just coming out of college, these young professionals were all bachelors but had tons of cash to spare. This means that they were the most sought after singles by members of the opposite sex. And for some reason, they were humble, unassuming and generous to a fault. It never went into their head that they had money and a sizeable following. Strangely enough, jobless as we were, they took us in, entertained us and made us feel like their kinsmen. Soon after the breakup of the East African Community, Shem did not work long. He took an early retirement and came from Nairobi to set up base in Kisumu. And it would appear that the bug of the transport industry had bitten him. Instead of being an airman, he took to the ground transport with zeal. Very soon sleek Kwega buses were plying Nairobi Kisumu highway with gusto. However, the madness of our roads, bad roads and expensive spare parts for his fleet put paid to his transport business. Onyango Kwega was to settle in the oil business at his Kwega Petrol station where he set up a superb mini auto garage that he supervised with rare attention. The more he settled in Kisumu, the more he started cultivating interest in local politics. And for the last 20 years, he has contested every election for the Kisumu West seat ever since the advent of multiparty politics. And much as the people of Kisumu loved him, he always found himself in the wrong party especially during the Moi regime. Being a long time KANU representative in Kisumu, he lost every election to Ford Kenya, Narc and ODM. At the time of his death, he was on the road to an elective post in Kenya’s parliament considering that during the ODM party elections; he trounced all his opponents and emerged Kisumu East ODM Chairman. For those of us who knew Shem, we will dearly miss his humour and humility as we wait for the police to find and punish his killers. jerryokungu@gmail.com