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November 26 - The "tweeting chief"Francis Kariuki won the Champions' Award at the Kenya Open Data event in Nairobi. Photo: Roseleen Nzioka/ANA

Kenyan village chief wins open data award for innovative use of twitter

An administrative chief from Nakuru County Francis Kariuki has added another trophy to his growing collection after he won an award for innovative use of social media to run his village.

Kariuki, who is popularly known as the “tweeting chief”, clinched the Champions’ Award at the Kenya Open Data Initiative awards ceremony at a gala dinner in Nairobi on Friday night.

Speaking to African News Agency, Kariuki said he had a following of 60,000 people on twitter from all over the world.

“I can avert a crime in my locality with just one tweet. What happens is that someone sends me a message that, for example, a crime is happening somewhere and I in turn tweet the same information. It is received by all 60,000 of my followers. Within no time, people take action and the situation is arrested,” he said.

Making fun of the method he chose to run his assigned village, Kariuki said: “Even thieves follow me on twitter. So when they see that I have foiled their plans they abandon their ways and find other work.”

Crime levels had decreased in his locality since the inception of the tweeting platform in 2011. Other benefits that the villagers had enjoyed from the tweeting chief included recovery of lost children, stolen livestock and cars, and marketing of agricultural produce from farmers in the village.

The villagers of Lanet Umoja in Nakuru County also have the tweeting chief to thank for a donation of water filters from the US, which had ensured that they drink purified water and avoid the outbreak of waterborne diseases, which was frequent in the past.

“In a population of about 50,000 villagers, about two thirds of them are under 35 years and those at the employment age normally receive tweets about job opportunities. I also send them motivational quotes to uplift their spirits,” Kariuki told ANA.

Although he had received other awards, this one from the government was special because it showed the government’s appreciation for the use of digital media and open data for governance.

“Data has to be open for it to be transformative,” Kariuki said. The tweeting chief rose to fame globally for his use of social media to fight crime and has been invited to many countries over the years to give talks about his innovative use of twitter for governance.

He graduated in August from Mt Kenya University with a bachelor’s degree in counseling and psychology, which he acquired through virtual learning.

Twitter is an online news and social networking service where users post and read short 140-character messages called tweets. Registered users can post and read tweets, but those who are unregistered can only read them.

Kariuki recognises that not all his villagers can afford internet charges and so they use the SMS version of twitter with two different codes assigned by the two leading Telcos in Kenya, namely Safaricom and Airtel, making the service accessible free of charge.

Speaking at the gala dinner, Robert Mugo, acting CEO of the ICT authority, said a rise in demand for evidence-based information in policy decision making processes was a key driver of traffic to the government’s open data portal. The platform was hailed for improved transparency and accountability in public service provision at national and county governments, he said.

“Increase in uptake of open data is facilitating data driven decision making, championing for increased transparency and accountability in government. Similarly it is also creating excellent innovations and use of open data as a tool to enable journalists to tell complex stories through engaging info graphics,” said Mugo.

A total of 48 government agencies and 34 county governments are contributing data to the portal.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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