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ISOC Kenya Chapter Chartered

May 2012

Chapter name and location: Internet Society Kenya Chapter

Date of founding:  9 May 2012

Founders: Mr. Barrack Otieno, Charles Oloo, Ms. Judy Okite and Elizabeth Orembo

What was the original impetus or inspiration for your chapter’s founding?

There have been alot issues issues regarding internet, policy, infrastructure, standards and many more that IT professionals and people in the civil society did not have a forum to engage or participate effectively.

Does your chapter have any notable members or former members you’d like to tell us about (for example, persons who have played a significant
role in the expansion of the Internet in your part of the world)?

Yes. The notable individuals are the late Professor Juma Okech and Shem Ochuodo through the African Regional Centre for Computing. ARCC provided dial-up connectivity via copper-wire telecom cables. If the wires were interfered with or cut along the line, then one got an automatic blackout until the wires were restored.  During this time, Internet was very expensive and only available to a privileged few and to corporate institutions. There were also mobile phones, although getting support for these was also hectic. One had to dial through an operator, so if he or she was busy you would have to wait in the queue. The computer systems were also unique in a way. The 80286 processor was slow and the software was mainly DOS, WP5.1, and Lotus 123. Using and exchanging the large 4.25” floppy disks was also a challenge. Very bulky and would get corrupted all the time.

The MSDOS operating system’s COMMAND.COM was very susceptible to virus infection as well as the AUTOEXEC.BAT files. My institution spent so much in fixing these problems and was encouraged to study computer maintenance. Afterwards I learned the tricks of only changing the infected files with healthy ones and the PC would “romp”. Then came Windows 3.11, etc., and the whole revolution to the current stage.

I had the opportunity to find out about ISOC while browsing, then became a member. I joined the Kenyan Chapter, which was agitating for recognition, and was lucky to have been selected to attend the Geneva Workshop. My main mission, apart from participating in the workshops and conferences was to follow up on the Kenya Chapter’s recognition. I met the ISOC leadership and was able to remove the obstacles that had hindered recognition. In May 2012 we got the Charter. This enables us to register the Society locally and provides the footing to engage with other stakeholders. Immediately after being chartered, we managed to get partnership with the UNESCO EA office to develop a Swahili WIKI platform We have also been given the mandate to host the national IGF and the EA IGF forums. Arrangements are ongoing and we intend to make a difference by bringing in many stakeholders to participate in the process.

There are very many initiatives that we are working on since ICT in Kenya is growing at tremendous speed, and we also out to catch up.

What challenges, if any, has your chapter faced in carrying out its mission and work?

Lack of structure and volunteers. We have had several meetings to set up structures to facilitate operations, but in vain. Some members don’t seem to like the process of decentralizing Chapter activities, hence newcomers are viewed as intruders into an elite company. This may be one of the reasons among others that delayed recognition for so many years. No wonder ISOC is not even known well and its participation in national issues is still very low. People talk about the mailing list, but this only reaches an elite few, locking out the majority of stakeholders.

Most members thought that there is good money—pay—for being an ISOC member. But after attending the workshop in Geneva, my understanding has changed. I caught the concept of engaging with other stakeholders and commercial enterprises. That’s why I am working on collaborative ventures, using ISOC as a brand to undertake various initiatives.

Apart from wrangling because of a lack of mechanisms for resolving issues, we have not managed to have a proper functioning office that would facilitate smooth running. The other issue is a lack of resources. We lack almost everything: finances, equipment, Internet, and even office space. The inability to meet and discuss regularly has compounded an already fragile situation. To date, I have personally volunteered almost 80% of my time, thanks to the understanding of my employer, to undertake ISOC work. I have, on many occasions, spent my finances as well, especially during the formative registration process that I had to follow up as well as opening of our Bank account. I also did the same during the WIKI implementation, since the budget we made was inadequate, and we had to honor the contract. To this I wish to mention the patience and understanding of Jaco Du Toit, Adviser for Communication & Information UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, who oversaw the project.

Has the nature of your chapter’s membership and/or focus changed since its formation? If so, how?

Yes. Membership has grown from 60 to 267 current members, although very few are active. This has been possible due to the various (though few) outreach initiative we have done. If we stabilize and undertake more outreach initiatives, the number could grow to even 10,000.

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