I always thought it was a bit lame to use a column to go off on a rant about individual concerns with individual companies, so I was a bit unsure about last week's piece on KPLC.
But it got quite a bit of positive attention, lots of 'eurgh, yes, that' comments with similar complaints, retweets, and friends who emailed me and stopped me at Java.
But then again, KPLC isn't just a company. They are a monopolist, so there's hardly any way around them (Or so we think - not a pressure KPLC seem to perceive, as one commenter on my blog pointed out.
According to her, a KPLC representative had said on TV: 'Well, there are many forms of energy, gas, charcoal, paraffin, firewood, even darkness.')
My six-figure power bill saga wasn't over yet. I responded to a KPLC tweet inviting questions and comments by asking them to please look (again) into my bogus bill.
From that point onwards, KPLC very studiously ignored me on Twitter. And then I received a disconnection warning for my (bogus six-figure) arrears. You can imagine what that does for a middle-aged lady's blood pressure.
We eventually resolved the issue after many more rounds of shouting and visiting, and my office manager/chief pester officer yesterday got a phone call: 'Have just received a call from the CEO's office following up on the complaint of the overbilling for the above account.
He explained that they have rectified the matter. He also mentioned they are aware of the article you wrote in the Star on the weekend, if you have any more queries on the matter you can speak to him.' Well, that's nice.
What I found most intriguing in this interminable process: the many, many requests by call centre staff to come to their offices in person. From all of this, I can only conclude that KPLC has not really moved into an era in which modern communication technologies are embraced and used. Explain this to me:
If I call with a specific complaint, an account number, and a meter reading - by using the phone, you know - then why does someone still have to come in person? How does trudging to their offices with a piece of paper make any difference? (Well, it doesn't, because we did that several times and the six figures wouldn't go away, but you know what I mean).
Anyway. Where were we? Right, ICT! Infrastructure! I've read with interest some of the Konza City groundbreaking coverage this week and was struck by two things: first, the fact that much of the initial media coverage read like (enthusiastic) press releases, and second the resurgence of the expression 'Doubting Thomases'.
But something as complex, ambitious and expensive as this really deserves a far more thorough interrogation. So Konza: The overall concept has gone from an outsourcing hub to an ICT city to, from what I understand, a general tech city with other sectors thrown in, too: financial services, healthcare, research, manufacturing, also residential and conference facilities. It's all tech (just not at KPLC).
On the upside: Nobody doubts Dr Bitange Ndemo's commitment to seeing the ICT sector succeed. Nairobi is bursting at the seams. If Kenya's next election passes without exploding into a civil war, Kenya will see a lot of investment, including FDI, as it's a regional hub and the best location if you want to do EAC-wide business, the most diversified economy, and has the nascent oil/gas sector as an additional attraction.
On the downside: Konza is a massive, massive project. GoK hasn't been that good at implementing massive, complex projects (If Thika 'Superhighway' is the current height of achievement, that might not be quite on the same level of planning and implementing capacity as required by Konza.).
Part of it is lack of technical capacity, part of it is entrenched corruption. It's great to have great plans, but just look at one facet of it, the energy situation: Power is expensive and insufficient, and as our joint KPLC woes show, badly managed. That, for one, isn't a good starting point for such a massive undertaking.
I still don't grasp, for example, why we're not drowning in a glut of electricity, exporting it even, if you look at the efforts that private investors have made in solar and wind energy. Anything to do with vested interests in the fuel sector, perhaps?
And there's this: Bobby Varanasi, a strategic advisor to governments on the outsourcing industry, says that a 'tech park is an empty shell'. Corporates are attracted not by bricks, but by 'policy modernity, alignment of educational systems to present corporate realities, availability of labor (not just parading a sizeable unemployment ratio as readily available labor pool), recourse to law, protection of IP rights, leadership and knowledge of managing corporate entities handling global delivery environments et al.' All of this goes far beyond a construction site near Machakos.
Here's what I'm wondering: Maybe Konza will end up being something more moderate. Not towers of glass and steel, but a satellite town with larger corporate, taking some of Nairobi's overflow that pushing beyond Industrial Area and its business parks. Like Thika. Thoughts on a postcard!
Oh, can anyone remind me what happened to that Nairobi Metropolitan Ministry thingie?
PPS: I noted down some ideas for this column on Wednesday. It started raining at around 2pm. Ten minutes in, boom (literally - I heard the boom). Power gone.