Kweli Sukari ya Tana ni Tamu?

In reference to this story on the ongoing Tana River delta issue in Kenya (shared by Afromusing on FB earlier today), let me pls also forward you to this website & this excellent series of video clips on this pressing issue. The following video clip is part no. 3 out of 14 where Paul Matiku (Director of Nature Kenya) tells us something about the consequences of the proposed plantations in the Tana Delta:

Is Tana’s Sugar Really Sweet? – part 3 (Video by Adrian Seymour on Vimeo).

“Kweli Sukari ya Tana ni Tamu?” – Is Tana’s Sugar Really Sweet? – I guess we already know the answer to this rhetorical question…

Twestival, or why Twitter is the better alternative

Today is Twestival day and I am also attending the local gathering of Twitter users – which also happens to take place in my favourite pub here in Frankfurt (aptly named “the place to be“).

Twestival is a world-wide, almost simultaneous event (live streaming) and attendees are encouraged to donate some money to Charity Water, an NGO active in Ethiopia.

Somehow in a Prof. George Ayittey-way and having previously gained some experience on NGOs, the water business and having a different perspective (of an African/European intellectual) on it, I do of course feel a bit discomforted with such mass-donation events that a) promote water as a sexy (and innocent) cause and b) provide absolution to some Westeners who “want to do good”. Sorry, but sustainable approaches just don’t work that way. I would rather prefer institutional changes than the drilling of wells for areas on which we do not even have groundwater maps. But maybe that’s just me and my scepticism.

On the other hand, I somehow adore how they are making use of social media tools to mobilize the masses. Maybe this is what it takes to reach the masses. And this is also very cool:

FireShot Pro capture #84 - 'Twestival Tweet Meet Give ' - www charitywater org twestival
Tweet some facts” via Twitter.

I think we should also use this for ecological sanitation projects. Using social media to mobilize the masses. Kudos to CharityWater for this really smart approach!

One of the reaons for the success of Twitter and other micro-blogging services, I think, is also the lack of alternatives.

Yes. Even in 2009, there’s still no decent mobile blogging client except for Twitter & Co.

What I am looking for is an application designed for a smartphone that enables me to quickly post an update to my website, with annotated images, maybe also video content and the ability to edit all of this as well as moderate comments. All of the previously mentioned apps for Symbian S60 phones and plugins for installations just don’t do the job for me. And I don’t know about this on the iPhone. Is it any better? Would be a reason to switch phones.

So, even though Twitter is just a micro-blogging service with a limitation to 140 characters / message, it helps to serve the basic idea behind blogging: connecting people through conversations. And besides, with this character limit it is also compatible with another popular service: SMS.

I really like the idea of combining social media tools with the sector I am active in: sustainable sanitation.? Maybe that’s just the way forward for me.

Sustainable Sanitation Alliance & Akvo & Web2forDev

I’ll be in Stockholm over the weekend to attend the 3rd meeting of the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (@ Stockholm Environment Institute, SEI). Plans actually included to attend the upcoming World Water Week in Stockholm and, more importantly, having a few interesting conversations during those evening sessions, but…[still searching for an excuse to explain why my Boss wants me to be back in the office by monday – although she’s the one staying in Stockholm for the rest of the week…argh…now let’s see how good Ryanair actually is – just rescheduled my return flight to Aug 13th.. :-)].

Nways. If you’re interested in water and sanitation issues – and I hope you are, as we’ll have the International Year of Sanitation declared by the UN for 2008 – pls have a look at, their blog and akvopedia. The latter being an OPEN wiki for the international water community. Thomas and his team are already working hard to present AKVO to the international community on the World Water Week, they are looking for some further funding of the project and hoping to raise some awareness for such an internet platform on water and sanitation issues (the website shall, at a later stage, also include a microcredit part we’ve already seen with Oh, and btw: akvo is the Esperanto word for “Water”.*

If they succeed in convincing some donors, such a website *could* become the leading resource for anything related to water and sanitation online. It could, as content contribution depends on everyone, and coming up with such a great website also means convincing many other stakeholders who still do not see the internet in a way we see it (~ as a huge resource of interesting information that should be made accessible, editable and exportable to a world wide audience 24/7/365). In other words: future generations, I believe, are already used to browsing the internet and filtering it for genuine information that is of use.
Hence there’s no need for further publications in paper format if instead we can come up with an interactive communication platform such as a single website where content is pulled together from different resources. This kind of knowledge management is also the same spirit that Chris and his team are trying to implement in the development sector and are hoping to promote through the upcoming Web2forDev conference in Rome, Italy, later on in September this year.

You see, until now, many aid / dev organisations just tossed out their knowledge onto the internet and thereby indirectly asked their readers to search for the required information on their own. In our case of ecological sanitation, a lady from India recently told me that it took her 5 months to find all the necessary information online which helped her starting her own project on building ecological latrines at a local school. Obviously, we can do better than that.

Back in 2005, when Erik and I joked about the Gadgetimoja term I often use on my blog, Erik suggested that we should come up with a website dedicated to African ingenuity. And he did. Within a short time, he had the blog up and running, and our dedicated team behind Afrigadget started contributing stories. Interested readers would send in their stories on toys, resourceful hardware modifications and thereby showing to the world wide audience that Africa isn’t just a dark continent, but instead a place where people started doing their own little projects (or as Prof Ayittey would correctly argue: loooong time before the colonialists came). After the website got boingboinged a few times, ppl started realizing that interesting stories do not only emerge from high-tech laboratories in SE Asia and the US.

Of course, the sceptics will argue that the internet isn’t everything and that you won’t be able to feed a hungry child or solve real world problems by IT only. However, I think and really believe that all these approaches on spreading knowledge on available technologies may in the end contribute to the bigger picture – which isn’t just an idealistic, often too altruistic approach on changing the world, but instead coming up with an organized internet resource which would pull in different feeds on a similar topic from various physical locations. Think of David Weinberger’s tagclouds, think of the Cluetrain communication approach, think of social bookmarking ? la delicious, the wide-spread use of Wiki’s to organize knowledge and events (!), internet publishing technologies that enable 13year old kids to come up with their own, user-generated content (~blogs, youtube, etc.) and you’ll get the idea.

Who knows – maybe one day we won’t see Google? providing us with “search results” only, but instead a complete page that will have pulled-in feeds from quality (!) resources (rated by their users) and give us a quick overview on a qualified repository of knowledge that is available online. At least, I wouldn’t want to search the net for 5 months only to find a good solution to a technical issue.

And you?

(* = someone from the akvo team told me they actually tried to secure a Kiswahili domain in the first place…huuu….which goes to show that my strategy from way back 1998 when I registered, & co actually wasn’t that stupid :-)

How to make…a water filter

Almost all supermarkets in Kenya sell bottled water, and many also sell special water filters with about 1-3 filter candles inside. These filters are available in different sizes, often made out of stainless steel and will cost about Ksh. 1800/= (~ US-$ 25,- // EUR 20,-). To filter the water, all you have to do is put a litre of it on the top container and wait for it to percolate through the ceramic filter element into the container below which of course takes some time.

I also wanted to have such a filter system to filter the tap water, but I wasn’t willing to invest so much money. Also, I’ve seen this alternative filter system in use at our office – so it became clear that I had to build my own and see that I don’t spend too much money on this DIY project. Many households all over the country use these water filter systems these days – which is good!


All you’ll need for the water filter are two containers with flat covers (so that they can be stacked), a ceramic water filter element and a sharp knife to drill the two holes. A tap should actually be fixed to the bottom of the bigger container to easily drain the filtered water, but isn’t needed per se for the functioning of this filter. I will add a tap within the next few days, though.


– two containers at different sizes @ Ksh. 99 and Ksh. 89 (~ EUR 1,- each)
– ceramic water filter element @ Ksh. 179 (~ EUR 2,-)
– a small tap @ Ksh. 90 (~ EUR 1,-)

…which sums up to about Ksh. 400 /= or EUR 4,40 / US-$ 5,60 …and considering that a litre of bottled water costs around Ksh. 40 /=, this filter element makes sense after the tenth litre of filtered water. After all, every litre that doesn’t come in a PET bottle is better, as it helps to preserve the environment.


1. take a sharp knife and drill a small hole at the bottom of the top container


2. screw the ceramic filter element through the hole and make sure the rubber washers are in place


3. drill a hole into the lid of the lower container


4. fix the lid to the top container & the filter element – make sure to really tighten the nut


5. et voil? – the finished water filter in use.

Our tap water here is a bit brownish – the other day I was refiiling my water heater and found a cockroach leg in the sieve. Also, this low budget filter should be used for harvested rain and borehole water only, as the filter doesn’t remove fine traces of chemical substances.

UPDATE: I’ve meanwhile fixed a small tap – which doesn’t work that well, though. Make sure to clean any new candle before fixing it for the first time.

UPDATE #2: Tom of Aid Workers Net advised me to include a disclaimer as someone “is just waiting to replicate the steps incorrectly, make themselves ill and blame you”. True! THX!!


UPDATE #3: There are of course different types of filtering candles. The one i used is rather cheap and only consists of ceramic and some silver lining inside, although of course of questionable quality. Hence the low price.
An alternative would be to buy bettter candles with higher filtering rates, an anticolloidal silver lining inside and activated carbon. However, such candles cost around Ksh. 1200/= (~ EUR 13,-) which is a bit too much. Also, good (plastic) taps as used on the buckets are expensive and hard to obtain in rural areas.

UPDATE #4: New filter candle + new tap!