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MUCHERU: Pooling resources to meet needs of film sector

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By JOE MUCHERU
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I love watching movies, particularly those with unpredictable twists. Beyond my fascination with movie plots and characters, I muse over what it takes to produce a good film.

Nairobi was once abuzz with movie theatres but most of them have either closed down or have been repurposed into houses of worship — not that I have anything against soul harvesting.

The obsolescence of movie theatres in Kenya is a stark reminder of how technology has revolutionised mass-entertainment along with other major industries. It is encouraging, however, that a new breed of state-of-the-art movie theatres is springing up in strategic locations to appeal to Kenya’s rising middle class.

Of greater interest still is that a majority of the films and movies screened locally are mostly from established movie spinners such as Hollywood and Bollywood. Occasionally, local productions are screened, and I was delighted to attend the premiere of Subira, which was crowned as the Best Feature Film at the Kalasha Awards 2018.

The talent and quality displayed through this production are impressive. Sadly, our productions barely command the cult following that is enjoyed by box office productions such as super hero film Black Panther. The fact that our very own Lupita Nyong’o starred in the film was a bonus to Kenya.

With all our expertise, talent and crew base, it is of concern that our local productions do not resonate locally and even globally. The dismal patronage of movie theatres threatens the sustainability of the film industry as producers are unable to recoup their investments through box office sales and actors cannot string together a decent income.

A good number of local producers are now caught between trying to produce flicks similar in theme as the Western blockbusters, but without budgets, production technology and equipment to back the pieces they make. This has led to increased deculturisation and westernisation in our society.

The economic value of the film industry in Kenya is yet to be properly understood and this, therefore, limits investment into the sector. Advanced film markets such as the USA, China and India and recently Nigeria employ deliberate strategies to support their film sectors. For example, China has set quotas on the number of foreign films that can be screened in the theatres in the country.

To penetrate wider markets including Africa, players from these film-developed countries leverage the internet and mobile telephone to distribute their content as exemplified by over the top operators (OTTs) such as Netflix and YouTube. Disney is also set to launch its streaming service. This, backed with major investments in dubbing studios, theatre and movie halls, guarantees that returns on the films produced in these markets are higher.

In Kenya, broadcasters will ultimately be required to air 60 per cent local content. However, most stations struggle to sustain the current 40 per cent threshold because they are unable to attract or sustain advertisement revenue, which is determined by viewership. These broadcasters, together with distributors and broadcasters, can draw lessons from the OTTs. To penetrate new and broader markets, the OTTs leverage local insights to produce content that is relevant for a specific market. Netflix, for example, will soon premiere Queen Sono, an African themed female-led spy series set in South Africa. This strategy, which they have applied before in markets like India and wider Asia, are meant to rump up viewership numbers in the specific markets.

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OTTs previously subsisted on content from other production houses but are now developing their content to reduce their dependence on others. All this points to the fact that besides just movie productions, we can invest and make significant returns in the film sub-sectors such as prop production.

The Kenya Film Commission (KFC), Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC) and the Kenya Film School (KFS) will have to pool resources and efforts to address the needs of the film sector.

We need to have investments in film studios and sound stages that can appeal to both local and international movie makers. The government is also looking into putting in place attractive incentives to entice international movie producers to film on location and spur a positive ripple effect for the local communities and boost the tourism sector.

The World Intellectual Property Organisation recognises that digital technology has revolutionised production and distribution of music and movies and that revenue generated to access entertainment content has decreased in most parts of the world.

The local copyright and intellectual property laws, therefore, need to be harmonised with international laws. The sector players have also called for the conclusion of the film policy so that it can be the overarching reference for film production. The levies charged for filming in various counties also need to be renegotiated to avoid double taxation.

The fragmented African market stifles growth in the entertainment sector, but potentials exist through the Smart Africa initiative, under which Kenya is responsible for driving the digital economy. Co-production opportunities should be explored in these markets and producers should not shy away from looking East to tap into China’s 1.2 billion market.

The government seeks to establish a revolving film fund accessible to filmmakers for productions. In collaboration with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the Ministry of ICT will also develop effective tools and mechanisms to aggregate data and analyse the value of the different verticals within the entertainment sector to influence investment decisions.

With a median age of 19 years, Kenya’s film sector has a huge potential to generate youth-centric job opportunities.

And just like the US and China have done, we can and must produce movies that portray our values, foster our patriotism, enhance cohesion and also validate the industry players who work tirelessly to entertain us. We need to advocate congenial and collective screen-time opportunities at movie theatres across the 47 counties. In the words of Walt Disney, “movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood.”

Mr Mucheru is CS, Ministry of ICT.



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Atheists dismiss census data, say they have1.5m members

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NICHOLAS KOMU

By NICHOLAS KOMU
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Atheists have rejected census data showing that 700,000 Kenyans do not believe in deity insisting they are twice as many.

Following the release of detailed census data, Atheists In Kenya (AIK) now claims that the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) deliberately failed to count atheists and the actual number of non-religious Kenyans is 1.5 million.

According to the detailed report on the Kenyan population based on their religious beliefs, 755,750 Kenyans do not believe in any religion. That is about 1.6 per cent of the total Kenyan population.

Kilifi County leads in the number of nonbelievers with 146,669, more than double the number of atheists in Nakuru which stands at 67,640.

Nairobi has the third highest atheist population with 54,841 followed by Narok (45,617), Kiambu (30770), Kitui (23,778), Meru (20,985) and Mombasa (11,148).

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However, AIK now insists that the data is inaccurate and that KNBS enumerators deliberately failed tally atheists during the 2019 census.

“We find these statistics to be grossly inaccurate and not fit for purpose. We contend that we have well over 1.5 million atheists in Kenya, and the number is growing steadily. An independent survey of our members has revealed that some KNBS employees deliberately skipped asking whether one is an atheist during the 2019 census. We have evidence that many atheists were undercounted and miscounted,” AIK said in a statement on Saturday.

The statement dated February 23 was signed by the group’s President Harrison Mumia and recently elected Assistant Secretary Kio Kinuthia, questioned the statistics bureau credibility in the 2019 census. Now the atheists’ society is questioning the entire census data, terming it as inaccurate.

According to the 2009 population census report released by the same institution, the number of Kenyans who said that they were not affiliated to any religion was said to be 922,128.

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We find it odd that the 2019 census report indicates that the number of atheists has declined by almost 200,000 in a span of 10 years, yet the population of Kenyans has increased by 10 million over the same period. This undermines the accuracy of not just the atheist data, but the entire KNBS 2019 census report,” AIK said.

While Christianity and Islam are the predominant religions in Kenya, atheism has been attracting quite a following in the past few years.

This has, however, been a tough rise in popularity for the movement under the leadership of Mr Mumia, an Information Technology specialist.

AIK was registered on February 17, 2016 but, just two months later, it was suspended by Registrar of Societies.

The final census report shows there are 15,777,473 Protestants in Kenya, the majority religious group.

Catholics are 9,726,169 in total while 9,648,690 people attend evangelical churches.

About 3,292,573 go to African Instituted Churches, Orthodox (201,263) and other Christian (1,732,911).

Islam has a following of 5,152,194, while Hindu has 60,287. About 318,727 Kenyans are traditionalists.

Atheists in Kenya now wants a review of the census data by KNBS.

“We reject the figure of 755,750 atheists reported by the KNBS 2019 census report. We call for an independent review of how the KNBS collects, analyses, and reports census data,” the society leadership said.

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Israel readies for third election in less than a year » Capital News

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Polls suggest the parties of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz will both fail to secure a majority in parliament © AFP/File / JACK GUEZ

, Jerusalem, ZZZ, Feb 23 – Israel is bracing for an unprecedented third election in under a year, with voters eyeing an end to the deadlock but polls indicating another tight race despite criminal charges against the prime minister.

Two previous votes in April and September last year failed to produce a clear winner between right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger Benny Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White party.

Ballot-weary Israelis have shown limited enthusiasm ahead of the March 2 election, with some grudgingly accepting the possibility of a fourth run before the year ends.

But there have been significant developments since Israelis last went to the polls.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving premier, has become the first to be indicted while in office.

Profile of Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. © AFP

Charges unveiled in November and filed in court last month accuse him of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

The prime minister denies wrongdoing in the case that involves multiple alleged offences.

The most serious allegation is that Netanyahu offered mogul Shaul Elovitch regulatory changes worth millions of dollars to his telecoms giant Bezeq in exchange for positive coverage on Elovitch’s Walla! news website.

The trial starts on March 17.

– Trump bump? –

Since the last election, US President Donald Trump has unveiled his controversial plan to end the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump’s terms have been rejected by the Palestinians as a capitulation to Israeli objectives.

Netanyahu, who was standing next to Trump at the White House as the initiative was announced last month, cheered it as an “historic” opportunity for the Jewish state.

He has also portrayed the deal as a product of his personal bond with Trump that can only be implemented if he is re-elected prime minister.

But neither the criminal indictments, nor the pro-Israel Trump initiative have moved the polls.

Recent surveys indicate that Netanyahu’s Likud party and Blue and White will both fall short of the 61 seats required for a majority in parliament, the Knesset.

Netanyahu’s main challenger Benny Gantz is a former military chief who argues that the premier’s legal woes will distract him from governing  © AFP/File / JACK GUEZ

Status quo in the polls could be good news for the prime minister, said Gideon Rahat, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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“He is not attracting more voters, but he is not losing voters either,” despite the indictments, Rahat told AFP.

Gantz, a former military chief, has sought to convince Israelis that the prime minister’s legal woes will distract him from governing.

“Netanyahu is going to court… he won’t be able to look after the needs of Israeli citizens,” he said this week.

Meanwhile, Israeli prosecutors are probing whether a cyber-security firm formerly chaired by Gantz, Fifth Dimension, inappropriately received public funds.

But the attorney general has confirmed that Gantz is not personally implicated in the investigation.

– Last minute pitches –

Netanyahu has, ahead of past elections, been accused of making last-minute campaign pledges as a play for vital nationalist, right-wing support.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post on Friday, he repeated his warning that Gantz cannot form a government without support from the mainly Arab Joint List, and its leader Ahmad Tibi.

Netanyahu announced thousands of new settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem, less than two weeks before the election © AFP/File / AHMAD GHARABLI

Joint List won a surprising 13 seats in the last election, making it the third-largest bloc in parliament.

“If Likud doesn’t win, there will be either a fourth election or a left-wing government headed by Gantz and dependent on Ahmad Tibi and the Joint List,” Netanyahu told the paper.

The prime minister this week also announced thousands of new Jewish settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem, construction projects considered illegal by most of the international community.

Palestinian leaders blasted the settlement announcement as a blatant play by Netanyahu to energise his right-wing base.

Facing static polls, both leading parties have grown increasingly concerned about turnout, Rahat said.

“Anywhere else in the world, when you have three elections really close together you would see declining turnout” due to voter apathy, he said.

But turnout ticked up marginally in September compared with April.

“In Israel, you never know,” Rahat said.


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Experts: A strange random call could be cybercrime attempt

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DANIEL OGETTA

By DANIEL OGETTA
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If you woke up to several unattended calls from an unknown number, what would you do? Call back? Text? Ignore? Contact your service provider?

The fashion in which the calls come in – one-ring then drop, and with the several missed calls – creates an air of urgency about it which you have to wonder how the caller got your contact.

The urge to call back a missed call becomes irresistible. Especially when they are numerous missed calls from a strange international caller. However, to some, it makes more sense to call their service provider.

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, when most people’s minds were tuned to the rhythm of love, random international callers with +243 prefixes contacted several Kenyan Safaricom subscribers, taking psychological advantage of the moment of affection.

Alan Mwenda, one of those contacted, reached out to Safaricom – the service provider, but he was advised to “share such numbers on SMS to 333 (free) for investigation and look up the “One Ring Scam.”  However, the telco is yet to share their stance.

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But, what really was happening? How potential is this type of cyber security threat? Who exactly are these callers?

One ring and drop nature of the calls has been dubbed ‘Wangiri’ by America’s Federal Communications Commission report that derived it from the calls’ characteristic nature of calling and hanging up immediately, leaving a missed call notification from an international caller.

Mr Fred Wahome, vice chair of Kenya Cybersecurity and Forensic Association and an information security expert explains: “The calls are computer generated. It takes one to have an algorithm that can generate random numbers with their target telco’s prefix, say, between 070 and 079 as the instance with Safaricom, then the computer makes random calls to the unsuspecting subscribers.”

He adds, “The goal is not always to make you answer the call. It is persuading you to call back.”

Calling the fraudster would activate the exorbitant charges which then generates cash to the fraudsters. The best way to deal with such, according to him, is to ignore the allure of returning the call.

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Service providers, he says, are mostly not able to track down these numbers as call data records may not have recorded them, because the computer generated algorithms make massive calls simultaneously to their subscribers.

When the victim calls back, then that would be considered as cyber fraud.

Dr Bright Mawudor, a cybersecurity expert at Internet Solutions Kenya says that the number, if at all not an algorithm, could be calling from anywhere in the world and not necessarily from Kinshasa.”

The ‘international caller’, he explains, could have purported to be calling from Kinshasa. “It could even have come from right here in Kenya. They usually change the phone dialing proxies to fool target user accounts, and make their attack plans easier to execute,” he expounds.

Vodafone, a global mobile communications provider, operating in 26 countries advises subscribers not to return international calls that they don’t recognise.

When befell by the same fate, the report also prescribes various means to ensure that would be employed to minimalise chances of the getting scammed.

Users must check out for the identity of the caller before receiving any call, even international, dismiss the temptation to answer or call back missed calls from unusual international numbers.

“You should ask your service provider to block incoming international calls on your line after any suspected attempt to breach your phone security.”

In 2017, Kenya’s digital economy lost Sh21.1 billion to cybercrime, which increased by 39.8 per cent in 2018 to Sh29.5 billion according to pan-African based cyber-security and business consultancy Serianu.

Heavy finances have been invested in cyber security infrastructure, but the menace keeps chopping off millions of shillings from companies’ profits, and stealing sensitive data from targeted senior employees.

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