KENYA – Village uses Twitter as tool for improving life

Chief Francis Kariuki, left, is shown a gap in a fence that thieves escaped through, by village elder Peter Ndungu, right, in the village of Lanet Umoja, Kenya.

LANET UMOJA – When [Francis Kariuki], the administrative chief of this western Kenyan village received an urgent 4 a.m. call that thieves were invading a school teacher’s home, he sent a message on Twitter. Within minutes residents in this village of stone houses gathered outside the home, and the thugs fled.

“My wife and I were terrified,” said teacher Michael Kimotho. “But the alarm raised by the chief helped.”

The tweet from Francis Kariuki was only his latest attempt to improve village life by using the micro-blogging site Twitter. Kariuki regularly sends out tweets about missing children and farm animals, showing that the power of social media has reached even into a dusty African village. Lanet Umoja is 100 miles west of the capital, Nairobi.

“There is a brown and white sheep which has gone missing with a nylon rope around its neck and it belongs to Mwangi’s father,” he tweeted recently in the Swahili language. The sheep was soon recovered.

Kariuki said that even the thieves in his village follow him on Twitter. Earlier this year, he tweeted about the theft of a cow, and later the cow was found abandoned, tied to a pole.

Kariuki’s official Twitter page shows 300 followers, but the former teacher estimated that thousands of the 28,000 residents in his area receive the messages he sends out directly and indirectly. He said many of his constituents, mostly subsistence farmers, cannot afford to buy smart phones, but can access tweets through a third-party mobile phone application. Others forward the tweets via text message.

“Twitter has helped save time and money. I no longer have to write letters or print posters which take time to distribute and are expensive,” Kariuki said. …

When a man in his late fifties in Kariuki’s village fell into a pit latrine in December, the village administrator’s tweets mobilized area residents and saved him. …

Kariuki, 47, said that he has been able to bring down the crime rate in Lanet Umoja from near-daily reports of break-ins to no such crimes in recent weeks. He also uses Twitter to send messages of hope, especially for the young and unemployed.

“Let’s be the kind of people that do good for others whether we get paid back or not, whether they say thank you or not,” one recent tweet said.

Kariuki said he intends to use Twitter to promote peace as Kenya prepares to hold another presidential election in the next year, it’s first since the 2007-08 postelection violence that killed more than 1,000 people in Kenya.

Kariuki said that when he was first appointed the administrative chief of Lanet Umoja he asked himself how he could tackle the region’s problems. First was solving the region’s poor communication infrastructure. He said he is currently setting guidelines to help him sift through the information he gets so that he does not send out incorrect tweets.

“Information is power, but information can also be destructive. What we are trying to minimize is destructive information,” Kariuki said.

 JAPAN – Panasonic presses stop on VCR sales

OSAKA – Panasonic has decided to halt domestic production of its VCR, in what is becoming a regular occurrence for Japanese electronics firms to stop selling outdated products.

Like the Walkman before it and the minidisc player, the VCR seems like an iconic relic in an age when movies are streamed over the internet and recording content on tapes or discs are about as outdated as fax machines.

But Panasonic said it stopped producing VCRs for the domestic market only at the end of last year. Once they run out of inventory, it will stop sales of VCRs in Japan entirely, the company was quoted as saying Monday.

Panasonic, however, still manufactures VCRs at factories in China and Slovakia. A spokesman said Panasonic will continue selling VCRs abroad based on market conditions.

Panasonic started selling VHS-tape VCRs in Japan in 1977 — one of the first Japanese manufacturers to introduce the product.

The first VHS-tape VCR was introduced by the Victor Company of Japan, a majority-owned subsidiary of Panasonic that has since merged with audiomaker Kenwood to form JVC Kenwood Holdings. A JVC Kenwood spokesman said the company stopped in-house production of VCRs in 2006 and it has since stopped selling VCRs entirely.

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, the VCR was a must-have home electronics appliance after a format-war between VHS and Sony’s Betamax swung in favor of the VHS tapes. Moreover, it helped to create a new, lucrative business for movie studios and opened the door for an industry of video-rental shops.

Panasonic declined to disclose its VCR sales. However, in a sign of the VCR’s diminished stature, the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association does not even track domestic shipments, while it does keep data on similarly outdated offerings such as “car cassette stereos.”

While DVDs replaced VHS tapes as the video media of choice in the early 2000s, VHS tapes still clutter many a home across the world.

SWITZERLAND – Scientists launch “janitor satellite” to clean up space junk

CleanSpace One chasing its target. Image released Feb. 15, 2012.

GENEVA – Swiss scientists said Wednesday they plan to launch a “janitor satellite” specially designed to get rid of orbiting debris known as space junk.

The $11-million satellite called CleanSpace One – the prototype for a family of such satellites – is being built by the Swiss Space Center at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne, or EPFL.

EPFL said Wednesday its launch would come within three to five years and its first tasks are to grab two Swiss satellites launched in 2009 and 2010.

The U.S. space agency NASA says over 500,000 pieces of spent rocket stages, broken satellites and other debris are being tracked as they orbit Earth.

The debris travels at speeds approaching 17,500 miles per hour, fast enough to destroy or inflict costly and time-draining damage on a satellite or spacecraft. Collisions, in turn, generate more fragments floating in space.  “It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation,” said Claude Nicollier, an astronaut and EPFL professor.

Building the satellite means developing new technology to address three big problems, scientists say.

The first hurdle has to do with trajectory: The satellite has to be able to adjust its path to match that of its target. EPFL said its labs are looking into a new ultra-compact motor that can do this.

Next, the satellite has to be able to grab hold of and stabilize the debris at high speeds. Scientists are studying how plants and animals grip things as a model for what would be used.

And, finally, CleanSpace One has to be able to take the debris, or unwanted satellites, back into Earth’s atmosphere, where they will burn on re-entry.

Swiss Space Center’s director, Volker Gass, said it hopes to someday “offer and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites.”

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at on Feb. 15th and on Feb. 13th.)


1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) location/the countries that share its borders
b) the religious breakdown of the population
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to for maps and a list of continents.]

NOTE: Before answering the questions below, read the info under “Background.”

2. For KENYA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What is subsistence farming?
c) How do farmers who can’t afford to buy smart phones get tweets from the administrative chief of Lanet Umoja?

3. For JAPAN:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Panasonic still manufactures VCRs at factories in China and Slovakia.  How will the company determine when to end overseas VCR sales?

a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) How many pieces of space junk is NASA tracking?
c) Why is there a concern over space junk?



  • A recent report said that Twitter is enjoying big growth across Africa. It said South Africans use Twitter the most, but Kenya is second in usage on the continent.
  • The research by Kenya-based Portland Communications and Tweetminster found that over the last three months of 2011, Kenyans produced nearly 2.5 million tweets. More than 80 percent of those polled in that research said they mainly used Twitter for communicating with friends, 68 percent said they use it to monitor news.
  • Beatrice Karanja, the head of Portland Nairobi, said the findings show that the use of Twitter is part of a revolution for governments that want to open dialogue with their citizens and businesses that want to talk with their consumers.
  • Erik Hersman, a co-founder of internationally acclaimed Ushahidi, a nonprofit technology company, said Kariuki’s use of Twitter is a great example of how Kenyans in even the most remote areas can embrace social media.
  • “If a chief in upcountry Kenya is able to use and have an impact with his constituents by using tools like Twitter, it’s not too long before we see a massive movement in the country with these types of social media,” he said. (from the article:


JAPAN:  Watch a video on how to work a VCR :)

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