Predicting future and managing aftermath


My late mother never went to school, but she had wisdom. I used to celebrate whenever there were clouds in the hope of not going to the shamba, but she would tell me with an assertive voice, “that is not our rain, go pick tea”.

During planting season, she would watch the movement of cranes and instruct us to start planting. It used to puzzle me how she predicted future events by just using a few incidents.

After high school, I would exchange novels with girls from neighbouring Bogirango clan. Mom keenly watched this emerging relationship. She decided to tell me a story about Bogirango, where she herself had come from.

There, lived a witch whose witchery was passed onto daughters of her siblings and any man who touched any of the siblings in that lineage would himself become a carrier of the witchery and similarly would pass it onto all his lineage. She finished her story by pretending to remember if my new friends belonged to that lineage. By this time I had decided to never see the girls again.

Once again she had seen the future and decided to change the course of events in my life. I would simply have become a statistic of rural early marriages with a stunted future.


The import of my mother’s genius is that today with data we can predict virtually everything. A new field called predictive analytics has emerged. It involves a variety of techniques from statistics, modelling, machine learning, and data mining to analyse current and historical facts to make predictions about the future, or otherwise unknown events.

Practically all disasters are predictable, but the outcomes of such disasters vary according to how they are managed.

Most recently, we had Hurricane Sandy in the Americas and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Whilst both disasters recorded speeds of over 185 Km/h, the death rates were significantly different. Confirmed fatalities in Sandy were 287. It has been estimated that fatalities in Haiyan are anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000.

In the first place Haiyan should never have happened. Like most developing countries, Philippines is depleting its forest cover and heavily exposing itself to calamities such as Haiyan.

Kenya too is in the league of predictably environmentally vulnerable countries. From the floods of Budalangi, Tana River and Ahero, to the droughts of northern Kenya as well mudslides of Murang’a and Baringo we need to plan the management of these disaster prone areas.

We may never stop disasters or misfortunes from happening, but we must learn how to manage adverse outcomes. However, our culture is our greatest enemy.

For example, whenever there has been a bombing incident such as Westgate or accidents with combustible materials, Kenyans gather around to watch. The February 2009 Sachangwan accident bears testimony on this where 123 people senselessly lost their lives. We are dismissive in the face of science.

This cultural cancer is seeping into the business world and our enterprises may be at risk in the days to come. For example, global digital migration. Most of the world has heeded this International Telecommunication Union (ITU) requirement except Africa.

By June 2015, the resources used by the current broadcasters would cease to support the analogue broadcasting. ITU gave clear guidelines where each country would create the infrastructure for parallel broadcasting and cut off at least four years to the June 2015 deadline to allow for teething problems before the complete shutdown.

The existing business model will die. Advertising will never be the same. Big spenders in advertising like Safaricom, will themselves own television channels.

Competition will shift to content, more specifically local quality content. Content aggregation on platforms such as YouTube will subvert what we know of today as broadcasters. Viewing of content will not be exclusively on television. The disruptiveness of the mobile handset will continue to hurt.

In the face of this certainty, African broadcasters should be fine-tuning new and emerging business models rather than postponing the inevitable. There will be no extension of digital migration.

The writing is on the wall. There is no magic to predicting future happenings. It is only our mind that stands in the way.

Dr Ndemo is a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication.