'Help, sheep missing': How Twitter is fighting crime in Kenya
Twitter is being used as a crime-fighting tool by a tech-savvy village chief in Kenya. Francis Kariuki, the administrative chief of Lanet Umoja, has used the micro-blogging site for everything from tracking down missing sheep to stopping home invasions.
His Twitter account is so popular that, he says, even the thieves in his village follow him.
One night his phone rang at 4am warning him that thieves were invading a school teacher's house.
He tweeted the message - and within minutes, villagers had gathered outside the house, frightening the thugs into fleeing.
"My wife and I were terrified," said teacher Michael Kimotho. "But the alarm raised by the chief helped."
Kariuki has also saved livestock with his lightning typing.
One of Kariuki's crime-fighting tweets
"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 Swahili. 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.
Often Kariuki's tweets are about minor thefts - but they can also take a more serious turn
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 - the first since the 2007-08 postelection violence that killed more than 1,000 people.
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 per cent of those polled in that research said they mainly used Twitter for communicating with friends, 68 per cent 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.
Rachel Bremer, a spokeswoman for Twitter, said her company wasn't aware of Kariuki and his innovative use of Twitter, but she called it "a great one."
"We are constantly amazed by the ways people all over the world are using Twitter to communicate," she said.