Chief Francis Kariuki is famous for using Twitter to make his community safer. He talks to MERCY KAHENDA about bringing his idea to life and why he believes his administration work is a call from God
Who is this renowned tweeting Chief?
I am the chief of Lanet Umoja Location. I was born and raised in Nakuru and attended Mereroni Primary School. I joined Lanet Secondary School and later Kigari Teachers Training college. I will soon complete a Bachelor’s degree course in Counselling and Psychology at Mount Kenya University.
Was being a chief your childhood dream and how did you make it?
I am a born-again Christian and this is God’s calling to serve and unite people. I am a trained primary school teacher. I taught for 21 years in different schools as an ordinary teacher, four years as a deputy head teacher and six years as a head teacher at Lords School, Kambi Moto in Rongai Sub County. I developed a great passion in serving a larger community apart from only 300 pupils and teachers. In 2009, the position of chief for Lanet Umoja location was advertised. I applied, was called for an interview and succeeded. I became the first chief with the mandate to coordinate the community.
From teacher to chief. That's a big change...
It was not as easy as attending to pupils in class. A chief is a coordinator. He educates the public in matters of education, security, health environment and public issues among other responsibilities. I had to find an effective way of communicating to my people on various issues and when expected to attend various activities and meetings. Texting and calling to a population of more than 29,000 was very expensive.
Hence the tweeting?
Yes. One day, I got a text regarding a short code from Safaricom. I was curious and did some research on how it works. Within few minutes, I created my free Twitter account @ChiefKariuki. At home, my wife subscribed and followed me. I wrote a text on the account and she received it in a few seconds. I later invited youths, village elders and trained them on the new communication channel before calling a baraza where each individual followed me and was able to receive my tweets instantly.
How has tweeting impacted on your administration work?
Tweeting has reduced crime rate in my locality by 90 per cent. We have quick response in fighting any cropping crimes. For instance, if something happens, say a fire, I send the text once and within a span of time, there are rescuers handling the incident. I have more than 41,000 followers.
Any memorable incidents?
One day, a bee farmer behind Lanet Umoja Primary School harvested honey and while pupils were reporting to school in the morning, bees attacked them. The teachers called me and I wrote a tweet to all residents, ‘tafadhali harakisheni mje na blanket Lanet Umoja nyuki zavamia watoto wetu’. Parents rushed to the scene, covered the pupils and guided them to safety. Unfortunately, out of 500, only one died after being stung because he had fallen in a hole where nobody spotted him. Though the death haunted me, I am a happy administrator because my idea saved lives.
Are you planning on taking this further?
It is unfortunate some people think I am popularising myself to vie for political position in future. I have a calling of serving the community. I don’t like politics, I want to continue serving the people to bring change in the community and see each individual live in peace despite their age, tribe and position.
Any achievements that have come with tweeting?
I have written a book known as ‘Chief Kariuki Tweeting Chief’, the book has my history, my experience as a teacher and a chief, and what I have achieved. I have trained chiefs in Nakuru, Nyeri, Nandi, and I am happy having been among a team that drafted the Nyumba Kumi initiative that has been adopted by most local administrators in reducing rate of crime.
I believe we can safely say you are a ‘celeb. Does that come with challenges?
People tend to think popularity comes with wealth. Work is also so overwhelming. People call me night and day for solutions. They also come to my home all the time and it’s hard to get time to myself and privacy.
Do you have a family?
I am married to a business woman and God blessed us with three children aged two,eight and 23.