ADDIS ABABA, Aug 16 (Reuters) – Safaricom’s (SCOM.NR) M-Pesa mobile money service went live in Ethiopia on Wednesday, in a boost to the Kenyan telecoms operator as it seeks to kickstart growth in one of Africa’s biggest economies.
Safaricom, which is part owned by South Africa’s Vodacom (VODJ.J) and Britain’s Vodafone (VOD.L), launched its voice and data network in the Horn of Africa country last year and has signed up more than 2 million active users.
Safaricom introduced M-Pesa in Kenya in 2007. The service has grown to become the company’s biggest moneymaker and is also offered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique and Tanzania.
“M-Pesa is known to be a game-changer for financial inclusion,” said Stanley Njoroge, Safaricom Ethiopia’s interim CEO. “We will continue to broaden the services our customers receive from the M-Pesa platform.”
Safaricom became the first private telecoms provider in Ethiopia after the government in 2019 liberalised a sector that had long been dominated by the state-controlled Ethio Telecom.
The company is betting that Ethiopia, which has around 120 million people and one of Africa’s youngest populations, will power growth for years to come.
Analysts said the market offers enormous opportunities, but also requires huge investments that will put Safaricom under pressure to deliver quick results.
Safaricom’s core earnings fell by a fifth in the year to March 31, hit by the cost of starting operations in Ethiopia.
The company also faces stiff competition from Ethio Telecom, whose profits more than doubled in its latest financial year. In July, Ethio Telecom reported having more than 34 million subscribers to its mobile money service Telebirr.
Mobile money services are common in East Africa, allowing customers to send and receive money and pay for goods and services.
Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw; editing by Elias Biryabarema, Aaron Ross and Jane Merriman
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
To streamline processes and make them more transparent, the country has in the last decade begun to digitise public services like tax collection
Staff Writer, The East African
Many African tax authorities have weak capacity to raise revenue. From 1990 to 2020, Sub-Saharan African countries on average collected only about 12 percent-15 percent of GDP as taxes, a much lower share than the 33.5 percent in OECD economies.
For countries that have limited information about taxpayers, constrained resources and informal economies, it can be difficult to collect revenue. What’s more, African tax administrations tend to rely on manual filing and payment of taxes. In-person interactions between taxpayers and tax officials are common, creating opportunities for collusion when paying taxes. African taxpayers also experience higher compliance costs than similar regions when navigating opaque tax systems.
Kenya has faced many of these challenges. To streamline processes and make them more transparent, the country has in the last decade begun to digitise public services like tax collection. Digitisation also aims to enhance taxpayer identification and monitoring capacity and lower the costs of compliance for taxpayers.
Read: KRA rolls out reforms to shore up tax collectionIn Kenya, each citizen will receive a unique personal identifier. It will be crucial throughout a child’s journey in school. From the age of 18, the identifier will become an official national identity number for access to the full range of public services.
At the same time, Kenya is on course to eliminate cash transactions for all government services. These services include business registration, passport services, and land and property services in 2023.
Combining mandatory electronic tax payment and e-IDs could greatly improve revenue collection and efficiency and cut taxpayers’ compliance costs.
Electronic filing of taxes has been mandatory since 2016 to collect taxes on employment, business and rental incomes. The system supports a wide range of tasks, from registrations to refunds. Taxpayers can still pay taxes using cash, however, by visiting authorised banks or Kenya Revenue Authority service centres. Universal e-payment of taxes is expected to change all that.
We have between us years of research in governance, public finance and taxation conducted in African countries. Our view is that a number of challenges and constraints need to be considered to unlock the benefits of a fully digitised tax administration, not just in Kenya but elsewhere.
In the latest policy reforms, the country plans to introduce digital identity documents for all Kenyans by February 2024. A digital ID system, e-ID, uses digital technology across the entire ID lifecycle: capturing, validating, storing and transferring data.
Read: East Africa countries eye issuance of digital IDsTechnology and taxationTechnology can strengthen tax administration in at least three ways:1. Identifying the tax base: using third-party information, technology can create comprehensive databases of taxable subjects, making it easier to determine what tax is payable. Kenya’s digital ID would improve the way government databases work together and the revenue collector’s “view” of taxpayers.2. Enforcing compliance: technology can automatically check what a taxpayer reports against other data sources. Efficient e-filing platforms can automatically identify missed or late declarations. The unique identifiers provided by an ID scheme make this work.3. Facilitating compliance: tax e-filing and e-payment can help reduce compliance costs. They improve record-keeping and eliminate travel, queuing and capricious manual practices from tax officials. And the biographic information in the digital ID database helps with tax registration.
But evidence suggests that important preconditions must be met for IT-based tax reforms to succeed.
In the case of Kenya, accessibility and taxpayer costs should be policy priorities when mandating e-payment. A recent study on tax e-filing, for instance, revealed that not everyone had access to devices necessary for e-filing, and there were language barriers. These practical challenges typically pushed taxpayers to use intermediaries: they went back to a manual, in-person experience.
These shortcomings increase the risk of errors, misuse of personal data and bribery. Less tech-savvy taxpayers might be vulnerable. As filing levels are already poor, e-payment solutions should make it easier, not harder, to comply.
Lessons from other countriesE-services help improve filing accuracy and timeliness, but one lesson from our research is that this does not always translate into higher tax revenue.
Read: East Africa must harness a digital financial services ecosystemPositive impacts can be short-lived, as adoption of digital merchant payments in Rwanda indicates. Here, taxpayers quickly reverted to pre-adoption compliance levels. Similarly, in Ethiopia, the adoption of point-of-sale electronic tax devices increased revenues, but gains were offset by taxpayers inflating other, less verifiable margins.
Making digital systems compulsory, as in Rwanda and Eswatini, does not necessarily lead to people using them. Digital divides emerge between adopters and non-adopters. The less equipped, more marginalised and less tech-savvy taxpayers fail to take up the tools.
Our research also shows that digital ID schemes must meet several conditions for tax administrations to benefit meaningfully. Digital IDs must be universally adopted. Identification data should be accurate and up to date. Strong cooperation across government entities is necessary to allow data sharing, as we’ve seen in our ongoing work in Uganda and Ghana.
Which way for Kenya?The government and tax administration must be cautious about digital IDs. Poor-quality and outdated data from e-ID could be damaging to the Kenya Revenue Authority’s functions. The institutions involved should promote a culture of information updating in the population. They should encourage citizens to share valid information with the government.
It’s vital to establish a robust data protection framework and digital trust, especially after the failure of the country’s National Integrated Identity Management System. Citizens need clarity on data usage and how the new project differs from the previous one if they are to trust the digital ID system.
Read: Africa’s digital economy projected to riseSimilarly, the government and revenue authority must support citizens to move towards fully digitised tax payments. They can do this by creating systems that are simple and secure, and by providing assistance and training.
The development of e-government must happen along with a framework for data protection and cyber-security response infrastructure. Besides threatening citizens’ data privacy and security, system failures – like the one that recently disrupted access to multiple services on the e-Citizen portal – have extremely serious repercussions on citizens’ trust in government and technology. © Copyright 2022 Nation Media Group. All Rights Reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (Syndigate.info).
LONDON, Aug 3 (Reuters) – Britain on Thursday said it had agreed deals with Zambia on clean energy and critical minerals as foreign minister James Cleverly ends a four-day visit to Africa to deepen ties.
Cleverly has used the trip, which fell shortly after a coup in Niger, to seek to enhance Britain’s sway in Africa, welcoming regional talks on the Niger crisis and announcing support for Nigeria’s agriculture sector.
The foreign ministry said Cleverly would agree a UK-Zambia Green Growth Compact, aimed at generating 2.5 billion pounds ($3.17 billion) of British private sector investment in Zambia’s mining, minerals and renewable energy sectors alongside 500 million pounds of government-backed investments.
“The UK-Zambia Green Growth Compact and our landmark agreement on critical minerals will support investment between UK and Zambian business, creating jobs in both countries,” Cleverly said.
Zambia is a major copper producer, and also has deposits of critical minerals such as cobalt, manganese and nickel. Last year Britain emphasised the importance of diversifying its supply chains in a critical mineral strategy.
Cleverly will visit a copper mine in Zambia and sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on critical minerals, which Britain said would “lay the foundation for further UK support for the responsible mining of copper, cobalt and other metals essential to the global clean energy transition.”
($1 = 0.7878 pounds)
Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by William James
By Philip Andrew Churm with AP
Youth delegates at a BRICS energy summit in Johannesburg have been looking into how the bloc can help shape the future of energy for Africa and the BRICS members.
BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa not only consume large amounts of energy but also contain about 40 percent of the world’s coal reserves, a quarter of natural gas reserves and eight percent of oil reserves.
Chair of the BRICS Youth Energy Agency stressed the need to work together.
“The energy sector and energy itself belongs to so many sectors and industries that we kind of find ourselves in other sectors beyond energy.
“But you’ll be the centre of a community, you will be working with each other and building a stronger leadership. And the so-called thought leadership that is incredibly important to drive the energy sector forward.”
As one of the side events being hosted in the run up to the main BRICS Summit to be held later this month, the BRICS Youth Energy Summit brings together young entrepreneurs, researchers and activists calling on young people worldwide to lead on relevant agendas.
But speakers also urged delegates to find solutions to tackle climate change.
Director general of the South African Department for Mineral Resources and Energy, Jacob Mbele, said: “The need for energy security access and just transition is actually an opportunity, while it is a challenge, it’s an opportunity for all of us, especially the youth.
“It is an opportunity for all of you to come up with game-changing solutions, taking advantage of various technological developments, including the need for us to address the issues around climate change.”
The summit also tabled the urgent need for energy transition and game-changing solutions to cater for the millions of Africans lacking energy access.
ABUJA, Aug 5 (Reuters) – The World Bank is aiming to help fund construction of 1,000 mini solar power grids in Africa’s biggest economy Nigeria in partnership with the government and private sector, the lender’s president Ajay Banga said on Saturday.
Nigeria, with a population of more than 200 million people, has installed power generation capacity of 12,500 megawatts (MW) but produces a fraction of that, leaving millions of households and businesses reliant on petrol and diesel generators.
Mini grids, made up of small-scale electricity generating units, typically range in a size from a few kilowatts to up to 10 MW, enough to power some 200 households.
Speaking during a visit to a mini grid site on the outskirts of the capital Abuja, Banga told reporters that nearly 150 mini grids had been built, partly funded by the World Bank, to bring power to communities without access to electricity.
“We are putting another 300 in, but our ambition with the government is to go all the way to 1,000. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars that are being invested,” said Banga, without giving a timeline.
“Now the idea is not for the World Bank to be the only person putting the money. We put part of the money like a subsidy.”
World Bank data shows that in sub-Saharan Africa, 568 million people still lack access to electricity. Globally, nearly 8 out of 10 people without electricity live in Africa.
Reporting by Abraham Achirga; Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Jan Harvey
Story by Jacopo Prisco, video by Adrian Lydon, CNN
In Nelson Mandela Bay, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, thousands of hectares of land could one day become the world’s largest green ammonia plant.
Ammonia, which is made up of nitrogen and hydrogen, is commonly used as a fertilizer. In the early 1910s scientists devised a way to synthesize it, but before then, the main agricultural fertilizer was guano, bat or bird excrement, which had to be obtained from tropical islands and was in short supply.
Production of ammonia at an industrial scale allowed agriculture to boom, and according to a study from the University of Manitoba, without it, we wouldn’t be able to produce roughly half of the world’s food today.
Ammonia is also used to manufacture explosives for the mining industry and is a key ingredient in many pharmaceutical and cleaning products. Currently, its production mainly involves fossil fuels and is responsible for 1.8% of global CO2 emissions. But by using renewable energy, “green” ammonia can be manufactured, slashing the carbon footprint of agricultural production and opening up the compound to further uses.
Prominent among them is the use of ammonia as fuel, which could help decarbonize the shipping sector. It is what the Mandela Bay plant will focus on. “It’ll start replacing heavy fuel oils on ships and it’ll replace diesel. That will become the fuel of the future, particularly in the maritime industry,” says Colin Loubser, managing director of Hive Energy Africa, which is building the plant.
‘A completely green process’
The process to make green ammonia is quite simple, Loubser says, requiring just water, air and energy. Electrolysis is used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, and an air separation unit extracts nitrogen from the air. The hydrogen and nitrogen are then combined to produce ammonia.
“The process of making it green is that you’re using renewable energy for this. You’re not using fossil fuels, coal or gas to make it. It’s a completely green process,” says Loubser.
Projected to start operations in 2026, the plant will cost $4.6 billion. It will be powered by a nearby solar farm and will get its water — of which vast amounts are needed to make ammonia — from a local table salt factory that desalinates seawater.
At least 20,000 jobs will be created in the region over the lifespan of the project, according to Loubser.
It will be a welcome development for the area. “We were hit very hard by Covid,” says Asanda Xawuka of the Coega Development Corporation, the entity in charge of bringing employment to the region. “A number of jobs were lost in South Africa. For us in the Eastern Cape, the unemployment rate is sitting at over 50%. (This) means an investment of this nature with a number of jobs that are going to be created, it’s going to be very big.”
The shipping industry made up nearly 3% of global CO2 emissions in 2018. According to the International Energy Agency, ammonia will need to account for 45% of the global energy demand for shipping in 2050, for net zero scenarios to realize, which means it’s an essential component of a greener future. But green ammonia could also be burned in existing coal-fired power plants to quickly reduce their CO2 emissions, the study notes, or in plants customized to run entirely on ammonia.
One limiting factor is that ammonia is a pungent and toxic gas, so it needs to be handled by trained professionals. Using it as a fuel produces nitrogen oxides, which can act as greenhouse gases and cause air pollution, requiring additional technology to control emissions.
And many of the systems that will make use of green ammonia – including ship engines – are still under development, which is why production levels are low at the moment. However, production is expected to boom: according to a report by Precedence Research, the green ammonia market accounted for just $36 million in 2021, but will grow to $5.4 billion by 2030.
Mounira is barely 40 centimeters tall. Mouth open, cheek flat against her mother’s chest, this baby born almost two months prematurely is growing thanks to the “kangaroo” method, increasingly used around hospitals in Côte d’Ivoire.
Her mom Affousata Sidibé is happy with the results of this method.
“I’m leaving today. Anyway, I’m happy, very happy. I did a month here with my baby. She was small. She was born at 800 grams. Today she is nearly 2 kilos. So, I’m very happy.”
According to UNICEF, nearly 95% of premature and low-weight ivorian newborns survived over the past two years thanks to this method.
Recommended by the World Health Organisation, this “skin-to-skin method” puts “the mother at the centre of her child’s care”, according to Dr. Chantière Somé, of the Treichville University Hospital in Abidjan.
“With the kangaroo method, he sleeps longer so the brain develops better, there is less stressed so the child is calmer, more sociable. While children who are incubated, some at least become stressed, so their brain is constantly excited, the child will grown into an adult who will not always be sociable and always stressed. That’s truly one of the main benefits of kangaroo care,” she adds.
One third of newborn deaths in the west african country are due to prematurity.
According to Virginie Konan, UNICEF health specialist, this “kangaroo” method has made a major contribution to reducing it.
“More than 36% of newborn deaths are due to prematurity. So, if we want to change the newborn mortality rate, we need to address this primary cause.”
Eight hospitals in the country have a “Kangouroo Medical Service”, but the Treichville hospital, the largest in the country, is the best equipped.
In light of these results, other countries in the region are beginning to replicate the inexpensive method.
Senegal, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso are beginning to apply the procedure, but so far Côte d’Ivoire has the most developed services.
By Rédaction Africanews and AP
The industrial landscape of the northeastern province of Mpumalanga, an area known as South Africa’s coal belt will soon be transformed.
The Komati power plant, once a busy coal plant that is now earmarked to be repurposed as a wind and solar power plant that will have batteries to store the energy the clean power generates, looks deserted with only security guards and cleaners on site.
Unlike other power stations in Mpumalanga where smoke bellows from the unit chimneys with coal trucks entering and leaving the plants, only one entrance at the Komati plant, which was first opened for business in 1961, is functional.
The country’s worst blackouts have put the spotlight on the government’s controversial energy transition strategy.
“These arguments about decommissioning power plants have come up, and while climate change is a significant issue and we do need to transition to lower carbon sources of electricity, we need to consider the need for an increase in electricity in general in South Africa,” Julia Taylor, a researcher on Climate Change and Inequality at the University of the Witwatersrand said.
“So we need to continue to build out renewable energy but not start switching anything off until we have enough electricity to provide for basic needs in the country.”
The Komati plant’s repurposing is a pilot project that will hopefully show the way for South Africa and the rest of the developing world’s transition to clean energy away from dirty fossil fuels.
The World Bank has provided a loan of $490 million for the plant’s repurposing.
The money is supposed to include the retraining of former plant employees, but it was unclear this week how much of this part of the project had already started.
The work related to repurposing the plant is yet to gather steam, with estimations that this may take up to five years.
In November last year, the last generation unit at the coal-fired power station which was generating about 125 megawatts of power was shut down.
Controversial funding model
This week, the power utility Eskom invited bids for the implementation of a socio-economic plan to mitigate the effects of the plant’s closure, including the economic impact on the province of Mpumalanga and surrounding communities where the plant is located.
When developing countries are asked to prioritize green projects out of environmental concerns, various deals are proposed. The Just Energy Transition Partnership (JetP) financing model has raised questions.
While $490 million is a large sum by any measure, a Researcher highlights that a large portion of this money is in the form of loans.
“There are a few questions that have been raised around the funding model associated with the JetP”, she says.
“And the first is, particularly from South African perspective, is that only 4% of the current amount that’s promised is grants. So it’s actually mostly loans and guarantees. And obviously, we’re a country in a significant amount of debt.”
South Africa’s president is attending a summit on climate and debt in Paris. Top on the agenda are changes needed in the way multilateral lenders grant money to developing countries which are often hardest hit by the climate crisis. The bodies have been criticized for not factoring this crisis in their decisions.
Lives soon turned upside down?
The closest residential area near the Komati power plant is a small suburb, also called Komati, and most people here work at coal mines around the province.
The houses in there are well-built and old fashioned.
They used to be owned by the power utility Eskom during the apartheid era and were provided for white managers of the power plant. They were sold off to individuals after 1994, mostly high-earning workers at coal mines around the province.
The locals say most of the houses are now being rented out to contractors for the coal mines and trucking companies in the region. Groups of men were waiting around Komati, hoping to be picked up by contractors in trucks who provide them temporary jobs as gardeners or cleaners in nearby settlements.
There is only one primary school and one shopping mall in Komati and everyone here depends on coal jobs to make ends meet.
The 2023 edition has given prominence to artificial intelligence. The sector is getting increasingly popular in Africa, a continent firmly at the heart of the digital revolution. From June 14th to 17th, over 2,500 exhibitors will showcase their latest innovation.
The latest edition of Vivatech, Paris’ largest tech show, kicked off in France for the 7th year in a row.
From June 14th to 17th, over 2,500 exhibitors will showcase their latest innovation aimed at shaping tomorrow’s world.
Vivatech has become a not-to-be-missed event for the many African startups which made the trip. Hence, the need for them to collaborate, according to Ivorian Minister of Communication and the Digital Economy Amadou Coulibaly.
“Our social and cultural realities are different from those of other continents. We believe that African countries are similar in some ways, and one of the aims of digital transformation is to make people’s lives easier,” the spokesperson for the Ivorian government said.
“From this point of view, Côte d’Ivoire has initiated a trade show, SACEN, the African show of startups and of the digital economy. We’ve held our second edition, and it’s a show that’s growing, so we hope it can become Africa’s own Vivatech !”
Tony Elumelu on African entrepreneurship
This year’s first is a pavilion dedicated to the future of sports. And Africa will play a role in it. Senegal, more precisely, will host the 4th Summer Youth Olympic Games in 2026.
Thursday’s (June 15) high point was a long-awaited talk by Nigerian philanthropist and afrocapitalist Tony Elumelu. He sang the praises of African entrepreneurship.
“You must embrace technology to succeed. You must embrace technology to survive. If you fail to embrace technology, you’re building your business to fail,” the 60-year-old said.
“And as entrepreneurs, we should be building businesses to last. Some of us are where we are today because we built our businesses to last, and even to last longer beyond us.”
The 2023 edition should highlight the ever-increasing popularity of artificial intelligence. The sector is getting increasingly popular in Africa, a continent firmly at the heart of the digital revolution.
Trevin Brownie hasn’t forgotten his first day as a content moderator for Facebook, on the premises of a subcontracting company based in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Hundreds of moderators from various African countries worked in this continental hub, having been recruited for their knowledge of local languages.
“My first video was of a man committing suicide (…) There was a two- or three-year-old child playing nearby. After the man hanged himself, after about two minutes, he realized something was wrong,” says the 30-year-old South African, before describing how the child tried to save the man, his father.
“It made me sick (…) It was like nausea and vomiting. But I carried on doing my job,” he continues.
Between 2020 and 2023, he watched hundreds of violent videos every day, inciting hatred, and blocked them so that they didn’t end up in front of Facebook users’ eyes.
He was working in Nairobi for Sama, the Californian company to which Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, has subcontracted the moderation of Facebook content for sub-Saharan Africa between 2019 and 2023.
Trevin Brownie says he has seen “hundreds of beheadings”, “organs ripped out of bodies”, “rape and child pornography to the last level”, “child soldiers preparing for war”…
“Humans do things to other humans that I would never have imagined,” he says: “People have no idea of the unhealthy videos (…) they are escaping”.
Trevin Brownie is involved in one of the three cases against Meta and Sama, formerly known as Sama source, in Kenya.
Along with 183 former employees, he is contesting his dismissal by Sama, which has announced that it will cease its content moderation activities. They are seeking compensation for salaries that are “insufficient and out of all proportion (…) to the risk to which they were exposed”, as well as for the “damage caused to their mental health”.
This legal offensive began when another former Sama content moderator, Daniel Motaung, filed a complaint in May 2022 in a Nairobi court, complaining of “inhumane” working conditions, misleading recruitment methods, inadequate pay and a lack of psychological support.
Meta, which did not wish to comment on the details of the cases, assured that it required its subcontractors to provide psychological assistance, available 24/7.
Contacted, Sama said it was “not in a position” to comment on current cases.
Testimonies gathered at the end of April from former Sama content moderators, who are among the 184 plaintiffs contesting their dismissal, confirm the allegations made by Daniel Motaung.
Two of them, Amin and Tigist (first names have been changed), hired in 2019 by Sama, said that they had responded to offers to work in call centers that had been passed on to them by acquaintances or recruitment companies.
They only found out once they had signed their contracts, which included confidentiality clauses, that they were going to work as content moderators.
Amin and Tigist didn’t object, or even think about leaving. “I had no idea what a content moderator was, I’d never heard of one,” says Tigist, an Ethiopian recruited for her knowledge of the Amharic language.
“Most of us didn’t know the difference between a call center and a content moderation center”, confirms Amin, who worked on the Somali “market”. But for “the group recruited after us, the job offers clearly mentioned content moderation”, he points out.
“On the first day of training, before showing us the images, they (the trainers) reminded us that we had signed confidentiality clauses”, he recounts.
“During the training, they played down the content. What they showed us was nothing compared to what we were going to see,” he adds: “That’s when the problems started”.
On their screens, for eight hours a day, there was a succession of contents, each more shocking than the last.
“You don’t choose what you see, it’s random: suicide, violence, sexual exploitation of children, nudity, incitement to violence…” says Amin.
An “average processing time” of 55 to 65 seconds per video is imposed on them, they claim, representing between 387 and 458 “tickets” viewed per day. If they worked too slowly, they were liable to be reprimanded or even dismissed.
For its part, Meta assured in an email that content moderators “are not required to evaluate a set number of publications, do not have quotas and are not obliged to make hasty decisions”. “We authorize and encourage the companies we work with to give their employees the time they need to make a decision,” it added.
None of the three content moderators interviewed had imagined the effects this work would have on them.
They had not consulted a psychologist or psychiatrist, due to a lack of money, but all said they were suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and had new difficulties in their social interactions or with their loved ones.
Trevin Brownie says he is “scared of children because of the child soldiers, the brutality I’ve seen children commit”, or scared of crowded places “because of all the videos of bombings I’ve seen”. “I was a party nut,” he says: “I haven’t been to a club for three years now. I can’t, I’m scared”.
The lanky Amin, for his part, says he has noticed the effects on his body, which has gone from 96 kg when he started work to “69-70 kg” today.
They all say they have become insensitive to death and horror. “My heart has turned to stone”, says Tigist.
Need for money
Meta said it has “clear contracts with each of our partners that detail our expectations in a number of areas, including the availability of individual advice, extra support for those exposed to more difficult content”.
“We require all companies we work with to provide 24/7 on-site support with trained practitioners, on-call service and access to private healthcare from day one of employment,” the company assured.
According to the content moderators, the support offered by Sama, via “well-being advisors”, was not up to scratch. They condemned the vague interviews, with no real follow-up, and questioned the confidentiality of the exchanges.
“It was of no use. I’m not saying they weren’t qualified, but I don’t think they were qualified enough to manage people who moderate content”, says Amin.
Despite their trauma, they stayed because they “needed the money”.
On a salary of 40,000 shillings (285,92 US dollars) and a further 20,000 for non-Kenyans. They earned almost three times the Kenyan minimum wage (15,200 shillings).
“From 2019 until today, I never had the opportunity to get another job elsewhere, even though I applied a lot. I had no other choice. That’s why I stayed for so long,” explains Amin.
To keep going, the moderators had to find “defense mechanisms”, explains Trevin Brownie.
Some used drugs, particularly cannabis, according to the moderators interviewed.
Trevin Brownie, a former comedy fan, immersed himself in horror films. “It was a way of blurring my reality. It allowed me to imagine that what I was dealing with (at work, editor’s note) wasn’t real even though it was”, he analyses, explaining that he had also developed an “addiction” to violent images.
“But one of our main defense mechanisms was that we were convinced of the importance of the job,” he adds: “I felt like I was hurting myself but for the right reasons, (…) that the sacrifice was worth it for the good of society.”
“We are the first line of defense for Facebook, (…) like the social network police,” he explains, saying in particular that we remove ads for drug sales or “remove targets” on people targeted by death threats or harassment.
“Without us, social networks can’t exist,” he adds: “Nobody would open Facebook if it was full of offensive content, selling drugs, blackmail, harassment…”
“We deserve better”
“It does damage, and we sacrifice ourselves for our community, for the world. We deserve to be treated better”, agrees Tigist.
None of them would sign up for this job again. “My personal opinion is that no human should do this. It’s not a job for humans”, explains Trevin Brownie: “Honestly, I wish artificial intelligence could do this job”.
Despite enormous progress, he doubts that this will be possible in the immediate future.
“Technology plays and will continue to play a central role in our content verification operations”, Meta assured.
Until now, none of them had spoken about this work, even to their families. This is because of confidentiality clauses, but also because “no one can understand what we go through”.
“If people find out, for example, that I’ve seen pornography, they’ll judge me”, explains Tigist.
With her husband, she remained vague about her activity. She has kept everything from her children: “I don’t want them to know what I’ve done. I don’t even want them to imagine what I’ve seen”.