Scandal stirs ‘Silicon Savannah’ – Daily Nation

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By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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Kenya’s vibrant technology space — sometimes referred to as the “Silicon Savannah” — has been stirred by allegations of sexual harassment in one of the country’s top-grossing firms that has gained global recognition. 

Ushahidi, which uses electronic gadgets for real-time tracking of issues affecting people in a certain geographical area, faces a storm following allegations of sexual harassment filed against its executive director Daudi Were by a member of staff who has since left the company.

The allegations, which Mr Were has denied, are currently being investigated by the company’s board on whether remarks he made to an employee during a retreat in January amounted to sexual harassment.

According to one source, the woman filed her complaint in May. But, in an unexpected move, she resigned the following month after indicating frustration over the board’s handling of the matter.

On Saturday, the Ushahidi board, through a publicist, told the Nation it was handling the matter with the seriousness it deserved.

“The board responded immediately after receiving the complaint and sent out the notices acknowledging the complaint and requiring a response.

However, procedural and logistical challenges arose from both sides. We, therefore, had to accommodate everyone for due process to be followed,” the board said.

The statement added: “We are at the latter stages of the investigation process and the board will communicate its decision as soon as it is made.”

Mr Were declined to respond to Nation questions on the same.

“All comment from Ushahidi is handled at board level,” he said, referring us to board member Ms Juliana Rotich and a publicist.

In the complaint, the woman detailed how the 2 am incident — whose audio she allegedly recorded on her phone — happened.

The recording, lasting slightly over six minutes, allegedly captured the voice purported to be that of Mr Were making advances that the woman perceived to be of sexual harassment.

A transcript of the recording was part of the ex-employee’s supporting evidence provided to the board.

But in a May 18 letter to the Ushahidi board of directors, Mr Were dismissed allegations of making inappropriate sexual overtures to the complainant or any other employee.

He also cast aspersions on the recording accompanying the complaint.

“I have read a transcript that was attached to the letter, which would appear to relate to a recording made well outside office hours of a conversation made at a time when I was apparently inebriated. I am unaware whether or not that is the accurate and full transcript of the entire recording,” he wrote.

Mr Were also insisted that he is a man who instils a lot of discipline in himself, which means he could not have thought of such an action.

“Over and above any code of conduct that guides official relationships, I do have my own personal code of conduct that holds me to a higher standard than any official work related code, and that I seek to uphold not only in the context of work relations but extends to my own conduct, whether work related or outside the workplace,” he said.

Mr Were allegedly went on to apologise to his accuser and asked for pardon if, in any way, he uttered expletives while drunk.

“I sincerely regret any occasion when that could have happened, and any banter or expletives uttered while in such state to anybody,” he wrote.

In the ex-employee’s allegations to the board, she also recounted an incident that happened at a hotel in Accra, Ghana, in January 2016 when she also perceived that the words and actions of her boss amounted to sexual harassment, which she resisted.

But Mr Were said the woman “misapprehended and misconstrued the situation” in Accra when the team was out for the Global Innovation Competition.

Three members of the five-person Ushahidi board heard the case between Mr Were and his accuser for more than five hours on July 5.

Mr Were was represented by his lawyer, Senior Counsel Fred Ojiambo. The complainant and the board also had their lawyers present.

Physically present at the hearing was board member Ms Rotich while Mr David Kobia and Mr Erik Hersman, her Ushahidi co-founders currently in the United States, attended through teleconferencing.

Our source who was privy to the proceedings said one of the contentious topics was the vulgar language used in the conversation.

The source said the major line of questioning against the former employee suggested that she might have been the one who was making advances towards her boss.

After the hearing, the board pledged to announce its way forward on July 12 but, by yesterday, no word had come out.

“We wish to reiterate that we are taking this claim seriously and will strive to seek a fair and just conclusion to the matter in accordance with the law as soon as is reasonably possible,” the board said in a July 10 statement on the Ushahidi website.

Ushahidi has been a talking point in the online circles for the past week after a section of bloggers published stories questioning the handling of the sexual harassment complaint by the woman.

Many people have made comments on the matter, notably Ory Okolloh, also a co-founder of Ushahidi — a firm that has been around since 2007 — but who stepped down from the board in 2010.

In her blog post titled “No Sacred Cows,” she said the Ushahidi bosses should explain everything they have done in investigating the matter.

“More clarity on steps that have been taken so far and the relevant timelines should be shared and those found culpable either by their action or inaction should resign,” she wrote.

The ironical thing about Ushahidi’s being entangled in a sexual harassment web is that one of its services has been to map out incidents of violence against women in India.

The company, whose 2015 annual report said it amassed a whopping $2,430,398 (Sh252.7 million) through grants and contributions, received rare praise by former US President Barack Obama during his July 2015 tour of Kenya.

“From Zimbabwe to Bangladesh, citizens work to keep elections safe, using the crowdsourcing platform Ushahidi — and that’s a great idea that started right here in Kenya,” he said, drawing applause at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. Ushahidi offers a range of services that bank on data collection using mobile phones. Then it relays the information through various methods.

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