Not long ago, Kenyans living in gated communities would hold monthly meetings through which residents deliberate issues affecting them.

At the forums, officials would introduce new residents, issue reports on payment of service charges and security status of the neighborhood.

Each household was expected to send a representative without fail and the minutes would, thereafter, be posted at the main entrance for all to see.

But that was before the entrance of online networks, which have ushered in a new era in the east African nation’s gated communities.

The communities have shifted their activities online, with meetings held on the social networks namely Facebook and WhatsApp.

From the several officials the groups used to have, the online communities are now manned and managed by one or two group administrators.

Monthly financial reports are timely shared on the groups, with members knowing households that have not paid for service charges on time. This has therefore eliminated the practice of writing the names of defaulters on notice board.

New members are further introduced to the online communities soonest and estate bylaws shared.

More importantly, however, the security and safety issues are shared in real time, making the estates safer.

“Dear residents, please note that you could be harboring snakes in your compounds. I just found a black mamba in my backyard as I was renovating my chicken pen. Be very careful especially at night,” Sylvia Aketch of Hill View Estate group in Kitengela on the outskirts of Nairobi wrote on Saturday.

“Scary. As it gets dry and hot, these guys will be leaving bushes in search for water in shelters. Let’s clear bushes and hedges,” answered Kelvin Musembi, a member of the estate.

Residents of the estate responded by raising some money to clear bushes and hedges within the estate and outside.

“The online groups are the best thing to have ever happened to humanity, in particular for estates,” said Aketch.

In the estate, members of all households are enlisted in the groups and those who vacate are removed immediately after clearing their dues.

“No one can therefore claim they did not see or know what is happening in the estate,” said Aketch, the secretary of the estate.

There is also a landlord group where issues about tenants and development of the estates are discussed, since not every house owner lives in the gated community.

“Ever since we started the estate WhatsApp groups, we meet once every six months. The groups have lifted from us the pressure of meeting every month,” said Joshua Ambani of Komarock estate on the east of Nairobi.

Ambani said their social media group has enhanced service charge collections due to timely updates, enabling them to pay for garbage collection and security promptly.

“Updates on payments are done as soon as they are made to the treasurer via mobile money, therefore, those who have not paid are known on time. The rate of defaulting has therefore gone down significantly since the defaulters are called out,” he said, noting besides WhatsApp group, they run closed estate Facebook group.

In the affluent Loresho estate in Nairobi, residents recently used an online group to galvanise each other to stop the grabbing of land set aside for expansion of a water reservoir.
Some estates have also used the groups to push for better roads, enhanced police security and water supply.

Social media estate groups are growing in popularity in Kenya due to their ability to connect neighbours, ease in passing information and thus enable quicker resolution of challenges in the neighbourhood, according to Henry Ochieng, the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations chief executive. Enditem


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