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Empower ICT to drive development



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Over the past decade, the information and communication technology (ICT) sector in Kenya has grown at an unparalleled pace. We have seen the country rival many Western nations in establishing an information-based economy.

Kenya has made such big strides in this sector that it is now considered a leader in the continent and even the world. This is attributed to the government’s focus on developing an ICT-enabled country as well as a robust private sector landscape for the sector.

The sector has proven to be a strong driver of Kenya’s gross domestic product, the advancement of its people’s skills and capabilities and positioning the nation as a place for global technology giants to anchor their continental hubs.

The sector being socially and economically relevant to Africa, therefore, there is a need to continuously review our gains in it as we raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the internet and other ICTs can bring to societies and economies, as well as figure out ways of bridging the digital divide.

Mobile penetration and internet penetration has continuously grown not only in Kenya but also across Africa, making the continent one of the most connected after Europe and America.

Kenyan mobile telecommunication companies have continuously flown the innovation flag, delivering globally celebrated products such as Safaricom’s mobile money transfer service, M-Pesa. That has helped in enabling a cost-effective operation for start-ups and increasing financial penetration beyond what would have traditionally been possible at this stage of the country’s development.

Other telco players, like Telkom, are working to pioneer innovative and modern technology to deliver balloon-powered internet to hard-to-reach areas with Loon.

On the other hand, global electronics makers such as Samsung have continuously worked to make devices affordable, hence increasing the rate of smartphone adoption and penetration in the continent. This has led to the steady growth in internet access (mostly via mobile), which is at over 112 per cent, translating to an estimated 51.1 million users in a country of 45 million.

This upward trajectory will continue not only in Kenya but across Africa as the continent literally becomes more closely wired to the rest of the world via the various undersea cables.

But what next for Kenya’s ICT space?

The country’s journey towards ‘value-added ICT’ should be hastened from just making cost-efficient technologies to building applications for e-health, e-education, e-financial services and e-skills.

The government should be at the forefront in offering tax incentives to domestic companies for investments in technology. At the same time, it should enhance multilateral agreements with regional partners to increase the business footprint for the fast-growing domestic supply of high-level ICT expertise from our universities.

Kenya has a strong mix of young and technically trained professionals. Such multilateral agreements will, therefore, offer employment opportunities to the youthful nation but also enable Kenya to remain at the apex of digital transformation in the region — a significant cog for the country’s economic growth.

Although the private sector has adopted the use of the latest technologies into their operations, many opportunities still linger in government.

For instance, riding on the mobile phone and internet penetration to leverage e-health, which helps patients to gain access to doctors over long distances, as well as creating new digital solutions and technology verticals that will serve public services such as transportation, intricate integration of national county government services and technology-enabled agribusiness.

But even as the country’s ICT ecosystem continues to develop, we continue to face various challenges. These include a not-very-enabling taxation regime, absence of enough funding mechanisms, especially for start-ups, and limited focus on value addition.

Rightly themed “Bridging the standardisation gap”, the 50th anniversary of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), which is being celebrated today, is a reminder that industry players have a role in accelerating ICTs for all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This can be done by empowering local experts in standardisation at the national, regional and international levels while promoting the implementation of international standards in developing countries.

Mr Sachida is a communication consultant and policy development scholar. [email protected]

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