Kenyan government and ICT community in ‘honeymoon’

Friday April 17 2015

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The Kenyan government and the country’s technology community are in a ‘honeymoon’, according to a US journalist who has visited the country’s technology community and written about it.

Gregg Scruggs, who has written about Nairobi’s technology scene for the urban affairs blog Citiscope, made the comments Thursday in Nairobi, at a discussion on the side-lines of a preparatory meeting for Habitat III.

Habitat III is the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, which will be held in 2016 in Quito, Ecuador. Vancouver, Canada, hosted the first Habitat conference in 1976, while the second was held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1996.

Reached later for comment, Mr Scruggs noted the impact of two recent events on the relationship between the government and the tech community.

“The ICT Innovation Forum and the unannounced visit by President Kenyatta to tech spaces in Kilimani, such as the iHub and the Nailab, have created a sense of buzz,” he said.

The creation of Enterprise Kenya, which is an agency mandated to facilitate global export of Kenyan ICT solutions, was announced at the ICT Innovation Forum, which was held on March 2 – 3, 2015, in Nairobi.

Mr Scruggs also cited the new rules that reserve one third of all government tenders for the youth, women and people with disabilities.

“The positive PR of those announcements and visits depends on whether the government follows through,” he said, noting that blowback could follow otherwise, ruining the ‘honeymoon’.

From Mr Scruggs’s experience in the US, government is often described as having an ‘ideological hostility’ to innovation in the eyes of the private sector, which sees itself as able to provide faster, better solutions.  “It’s somewhat rare for a government and a tech community to be so cozy,” he said.

Earlier, he had noted that the technology scene in Kenya seemed more oriented towards solving practical, real-world, ‘bottom of the pyramid’ problems than is the case in Silicon Valley.