Kenya has made great strides in ICT but key aspects need more work

Monday July 8 2019

By BITANGE NDEMO
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In June, Research ICT Africa finalised a second review of the state of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in Kenya. The first review was done in 2012. Since then, the sector landscape has greatly changed.

The report focused on both the supply-side and demand-side perspectives, stressing the changes that have taken place since the last review.

The report used standard ICT development metrics to review Kenya’s ICT status. Access survey was undertaken in 2017 covering 1,200 households and 500 small and micro businesses.

In a nutshell, there have been dramatic changes in the past five years and more technological changes are expected to continue at an unprecedented rate.

Indeed, a lot has happened since data collection was done. For instance, penetration rates have significantly changed. Some technologies that were not recognisable in 2017 are now at the centre stage of ICT development.

Barely seven years ago, most of the technologies that will drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) were not in the public domain. Today, they have become part of the ICT fabric. They too must become part of the ICT metric.

For example, many governments still sit on critical data or have no mechanisms of responsibly sharing such data that could be used for evidence-based decision making.

Other than the mention of the data protection bill, which inadequately covers cognitive analytics of data, the report makes no mention of the emerging exponential technologies, such as the use of Artificial Intelligence, which are emerging without any legal framework.

A review such as this one is imperative in order to keep pace with technological advancements that are running ahead of global agencies that are responsible for issues that concern ICTs such the ITU. National reviews are important because they can be used to monitor progress of the country’s preparedness to confront the emerging challenges such as the widening digital gap between urban and rural population.

The report notes that:

“Kenya has shown some modest gains in global economic rankings, including in relation to the country’s global competitiveness and its ease of doing business. Kenya is rated as a country having a ‘medium’ level of human development, with corruption in the public sector still a challenge.”

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It also indicates that the country is well-positioned as a digital economy with e-commerce beginning to take off. The government, however, needs to do more with supportive strategies, assisting in the development of the human resource capacity that is critically necessary to the uptake of a digital economy.

At a recent ICT conference in Kigali, Rwanda participants also made similar observations that African economies, Kenya included, must develop a national skills policy framework to ensure digital inclusivity for every citizen.

This will necessitate a new digital curriculum at all levels from the users to students enabling them to safely benefit from, participate in and contribute to the digital world.

After a brief review of the country’s socio-economic development, the report delves into the Kenya’s policy and regulatory framework. It acknowledges that much of the policies are in place except for a few legislations like the Data Protection Bill 2008, which is stuck in Parliament. Some regulations are also yet to be implemented.

One of the key concerns that the report highlights is the overlapping jurisdiction between the Communications Authority (CA), the Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology, the Office of the Attorney General and Parliament that has virtually made it difficult for CA to act independently and remove the unnecessary cumbersome procedures and unwarranted delays.

ICT INFRASTRUCTURE

As the government deepens the use of ICT for service delivery, ICT infrastructure, especially in the rural areas, still is a challenge. Policy interventions, mostly through the National ICT Master plan and the National Broadband Strategy, have been commendable.

However, the problem, according to the report, is the lack of the necessary monitoring and evaluation components to guide their implementation. Provisions for shared infrastructure if implemented will greatly enhance digital inclusivity in rural areas.

The report notes that the supply side of the ICTs still remains the same although there are strong signs of market consolidation.

Regarding this state of affairs, Schumpeter would conclude that the competitive status would continue to remain the same until new entrants come with a new kind of competition.

He described competition as coming from “the new technology, the new source of supply, the new type of organisation … competition which … strikes not at the margins of the profits and the outputs of the existing firms but at their foundations and their very lives.”

In essence, it is only through innovative strategies that the market structure in Kenya can change.

Indeed, as the report notes, classical Schumpeterian economics (some degree of monopoly is preferable to perfect competition) is at play in the Kenyan market. In some sub-sectors like broadband distribution, new entrants have fiercely created a highly competitive market.

These new entrants came up with highly innovative strategies to disrupt existing and well-established telecom companies. Innovations around mobile money continue to facilitate the shift towards a digital economy.

CYBERSECURITY

The report identifies cybersecurity as one of the areas that remains a major challenge. It recommends the revisiting of the National Cybersecurity Strategy and Regulations comprehensively in order to address these emerging challenges.

This alone will not suffice. Like every nation, Kenya must build the human resource capacity to deal with problem of cybersecurity and create some collaborations with other countries to fight the problem.

On the demand side, Kenya fairs favourably against several key countries. However, the measurements differ significantly from what the regulator data and other sources of data.

For example, whilst RIA reports mobile and Internet penetration of 87 and 26 percent respectively in 2017, Communication Authority reported mobile and Internet penetration of 90 and 85 percent respectively. Currently mobile penetration stands at 97.8 percent. There is the need to validate the data.

ICT application in SMEs in Kenya is intensifying with more people using mobile phones (82 percent) and mobile money (85 percent) in their businesses as of 2017.

A significant number of SMEs, although not having recognised in the report, also use Internet and other social media platforms to market their goods and services. As the report says, that e-commerce is on the rise. The Kenyan economy is indeed becoming digital.

What needs to be done to make the country fully digital, is to resolve current bottlenecks that include: bridging the rural/urban digital divide, addressing the issue of cybersecurity comprehensively by building the necessary human resource capacity and building global collaborations to deal with the vice and strategically positioning the country as a major ICT hub.

Kenya has made significant progress in ICT and is well placed to take off but the country must address the many challenges raised in the report. The report gives the country an opportunity to identify its weakness, address them and put the country in the pedestal of economic progress.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.@bantigito