When the international media says Kenya is a hotbed of innovation, many a time they are referring to Nairobi County.
Mention high-speed internet, innovation hubs, mobile apps for paying bills and for hailing taxi rides, apps for dating, or just about anything else, and you will get it in Nairobi.
Nairobi seems to have it all in terms of ICT.
However, is Nairobi the same as Kenya? What exactly is the state of ICT in the counties?
Difficult to tell, but reading from a 2015 County ICT study that was commissioned by the ICT Authority, the story was not so rosy. The study looked at the maturity levels of ICT governance and usage within the county governments.
Proper and prudent use of ICTs within the devolved governments would act as a catalyst and propel ICT uptake in health, agriculture, trade, education, transport and other socio-economic sectors.
The study identified several parameters that were reviewed, but let us focus on the four critical ones that stood out: strategy, personnel, operations and procurement.
It was reported that many county governments lacked an ICT strategy. In a number of cases, drafts were awaiting approval by top leadership and could therefore not receive funding.
Without a comprehensive strategy, county governments were running in auto-mode, being reactive rather than pro-active in identifying and leveraging on emerging ICT opportunities. Which brings us to the second parameter – personnel.
Most county governments lacked clear organisational structures for their ICT departments. Moreover, most of them were not under the right line ministries, instead placed as an appendix under other ''important'' line ministries like education, health or youth ministries. As such, ICT issues were not getting the necessary attention at the highest level.
Other than appointing ICT directors who reported to other ministries, most county governments had very limited staff working under the directors. There was therefore a complete mismatch between counties' ICT ambitions and the available human resource.
This structural misplacement and understaffing can only make things worse for the next parameter – operations.
With limited staff, most county ICT departments are left to deal largely with the operational and little or no strategic issues. They only focus on keeping the lights on for old legacy systems that are unable to scale to the modern demands of the county residents.
Essentially ICT staff have no time to think through strategic issues like what systems they would need now and in the immediate future. This leads us into the next critical and final parameter – procurement.
Without a comprehensive strategic plan and governance structure, procurement decisions will naturally move away from what is necessary and useful to what looks fancy or can yield the biggest kickbacks.
Several counties have already been caught up and cited in audit reports as having procured ICT systems that were either overpriced, underutilised, of poor quality or for outright failing to deliver.
In contrast, quite useful and valid ICT projects never get their funding approved by the MCAs, who in most cases shift budget since they consider such projects esoteric or less glamorous compared to, say, construction projects like roads, boreholes or hospitals.
The study was done three years ago and perhaps things have improved since then. However, it is difficult to say unless a review is commissioned to see if at all such progress is evident on the ground.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu