The second President of the Republic of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi is no more. May his Soul Rest in Peace.
I received the news of his passing with some flashbacks to ICT-related events of the early to late 1990s when he was President and the ICTs in general and Internet in particular was treated with a lot of suspicion.
The early 1990s were tough times for Kenya – politically, socially and economically.
There was no Internet service available for the public in the country until around 1992/1993, when the then youthful lecturer from the University of Nairobi, Dr Shem Ochuodho introduced it through an NGO, African Regional Center for Computing (ARCC).
So most corporates in urban centers were basically getting rid of their typewriters in favour of desktop computers that would then run the word processing and spreadsheet functionality.
Given the seemingly persistent unemployment rate in the country, the KANU regime, led by President Moi, felt that desktop computers were denying the youth employment opportunities, and needed to be discouraged through high import duties and other interventions.
Surprisingly, the high tax on imported computer units triggered a thriving local industry for computer assembly.
Some young engineers got together and founded Diamond Systems, a company that imported computer parts and started assembling them into complete computer units for the local and regional markets.
By the time the KANU regime noticed what was going on, it was being faced with a bigger problem – the arrival of the Internet.
In 1992, the telecommunication and broadcasting market was of course a government monopoly. If you needed voice or data services, you had to deal with the government monopoly called Kenya Post and Telecommunication Corporation (KP&TC).
The year 1992 was at the peak for fighting for multiparty democracy and the KANU regime had been forced to open up some political space and freedom but still had a tight grip on information flows and media freedoms.
At one point, the government bought all the editions of some foreign magazine that had a not-so-favourable story about the president and burnt the whole consignment so that the elite Kenyans would not have a chance to read it.
With Internet access, the process of burning hard copies would, of course, not resolve the issue. So very few operators were allowed to provide Internet access, and even then, they would only provide email exchange service – not the true web-based internet services.
And they had to do so through the government-owned KP&TC for close monitoring.
Since President Moi won the 1992 election, his grip and control on information flow relaxed a bit and Dr Shem Ochuodho and other service providers like Africa Online, Kenya Web and others joined the Internet service market.
However, since their traffic had to go through the government monopoly provider, they were restricted to only offering email services and very limited web browsing due to prohibitive costs and poor quality of service.
More importantly, it was illegal for these Internet pioneers to provide voice communication over the Internet – Voice Internet Protocol (VoIP) until early this the year 2000.
So in today’s terminology, you would not be authorised to originate or receive a Skype, WhatsApp or Instagram voice and video calls. You had to do so the analogue way through fixed telephone lines.
That way, it is easier to monitor conversations while at the same time charge the users exorbitant prices to sustain the KANU regime.
Moi had great vision for an expanded education sector, but ironically made every effort to ensure that he dictated what the masses learnt by suppressing media and Internet freedoms.
Eventually, the Kibaki regime of NARC took over in 2002 and opened up the markets, and the rest, as they say, is history. Kenya today remains one of the most advanced nations on the continent in terms of Internet use, penetration as well as media and Internet freedoms.
Even though Internet was never his thing, may the lord rest the soul of our second President in peace.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu