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Kenya’s tech community 'honeymoon' with government - a cautionary tale

Thursday April 23 2015

President Uhuru Kenyatta is taken through the

President Uhuru Kenyatta is taken through the Safaricom M-Kopa Solar stand during the National I.C.T Innovation Forum on March 3, 2015, at KICC, Nairobi. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION 

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It is not in doubt that many Kenyan stakeholders have benefitted from the 'Silicon Savannah' and 'East Africa ICT Hub' monikers bestowed upon Kenya.

It is also not in doubt that ICTs are a player in virtually every aspect of society and industry today and are here to stay.

All stakeholders are clamouring to establish their significance and how their roles and responsibilities will be disrupted by digital technologies and the Internet.

Kenya's tech sector has been lauded, and recently even 'validated', by the government of President Kenyatta. From government investment into incubators, as is the case with Nailab, to the famed recent impromptu visit by His Excellency to iHub, Nailab and tech companies housed at the Bishop Magua Centre (including a shoutout in the State of the Nation address) and even funding commitments to establishing entities like Enterprise Kenya, to be co-facilitated with players from the tech sector.

Some have said the community is currently experiencing a 'honeymoon phase', with government. This isn't a bad thing, as it has taken lots of hard work for the tech players to gain rightful recognition.



However, players in this scene, and in particular, local tech folk with access to the highest office of the land, will do well to learn from the missteps and relationship dynamics that the Kenyan government has had, especially with the media and civil society.

The Public Benefit Organisations Act, The Media Council Act and Kenya Information Communications (Amendment) Act come to mind. How media and civil society actors have found themselves battling against problematic clauses in these laws provides a cautionary tale for the nascent ICT sector.

As the tech space expands, government is also looking at regulating it, and this could be done in ways that undermine the emerging local scene if previous lessons are not heeded.

Laws proposed and government thinking around data privacy and cybersecurity, for instance, have implications that may complicate e-commerce and internet freedom.

The Security Laws (Amendment) Act had clauses that touched on ICT components, in particular internet and social media use for communication. While wining, dining and basking in government or the Presidency’s attention, those representing the tech sector – from the non-profit hubs to private sector tech companies and everyone in between – should keep a very watchful eye on what the executive and legislative arms of government are doing, boldly or stealthily, as far as investment commitments, regulations and laws go, even as they hope to further their agendas.


It would be a tragedy to have been co-opted into an agenda that undermines the future of the ICT sector.

The tech sector, however defined, does not exist in a vacuum. The battles between government and media and civil society also have an impact on how this cross-cutting sector pans out.

Bloggers for instance, who fall within media and civil society, rely on ICTs for their work. Attempts to create rules and regulate impact their work. The tech community also expands to the consumers of products and innovations, and they should be kept in mind as well.

There is ongoing talk for players in the tech community (innovators, business operators and others) should have their own association, to serve as a voice of the technology sector in Kenya. How that shapes up will be interesting, as we also figure out what and who comprises the tech sector in Kenya.

Recent history bears lessons for those at the forefront to heed as we forge ‘the home of the Silicon Savannah’.