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Kenya is ready for world of big data

Wednesday April 11 2018


A photograph showing the mobile network operator Safaricom Limited's intention of notifying M-Pesa users of transaction costs via SMS on February 16, 2017. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Kenya has surged ahead of the rest of Africa in building tech-driven applications for mass consumption.

From standalone apps such as M-Pesa that drive financial inclusivity to I-cow, an innovative agricultural application driving growth and diversity in the agricultural sector, these technologies have made Nairobi stand out as the Silicon Savannah of Africa.

The ever-changing face of innovation means the Kenyan tech industry has to keep evolving even just to remain at par with the pack. But what does the future hold? How can Kenya remain on the forefront of the evolving tech chain?


A couple of years back, the mantra “Content is king” ruled every aspect of innovation. We are now in an era where the trending terms are big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) and the new mantra is “Big data is king”.

Big data describes the massive volumes of structured, semi-structured and unstructured data that organisations can mine or analyse to gain insights which they can then use to enhance operational and strategic decision making. The sheer amount of data demands cost-effective and innovative ways to process information and make sense of it. That is where machine learning and AI come into the picture.


By effectively harnessing the power of big data, Kenya, and Africa, could drive massive productivity gains, cost savings and even new business models in sectors such as government, health, insurance and transport.


Machine learning is the use of computer algorithms to crunch large data sets and conduct statistical analyses, enabling computer systems to access data and use it to ‘learn’ for themselves. This allows organisations to more heavily automate business and enhance productivity.

Several challenges can be addressed through the machine learning lens. Traffic, for example, is a nightmare for Kenyans. Machine learning helps to solve the problem by having street lights and cameras share data that is used to predict congestion or accidents. The more data gathered, the better the predictions about where problems could be expected.

Another example is streaming services such as Netflix, which allows subscribers to stream video content (movies and series) on demand.

The platform is built in a manner that accurately predicts what the subscriber will be interested in watching, based on previous selections, saving time that would otherwise be spent scrolling for content.


AI describes the ability of computer systems to perform tasks that require human intelligence — such as visual perception, speech recognition and translation — and then make decisions.

AI applications inform us what our heart rates should be during exercise and our ideal eating plans and will soon be used in medicine — informing us, for example, of potential health risks, potentially averting diseases like stroke and heart failure.

I-cow, a local app, is using AI in agri-tech, enabling farmers to add value to their harvest, linking buyers and sellers and predicting weather patterns.


The financial sector has not been left behind either. BlockChain technology holds great promise for Fintech.

With the great success we have had with M-Pesa, imagine if it were hosted on BlockChain — a fitting example of how BlockChain can be used in making cash transfer fast, simple and effective.

Today we have Bonga Points, next we can have a cryptocurrency application reliant on BlockChain, where we redeem points for products we would otherwise have bought with cash!

While it might take decades to eradicate physical currency and make Kenya a “cashless economy”, through M-Pesa, we have and can make more great strides.


The internet in Africa has become more affordable and accessible to the masses. Kenya is ranked as having the fastest internet speeds in the continent, according to the ‘State of the Internet Connectivity Report’ by Akamai 2017 quarter one report.

Having the right infrastructure, capacity and security to innovate and explore these technology trends is crucial.

However, in Kenya, in spite of all our success stories already recognised globally, we are just at the beginning of our unique ICT revolution.

We are huge contributors to the “Africa Rising” narrative. Let us continue to innovatively explore how we can invest in these exciting future technologies which will take Kenya into its bright destiny.

Mr Tugee is regional head of sales at Seacom. [email protected]