Kenya, A Crucible Of Technology And Business

Africa Attracting Technology Companies
Kenya’s iHub technology incubator

AFRICANGLOBE – Kenya is a frontrunner in technology and communications, but it must not slacken pace: the next decade will throw up opportunities to succeed in the global arena.

Kenya has made a name for itself in technology. Our M-PESA mobile-money transfer scheme, developed by Safaricom in 2007, is being copied world-wide.

Our East African Community was the first to harmonise phone tariffs across the region, allowing a Kenyan to talk to a Ugandan for no extra cost.

In 2011, Africa’s first mobile-phone application laboratory opened in Nairobi, a city that also hosts a research centre from global technology giant IBM. Blackberry and Google are already here.

Our animators have produced award-winning children’s cartoons. We are not stopping there.

In the next decade, Kenya’s information and communications technology (ICT) will be radically transformed. Broadband, for example, will be accessible and affordable for more than 80 percent of the population.

In turn, the pressure to deal with the problem of the youth bulge, the growing need to empower all citizens, the nearly insatiable demand for data and the emphasis on devolving power to the counties will become the major drivers of technology diffusion in Kenya.

This will create the opportunity for the country to take off and become a major global ICT innovation hub.

Kenya is one of few countries in Africa that has comprehensively dealt with the issue of ICT infrastructure, and as a result internet penetration jumped from less than 10% in 2008 to 40% in 2013.

Studies have found that a 10% drop in the cost of using the internet adds 1 million more users.

The International Telecommunication Union estimates that every 10% increase in the use of broadband leads to 1.3% growth in gross domestic product (GDP).

Indeed, a recent study by the World Bank shows that ICT accounts for 2% of the GDP growth rate in Kenya annually. It is in this respect that there are multiple efforts to drive down the cost of broadband.

An increasing number of young people are leveraging the internet to create new entrepreneurial opportunities.

The nascent innovation hubs in Nairobi are fuelling development of new applications, especially on mobile platforms, to create efficiencies across all sectors.

India, Costa Rica and Mauritius have shown how countries can harness global demand for business process outsourcing (BPO).

Kenya is positioning itself to join the wave as a way to provide employment for our youth, who are educated but lack jobs. It is only a matter of time before the country takes up the opportunity and challenges the major players.

In 2008, KenCall, one of our major BPO players, won the best non-European call centre award at the European Call Centre Awards. It was a milestone for the sector.

The main thrust of Kenya’s technology drive is to ease communication with the rest of the globe’s economies.

Money movement, e-commerce and the fast movement of information about goods and services will enable Kenya to become part of global supply chains.

Inexpensive and ubiquitous telecommunications have finally obliterated all impediments to international competition, but the dawning ‘flat world’ will not necessarily be economically stable. This calls for the creation of a class of rugged and adaptable entrepreneurs.

Companies in the service sector – telemarketing, accounting, computer programming, engineering, scientific research, etc. – will continue to outsource their activities, and this is Kenya’s opportunity to grasp.

To succeed in the global arena, Kenya must also seek to provide better and faster services to its citizens.

Creating better education, health and financial services for Kenyans will deepen our capacity to be global competitors. To this end, the country must move fast to automate many of its services to create local efficiencies.

The aim must be the seamless integration of the national and county governments. Next-generation governments will depend on mobile platforms.

These next-generation governments, with the next-generation citizens, will demand local digital content – a massive source of employment.

For example, to improve agricultural yields, a farmer will need to consult a mobile phone. To give evidence in court, you need telepresence. These things and more are what will characterise the future.

For all these solutions, we must develop the content that is necessary. M-PESA has taught us that necessity is the greatest driver of change.

Finally, we must strive to provide what the developers need to create solutions.

Embracing open data is a cog that is necessary to develop the new applications we need to improve our livelihoods.

It is a collaborative effort: the people and governments will drive the future.

Kenya can become a global innovation centre as well as a major player in the outsourcing business, but it will only do so by building up its profile from local opportunities, creating local efficiencies and developing human resource capacity.

This is what is needed to make the country competitive.


By: Bitange Ndemo