President Ruto’s government plan regarding the ICT sector represents a significant step towards a much-anticipated economic revolution in Kenya.
- Kenya has not been left behind in the growth and development of digital technology.
- Kenya’s new government faces challenges from local businesses and start-ups to retain the best tech talent.
- The president pledged to roll out 100,000 kilometers of internet fiber across the country over a five-year period.
William Samoei Ruto was sworn in on September 13, 2022. Kenya’s fifth President takes the helm as the world engages in a digital revolution. Technologies like the metaverse and crypto are slowly but steadily gaining ground.
Kenya has not been left behind in the growth and development of digital technology. The richest economy in East Africa shines with the development of digital technologies. However, much remains to be done and the new government has ample leeway to implement its plan to further develop Kenya’s digital space.
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According to President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza manifesto, the new government plans to establish Kenya as an African digital hub. The $400 million plan represents a comprehensive technology strategy that will extend to the development of exportable digital software.
This ambitious plan is no easy task. It presents a daunting task for Kenya’s best-educated president since independence. The new government’s grand ICT plan requires a concerted effort to overcome a chain of challenges in order to realize the dream of making Kenya a local software development hub and marketing it globally as an epicenter for technology products, services and talent.
Although not explicit, the previous government had a strategy to develop Kenya’s digital ecosystem. In fact, President Kenyatta’s government has overseen Kenya’s growth as one of Africa’s most robust technology ecosystems. Still, President Ruto has acknowledged that the country has yet to reach its full potential in digital development and has promised to raise Kenya’s technological capabilities to global standards.
Fostering local talent is crucial for the ICT sector
As the famous saying goes, “prophets are not valued in their homeland,” so is Africa and Kenya when it comes to retaining technology talent. Brain drain has been an issue in Africa for decades. This outflow has caused countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya to lose significant talent in several key sectors to other overseas countries. Consequently, this has weighed heavily on the respective economies.
The 2021 Google Africa Developer Ecosystem Report finds that 38% of sub-Saharan Africa’s 716,000 software developers work for companies outside of the continent. Therefore, the government under Roto’s presidency needs to transform the local developer landscape to make it cheaper to curb the brain drain.
Software and technology developers who work with foreigners earn 1.4% more per month than those who are employed by a local organization. As such, Kenya’s new government must address the challenges local businesses and startups face to retain the best tech talent.
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Increasing fiber connectivity in Kenya and reducing internet costs
The president pledged to roll out 100,000 kilometers of internet fiber across the country over a five-year period. This move will further advance the internet connectivity that the previous regime started. A key step will be to upgrade rural areas from 2G and 3G networks to 4G in all 47 counties to have one of Kenya’s fastest internet speeds with urban counterparts.
The cost of mobile internet in Kenya remains the highest in the East African region. President Ruto’s government is therefore aiming to lower the cost of Internet access in Kenya. The country has seven underwater internet cables. Kenya’s total fiber optic coverage is about 10,000 kilometers as of August 2022.
Kenya ranks high in smartphone penetration in Africa. However, the previous government introduced a 10% tax on mobile phones shipped into the country in June, driving up the cost of smartphones.
President Ruto must remain interested in how this plays out as he tries to give more citizens access to internet services via affordable smartphones. The affordability of stable internet also remains key to Ruto’s goal of free mobile calls and surfing the internet without fees.
Backup of government data systems
The new government’s promises in the ICT sector include bringing 80% of government services online. This move represents a significant shift as many semi-public agencies and agencies still rely on outdated IT systems. Notably, previous administrations have stored tons of data in traditional silos without a resolve to digitize it.
Therefore, the digitization of government services requires upskilling and reskilling of public service personnel to meet the demands of modern technology and to facilitate faster access to government services for citizens. Part of the proposed budget allocation will protect every government portal from malicious hacks and cyberattacks. Hackers infiltrated a total of 18 sensitive government sites.
The place of frontier technologies in Ruto’s ICT sector master plan
Frontier technologies are those that leverage digitization and interconnectivity. These include artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, blockchain, robots, drones, gene editing, nanotechnology and photovoltaic solar cells.
By 2025, the cutting-edge technology market could reach over $3.2 trillion, up from $350 billion today. North America and Europe have the best-prepared economies for these rapidly evolving technologies, while sub-Saharan Africa and other emerging economies fare poorly on readiness.
Ruto has pledged to implement the border’s digital master plan for 2022-2031. The plan advocates the use of frontier technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing. This is a significant development as the previous government has shown no evidence of implementing the blockchain and AI task force’s recommendations from three years ago on deploying the technologies across sectors to harness the nation’s digital potential.
Furthermore, part of the key decisions of the Ruto administration is whether or not to launch a Central Bank of Retailers (CBDC) digital currency. In February 2021, the Central Bank of Kenya began considering the possible introduction of eShilling, the counterpart to Nigeria’s eNaira.
Updating education with technology
Ruto’s Kwanza government in Kenya has pledged to cut education costs and increase research funding from 0.8% to 2%. The administration also plans to set up a one-year paid internship for all university students. As part of the ICT development project, the government will be tasked with incorporating the new programming program into the school curriculum.
Kenya is the first country in Africa to teach programming in public schools. For broad coverage of technical education, the government faces an existential challenge to update the university curriculum to meet the demands of the fourth industrial revolution and Web3. This will help Kenyan graduates to meet modern technological content and job market demands.
Learning from past mistakes
Former President Kenyatta and Ruto pledged to provide first-grade students with computers to encourage digital literacy from an early age after winning the 2013 presidential election. However, the proposal proved unrealistic when the government decided to buy tablets. A month before this year’s general election, they were put up for sale on Uganda’s black market due to poor program management.
The government hopefully founded the digital metropolis Konza Technopolis, calling it the “first smart city south of the Sahara”. However, nine years after its conception, the project has become a white elephant. Ruto’s ICT ministry needs to adopt a different strategy to turn Kenya’s broken promise of a smart city into a new hope that will create thousands of promised jobs
The ICT sector and IT-enabled services can soon create numerous new jobs and stimulate economic change. In addition, there is a growing need for professional services and outsourcing of knowledge processes that involve information-related business processes. Information technology has a special place in the new government’s program and will undoubtedly bring great benefits. Consequently, the plans of the new government under Ruto as President regarding the ICT sector represent a significant step towards a much-anticipated economic revolution in Kenya.
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