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Kathryn Cave (Kenya) - Kenyatta and the Country's Technology Future…

Uhurhu Kenyatta - son of Jomo Kenyatta, ‘Father of the Kenyan People' - is being inaugurated today. Educated in the west, one of the richest men in Africa, Kenyatta is said to be affable and relaxed with the ability to instantly put people at their ease. He is also under charge for war crimes, and is the first international criminal court (ICC) indictee to be elected as head of state. Not surprisingly perhaps, this whole election has been dogged by controversy, and technology has taken a firm seat at the centre of all events.

Pre-election, Kenyan politicians were banned from sending unsolicited campaign SMS messages by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) to prevent the spread of hate messages. Post-election, the BBC described the well documented IEBC technological failure "as a blow to the reputation of a country positioning itself as an African tech hub." Whilst in the recent aftermath Kap Kirwok stated that "The ferocious tribal clashes waged in the digital forum called social media puts paid to the notion of having had a peaceful election. In that arena, it is war minus the shooting."

There has also been some usual transparency (or good PR anyway). "Uhuru Kenyatta has consistently used social media as a tool to communicate throughout his tenure previously as Finance Minister and later as a presidential aspirant." Said Kui Kinyanjui, a technology analyst based in Nairobi, who we spoke to yesterday, "Following his election as president, he has used social media to give real time updates on meetings and to comment on on-going events - an interesting development as never before has the country had such access to the office of the President."

Like for so much of Africa, technology is the key to Kenya's future. "[The] the harmonized Jubilee Manifesto [recognises] the fact that Kenya can be propelled into Africa's high-tech capital and the creation of a ‘Silicon Savannah' of interconnected telecommunications hubs can power our growing economy," explained Naijeria Toweett, a Kenyan web professional, based in Nairobi.

In fact technology - and the Konza Tech City initiative in particular - are at the very heart of Kenya's flagship 2030 strategy. As Mugo Kibati, Chief Executive for the 2030 delivery board explained recently in an interview with Kenya's The Star, "[Konza City] has attracted numerous inquiries from global leaders in ICT and financial sector. Remember we came from zero to five fibre optic cables in these four and a half years, which has already given confidence to IBM to establish research and development headquarters in Kenya, the only one in Africa and only the fourth in the world. The ICTs multinationals and telecommunications giants including Nokia and Google are already setting up here. We will be the best county in the world."

Things are certainly developing. Only yesterday Nokia launched its Life service in Kenya. This delivers updates on crop prices, weather forecasts and other useful information via SMS for a monthly subscription fee of 18-pence-a-year. Whether this constitutes progress or not is debatable, but it does reveal on-going interest from foreign companies. And as Toweet told us, "We have all see the success and growth that has come as a result of iHuB, mLab, Nailab , iLab in Nairobi, that this will be replicated in other counties across the country."

Kinyanjui stressed however, that, "The Kenyan ICT community can expect the new regime to capitalise on the gains made by the sector over the last 15 years and we can expect expanded investments in the sector as more international and local companies take advantage of the continued vigour in the industry. [But], in order to maintain the country's continued status as an innovation front-runner on the continent, we will need to see more enabling policies and intensified action on the part of the private sector to leverage our early gains in the face of an uptick in competition from other countries in Africa."

This is seconded by Toweett who added, "My only scepticism is that fact that with these hubs, Kenyan Government direct input has been minimal if any. They are privately established and run and government has only been to provide an enabling environment." The message is clear, there is real potential, but as Kenyan Techpreneur, Mbugua Njihia advised, "The Jubilee Government should move swiftly to implement programmes that have been gathering dust of lack of internal champions and buy-in. These projects leverage technology to deliver quick wins for key verticals such as agriculture, tourism and business enablement."

It is clear there are cogent progression strategies in place. These are all firmly underpinned by technology. The question left to be answered will be whether Kenya's first son will take a 'paternalistic approach' and lead developments...

 

By Kathryn Cave Editor at IDG Connect

 

Recent articles on Kenya include:

Interview: Laura Walker Hudson CEO, Foundation at FrontlineSMS - The Power of Text

Article: How Does Konza Tech City Square with the Post-Election Mess?

 

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