President Ruto’s administration plan regarding the ICT sector represents a significant move 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 administration must address local corporates and startups’ challenges in retaining the best tech talent.
- The President promised to lay 100,000 kilometres of internet fibre all over the country over five years.
William Samoei Ruto got sworn in on September 13, 2022. Kenya’s fifth president takes over when the world undergoing a digital revolution. Technologies such as the metaverse and crypto are slowly but steadily taking root.
Kenya has not been left behind in the growth and development of digital technology. East Africa’s richest economy stands tall in the development of digital technology. However, a lot needs to be done, and the new administration has enough space to execute its plan regarding the advancement of the Kenyan digital space.
As per President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza manifesto, the new government plans to establish Kenya as an African digital hub. The plan, for which US$400 million will be allocated, represents a broad tech strategy that will go as far as developing digital software with export viability.
This ambitious plan is no mean feat. It presents a daunting task for Kenya’s most educated President since independence. The new administration’s grand plan on ICT will require concerted efforts to overcome a chain of challenges to realize the dream of making Kenya a local software development hub and market it globally as an epicentre of tech products, services and talent.
Although not explicit, the previous administration had a strategy for developing Kenya’s digital ecosystem. Indeed, President Kenyatta’s administration oversaw Kenya’s growth as one of Africa’s most robust tech ecosystems. Nevertheless, President Ruto has acknowledged that the country has not yet reached its full potential in digital development and has pledged to elevate Kenya’s technological ability to global standards.
Nurturing local talent is crucial for the ICT sector
As the famous adage posits, “prophets are not appreciated in their homeland” and so is the case for Africa and Kenya regarding technological talent retention. Brain drain has remained an issue in Africa for decades. This drain has seen countries like Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya lose significant talent in several key sectors to other overseas countries. Consequently, this has strained the respective economies considerably.
The 2021 Google Africa Developer Ecosystem report notes that 38% of the 716,000 software developers in sub-Saharan Africa work for businesses outside the continent. Thus, the government under Roto’s presidency must transform the local developer landscape to make it more favourable to curb the brain drain.
Software and technology developers working with foreign earn 1.4 more monthly than those engaged by a local organization. Therefore, Kenya’s new administration must address local corporates and startups’ challenges in retaining the best tech talent.
Raising Kenya’s fibre connectivity and lowering the cost of the internet
The President promised to lay 100,000 kilometres of internet fibre all over the country over five years. This move will continue to make inroads in internet connectivity that the former regime kickstarted.
One significant move will be to upgrade rural areas in all 47 counties from 2G and 3G networks to 4G to match with urban counterparts enjoying one of the highest internet speeds Kenya offers.
The cost of mobile internet in Kenya remains the highest in the East African region. President Ruto’s administration thus targets lowering internet access costs in Kenya. The country boasts seven sub-sea internet cables. Kenya’s total fibre optic coverage is about 10,000 kilometres as of August 2022.
Kenya ranks highly in Africa’s smartphone penetration. However, the former administration in June introduced a 10% tax on mobile phone shipments into the country, raising the cost of smartphones.
President Ruto must remain keen on how this plays out as he tries to allow more citizens to access internet services through affordable smartphones. Affordability of stable internet also remains key to Ruto’s ambition of making free mobile calls and browsing the internet at zero charges.
Securing the government’s data systems
Part of the new administration’s ICT sector promises involves making 80% of government services accessible online. This move represents a significant transformation since many government parastatals and agencies still depend on legacy IT systems. Notably, previous administrations stored tons of data in conventional silos with no resolve to digitize them.
Therefore, digitization of government services thus requires upskilling and reskilling of public service staff to match modern technology demands to assist citizens access government services faster. Part of the proposed budgetary allocation will secure every government portal against malicious hacks and cyber-attacks. 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 use 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 market for frontier technologies might reach over $3.2 trillion, up from the current $350 billion. Northern America and Europe have the most prepared economy for these quickly evolving technologies, whereas sub-Saharan Africa and other emerging nations score poorly on preparedness.
Ruto has pledged to execute the frontier’s digital master plan for 2022-2031. The plan advocates for using frontier technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI), and quantum computing. This is a significant development since the previous government showed no evidence of implementing the blockchain and AI taskforce’s recommendations from three years ago to deploy the technologies in all sectors to harness the nation’s digital potential.
Moreover, part of Ruto’s administration’s major decisions lies in whether or not to introduce a retail central bank digital currency (CBDC). In February 2021, Kenya’s Central bank initiated deliberations over possibly introducing an eShilling, the counterpart to Nigeria’s eNaira.
Putting education up to speed with technology
Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza administration has pledged to reduce education costs and raise research funding from 0.8% to 2%. The administration also has plans to set up a one-year paid internship for all university students. Under the project to develop ICT, the government will have the task of plugging the new coding program into the school curriculum.
Kenya is the first country in Africa to teach coding in public schools. For widespread coverage in tech education, the government will face the existential challenge of updating the university curriculum to match the demands of the fourth industrial revolution and Web3. This will help the Kenyan graduates measure up to the modern technological content and employment market demands.
Learning from past mistakes
Former President Kenyatta and Ruto pledged to give Grade One students computers to promote digital literacy from a tender age after winning the 2013 presidential election. However, the proposal proved unrealistic when the government opted to purchase tablets. A month before this year’s general elections, they were discovered for sale on Uganda’s black market due to poor program management.
The government established the Konza Technopolis digital metropolis with hope, dubbing it the “first smart city south of the Sahara”. However, the project has become a white elephant nine years after its conception. Ruto’s ICT ministry will need to take a different strategy to transform Kenya’s broken promise of a smart city into a new hope that generates the thousands of promised employment
Soon, the ICT sector and IT-enabled services can generate a large number of new jobs and stimulate economic transformation. In addition, there is a growing need for profession-based services and knowledge process outsourcing, which comprise information-related business operations. Information technology occupies a special place in the new government’s manifesto and will undoubtedly reap huge benefits. Consequently, the new government’s plans under Ruto as president regarding the ICT sector represent a significant move towards a much anticipated economic revolution in Kenya.