Prepare for a paperless government, 24-hour digital economy - CS Owalo

Government to empower all Kenyans to participate in the digital revolution.

In Summary

•According to the CS, the government's broader strategy will transform Kenya into a knowledge-based economy and make internet access more affordable for its citizens.

•The government aims to expand the fibre network across Kenya, laying approximately 100,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable.

ICT CS Eliud Owalo on May 19,2023
ICT CS Eliud Owalo on May 19,2023

President William Ruto's government has been keen on growing the economy through ICT and the digital space. It is also banking on the digital world to create jobs (address unemployment),solve challenges in the health sector, seal revenue leakages, among others. 

The government has listed ICT among key pillars in driving the Bottom-up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA), mainly through addressing the current challenges facing the country’s economy, stimulating economic recovery and bolstering resilience. 

The Star spoke to Information, Communications and the Digital Economy CS Eliud Owalo on the Kenya Kwanza's journey so far and what the future holds for the country. 

Where is the government with the Jitume Digital Enablement Programme and Ajira Digital Programme that seek to equip one million learners with on-demand ICT skills and entrepreneurship knowledge?

The Government is building up on existing digital skills and digital jobs linkages programmes such as Ajira Digital Programme. The Jitume Digital Enablement programme seeks to provide training and job centres (Jitume Centers) to enable the youth work and earn a living through digital jobs so they can positively contribute to the economy.

While the other programmes had focused on universities and constituencies, the Jitume programme seeks to cascade these opportunities to the village polytechnics and the ward levels.

To this end, we have managed to setup and operationalise 112 plus Jitume digital centres across the country to support the government’s initiative of creating employment opportunities for over 1,000,000 youth in three to five years time.

So far, 390,968 youths have been trained and 135,071 youths employed (both Jitume and Ajira). This is a solid 70 per cent transition from a learner to an earner!Equipped with infrastructure and high speed internet connectivity, these labs provide a much needed space for the on-demand digital skills such as Data entry, Annotation, Virtual Assistant, article writing etc.

The youth are then linked to the gig platforms (these include online job platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, Remotask etc.) Other activities taking place in these labs include mentorship sessions, entrepreneurship incubation among others.Whether you are a lawyer, a teacher, IT professional, it does not matter …there is always something to do online that pays.

The cost of internet still remains high in Kenya especially through service providers, anything the government is doing to address this? 

The Government is actively addressing the high cost of internet through several initiatives. These include the implementation of the Digital Masterplan 2022-2032 and the National Broadband Strategy 2018-2023, which aim to enhance digital infrastructure, improve internet accessibility, and foster competition among service providers which will lower prices.

Significant investments have been made towards ICT projects such as the Konza Technopolis and the expansion of the national optic-fibre backbone to improve connectivity and reduce internet costs.

Additionally, efforts are being made to bridge the digital divide, particularly in rural areas, through the Universal Service Fund, and to ensure data security and privacy with the Data Protection Act 2019.

These comprehensive measures are part of the government's broader strategy to transform Kenya into a knowledge-based economy and make internet access more affordable for its citizens.

Furthermore, the Government and other stakeholders have been undertaking various initiatives. To support digital entrepreneurship, the Ministry has partnered with mobile network operators to produce low-cost digital telephone gadgets and other digital devices.

The manufacturing plant has been established and operationalised and was launched by H.E. the President on 30th October 2023 and is now functional.

As at December 31, 2023, the plant was already producing 4,500 devices daily and was projected to attain a monthly capacity of 300,000 by end of January 2024. From launch in October 2023 to December 31st, the plant has produced 194,000 units and directly employed 310 staff as at December 2023.

Going under the brand name ‘Neon’, the devices are available at Safaricom shops, JTL shops and dealers and online at

The plant projects to expand range with at least 4 new devices in 2024, a tablet, a feature smart phone, a mobigo device and larger 6.75" smartphone. 5g smartphone also in design. While challenges remain, Kenya's ambitious digital initiatives are fostering a more connected, accessible, and knowledge-based economy.

With continued investment, collaboration, and focus on bridging the digital divide, these initiatives can empower all Kenyans to participate in the digital revolution and unlock its full potential for economic growth and social well-being.

The government had indicated plans to connect all level 4 and 5 hospitals in the country to the internet, where are you with these ambitious plans? Noting some regions barely have 4G

The government is actively working on digital healthcare initiatives, including efforts to connect public hospitals to the internet. Key highlights include:

a) Investments in digital systems for public hospitals, designed to meet the specific needs of each facility, with an acknowledgment of ongoing challenges in infrastructure and system interoperability.

b) Successful partnerships such as with GE Healthcare for teleradiology services in Ministry of Health hospitals, which has improved access to radiology services, reduced patient referrals by 30 per cent, and decreased scan costs by 20 per cent.

c) Plans to expand digital infrastructure by laying 100,000km of fibre optic cable over five years, aiming to enhance internet access, speed, and bandwidth across the country. This includes establishing 1,450 ICT hubs and 25,000 free WiFi hotspots.

d) A significant investment in a 15,000km submarine fibre optic cable to support universal broadband availability. These initiatives highlight our commitment to leveraging technology in healthcare, with potential benefits including improved efficiency, data-driven decision-making, and cost savings. The government's approach, combined with stakeholder collaboration, aims to drive Kenya's digital healthcare transformation.

There are several allegations of mistreatment of online Kenyan workers by foreign entities like Sema which underpays them. Is the ministry planning to come up with policies to guide this lucrative job market?

Sama is a BPO company with operations in Kenya. There are concerns about the welfare of employees in the digital space. This has attracted litigation in the case that is currently pending before court pitting former employees of Sama on the one hand, and Sama and Meta Platforms and others, on the other.

Without going into the details of the case which would be sub judice, and to answer your question head on, the Government is developing polices and guidelines for digital work space in particular and BPOs generally. In November 2023, the Solicitor General appointed a multiagency Committee to develop a legal and policy framework. This is intended to look into the employment issues of employees in digital employment/digital workplace.

To support BPOs and digital economy, the Ministry is developing a Cabinet Memorandum on recognition of the gig economy and BPOs. In short, the Government is coming up with regulations and policies to guide the BPO sub-sector, so as to take care of, and promote the interests of both employees in the digital work spaces and BPO operators.

Kindly give an update on the state's promise to set up digital hubs and wi-fi networks in all wards.

We have an ambitious initiative known as the Digital Superhighway Project to enhance the country's ICT infrastructure. This project, approved by the Cabinet, aims to expand the fibre network across Kenya, laying approximately 100,000 kilometres of fibre optic cable.

A significant component of this initiative is the creation of 25,000 public Wi-Fi hotspots and the establishment of Digital Village Smart Hubs in each of Kenya's 1,450 wards, which represent the country's lowest administrative units.

While this project outlines a comprehensive plan for improving digital connectivity at the ward level, the government has partnered with members of parliament to roll out the digital hubs.

Recently, parliament facilitated review of the national government CDF Act which now permits MPs to utilise three per cent of their annual CDF provision towards ICT facilities and related recurrent expenditure.

MPs will now construct the ICT facilities while national government will deploy devices, train the youth and connect the youth to global ICT companies to obtain digital jobs. Our target is to realise fully functional digital hubs in all 1450 wards within the next 2 years.

There have been calls to split M-Pesa from Safaricom. The past regime said it cannot punish Safaricom's success. Do you support this position?

As a Government, our role is to provide support to enterprise and create a conducive environment that makes Kenya globally competitive and attractive to investments, both local and foreign. This is very clear in the Kenya Kwanza Bottom-Up Transformation Agenda (BETA) as articulated from time to time by H.E the President.

We would like to see businesses thrive, grow and succeed. On the issue of whether there is need to split Mpesa from Safaricom: this discourse has been there in the past, motivated by concerns of dominance by the telecom giant and regulatory complexities given that Mpesa combines both telecommunications services- regulated by CA-use of sms and apps that use internet and financial services regulated by CBK that is payments, savings,credit, borrowing, lending.

The discourse is still ongoing and there are divergent views. The jury is still out. What the Government can insist on for now is quality services to Kenyans. Recall in September 2022, President Ruto succeeded in getting Safaricom and its partners to reduce Fuliza charges and interest.

The loon balloon internet plan organised by state in conjunction with Telkom and Alphabet Group died prematurely in 2020. What really happened and what lessons were borrowed

The Loon Balloon internet project was a pilot initiative aimed at expanding internet access to remote and unreached areas. It was a private sector initiative involving Telkom Kenya, Google’s parent firm- Alphabet, and its internet subsidiary, Loon, with regulatory clearances from the government.

The idea was to use solar-powered balloons carrying telecommunications equipment floating in the stratosphere to provide telecommunications or internet connectivity to people in remote areas, which are unserved or underserved.

Alphabet Group discontinued the loon project because of reasons of commercial viability. Once the Alphabet Group, as the owners of the technology discontinued its use, the implementation of the project in Kenya had to stop.

Key lessons, as a country, working with the private sector, we have to continually innovate and seek ways to harness technology to serve the needs of our people, and bridge the digital divide. The Kenya Kwanza Government is open to innovation and technology, and ICT and the Digital Superhighway is a critical component of the Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda.

Concluding remarks?

Through our Digitalisation efforts, Kenyans should prepare for a paperless government and a 24-hour digital economy.

Through ICT, we will seal all revenue leakages, enhance our revenue base to the extent that we will be able to settle all our external debt and have surplus to finance both our development and recurrent expenditure.

We are determined to realise our vision of an Informed, Empowered and Digitalised Kenyan Economy. We will position Kenya not only as the ICT Hub of Africa but also globally by way of comparative advantage to attract Foreign Direct Investment.

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