Ruto: Kenya's dream to be Africa's silicon valley still valid

The success of our e-Citizen model is a wake-up call for us to meet Kenyans online.

In Summary

• The connection between ICT penetration and digital connectivity on the one hand, and sustainable development, on the other, is no longer up for debate.

• Our ambition to become Africa’s ICT hub, a Silicon Savannah pulsating with innovative energy remains a valid dream.

President William Ruto during swearing in of cabinet secretaries at State House, Nairobi on October 27, 2022
President William Ruto during swearing in of cabinet secretaries at State House, Nairobi on October 27, 2022

Any conversation about technology is not only highly welcome but also immensely important, for several critical reasons.

One of them, of course, is that the government was elected on a platform to deliver a Digital Superhighway to spur innovation, business process outsourcing and competitiveness within the digital economy.

The second reason comes down to the motivations underlying that pledge.

One is that the internet and digital connectivity is a tremendous determinants of stronger economic performance, greater productivity and the emergence of sustainable competitiveness.

The other is that technology broadly speaking, and ICTs more particularly, are now highly influential cross-cutting enablers exerting immense influence in every sector.

As such, ICT and the digital ecosystem in general, are indispensable to the delivery of every pillar of our Plan for the rapid and radical socio-economic transformation of this country.

The connection between ICT penetration and digital connectivity on the one hand, and sustainable development, on the other, is no longer up for debate.

It makes tremendous sense, therefore, for us to expand our e-government footprint and bring more public and government services online through greater digitization.

The success of our e-Citizen model is a wake-up call for us to meet Kenyans online.

What this would do in turn is connect more Kenyans with one another as well as like-minded people throughout the world for social networking, creative collaborations, partnerships in technological innovation and business transactions.

A lot of daunting barriers to productivity and success simply vanish once connectivity is effectively facilitated.

An event like this, therefore, offers us a huge opportunity to explore opportunities that are game changers on their own and cumulatively form an undeniably transformational package.

The immense nature of these possibilities has been elegantly showcased this evening by various exciting presentations.

The promise of growth, profiled in the wonderful milestones over the past 15 years makes Google’s presence in Kenya truly historic.

The demonstrations of innovative story-telling formats took us on a journey of discovery.

The ease with which empowered creatives have plugged effectively into our national history to deliver both moving and eye-opening patriotic narratives is a revelation.

It suggests in powerful ways all the potential that lies untapped for us to tell and re-tell the legendary Kenyan story and anchor the national brand in a truly authentic, uniquely Kenyan identity.

I admire your Kenyan journey, and we appreciate what has been achieved so far.

I am impressed by the contents of your glimpse into the future.

The possible futures so effectively curated in the overview of prospects indicate a horizon full of opportunities.

Technology holds the key to optimizing these opportunities to achieve positive transformation.

The future is going to have its fair share of challenges, just like the present and the past.

As we speak, we are grappling with a complicated sequence of adversities arising from climate change.

Mitigating their devastating impacts and creating resiliencies is going to become a full-time function that might distract governments entirely, or at least significantly slow them down from pursuing or delivering on other essential mandates.

Technology holds tremendous promise of accuracy in forecasting and modelling and efficiency implementation.

It will therefore form a huge part of any effective strategy to build the necessary capacity for confronting the existential challenges of our time.

We appreciate Google’s consistent history of collaboration with the government.

Partnership with the technology sector has challenged our certainties and significantly improved our willingness to learn.

It has strengthened the government’s faith in technology and technological solutions, turning the Kenyan public sector into a champion of innovation, an early adopter of ICTs in service delivery and a pioneer in bringing government services to citizens.

For this reason, our commitments to the Digital Superhighway and the Creative Economy are taken very seriously by the people of Kenya, and by the government.

I welcome Google’s strong demonstration of willingness to expand the scope of possible collaborations with the government as an opportunity to escalate our transformational agenda.

Through the demonstrable capacity of its platforms to empower millions of ordinary people to achieve meaningful impact on the go, Google is an iconic bottom-up organization.

Its ability to transform very ordinary people into impactful figures and wealth creators makes a compelling argument for the model.

It vindicates the agenda of investing in ordinary people to be both radically visionary and highly feasible.

Let me convey my tremendous appreciation for your offer to set up the Google Engineering Centre in Kenya.

Our ambition to become Africa’s ICT hub, a Silicon Savannah pulsating with innovative energy remains a valid dream.

The Konza Technopolis has been part of this vision for a while, and our success in sustaining Kenya’s position as a leader in fintech as well as general ICT innovation demonstrates our capacity to use this opportunity to achieve global leadership. Our aspiration to uplift millions of livelihoods through technology and innovation now has new impetus.

I also express our gratitude for the ongoing grant of USD five million, which has gone a long way in transforming key sectors, thereby enabling us to achieve our vision for Kenya.

We have pledged to introduce 100,000 kilometres of fibre-optic connectivity to actualize universal broadband.

By funding connectivity support for 17 Level 4 hospitals, connecting 100 law courts to a Local Area Network and connecting 25 institutions in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training sector, this grant powerfully complements our efforts to deliver on the connectivity plan.

 We have made TVETs attractive to the youth. As a result, their enrolment rates now consistently outstrip university enrolment.

The availability of highly trained technicians, craftsmen, artisans and other professional workers has strengthened our technical, manufacturing and industrial sectors, and the economy is responding well.

The Google Developer Training programme in TVETs is propelling our TVETs to the next level and transforming our ICT innovation space.

This is a gift to our young people and a blessing for Kenya, and for that, I thank you very much.

It is time for us to explore various opportunities to advance our collaboration into areas of transformative, bottom-up possibilities.

We are aware of the immense opportunity for our vast pool of creative talent to gainfully engage with Google platforms. The principal obstacle to this opportunity is that our creatives have to operate accounts from other regions in order to access monetization, which is not available in Kenya.

I believe that monetization of content locally would bring more creators and creatives on board while enabling them to professionalise their outputs. I, therefore, suggest that monetization is a true win-win that can take our collaboration to new, exciting frontiers.

To complement the monetization agenda, I propose that Google seriously considers the possibility of a partnership with county governments, TVETs and universities to implement YouTube Skills and Learning programmes.

We are interested in partnering to leverage Google’s demonstrated capacity in expanding the provision of appropriate connectivity beyond Level 4 hospitals, law courts and TVETs, and extend it to primary and secondary schools.

To empower young Kenyans with competitive skills at the earliest possibility, there is a real opportunity for partnership in implementing Google’s Computer Science Unplugged curriculum to prepare the next generation of a globally relevant Digital Workforce.

The purpose of these requests is to provide an opportunity for Google and leverage partnership opportunities to consolidate Kenya as the home of the world’s digital workforce.

We have our eyes firmly fixed on winning and maintaining global leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is our plan to ensure that Kenya is able to plug into as well as service international supply chains from a strong competitive position.

A lot of jobs have moved online. It is common for tasks to be disaggregated so that each component is performed from a different part of the world by its most competent specialist.

Business process outsourcing offers real opportunities for our young, highly educated, motivated and productive people. Kenya must raise its competitiveness and claim its share of this job creator and income generator in order to raise the contribution of the digital workforce to the economy.

We make these requests, therefore, bearing this aspiration in mind.

I must revisit my earlier remarks on the bottom-up model. The opportunities that Google’s platform offers for connection, collaboration, aggregation and facilitation of secure payments present an immeasurable opportunity to migrate the Hustler Nation online for work and trade.

Our tremendous informal sector, whose MSMEs employ 85% of non-farm labour, as well as our agricultural sector, which contributes half of our GDP and provides incomes for two-thirds of Kenyan households, can become a force to reckon with if it organizes itself in the digital economy.

It is time for jua kali artisans, kiosk owners and farmers to come online and directly engage a broader global market, or connect more efficiently with local demand by eliminating information asymmetry.

I see space for Google to complement government efforts by deploying its platforms to facilitate this unprecedented transformation. There is immense promise in such a partnership, and I invite you to give it your kind and serious consideration.

We remain steadfast in our commitment to set up an Open University in order to promote inclusive, transformational and relevant education that responds to the demands of a dynamic economy on an exponential path.

This determination translates to yet another opportunity for us to collaborate with the Tech Community and aggregate ideas for the establishment of the University, the development of its curriculum and its implementation. Google possesses relevant platforms and other infrastructure to make this a reality.

I, therefore, urge you to consider this moment and its opportunities as we reflect on the possibilities of transformational partnership, collaboration and empowerment, against the backdrop of 15 years of Google’s historic presence, growth, impact and achievement in the Republic of Kenya.

 The writer is the President of the Republic of Kenya

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