FRANCIS MUREITHI: Why we need to invest more in digital economy

Lack of digital skills is a barrier to meaningful participation in a digital society.

In Summary

•With digital skills, citizens can adopt, use and monetize online technical, commercial and creative arts opportunities.

•Digital skills are crucially important in leveraging ICTs to boost development. 

Kenya’s digital transformation
Kenya’s digital transformation
Image: OZONE

Personal uses of digital devices continue to grow. From entertainment, mobile banking, online shopping, leisure and the like. Already, the government is pushing more of its services to the digital space.

According to Information, Communication and the Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary Eliud Owalo, the ultimate goal of his ministry is to digitize up to 80 per cent of government records by the end of June this year and to digitize an initial 5,000 services in the same period.


As more government records and services go digital, there should be an equal push to boost digital literacy, especially in rural areas.

An environment where services are highly digital but the intended user or consumer of the same service is not digital savvy will create a digitally marginalized citizenry.

It can also create an environment where those who have the know-how can easily take advantage of those without the required knowledge.

Digitizing records and pushing more services to digital is a very noble idea. But equally important, is directing more energies and resources to how ordinary citizens can monetize the ICT and the digital space.

This is what will create employment and actually deal with the menace of unemployment mostly among young people. Presently, many young people are spending a lot of their time on Tik Tok and Instagram.

Mostly, they are here to connect, catch up, have fun, and basically entertain themselves.

But very few look at the power of what they are doing from an economic point of view.

Very few actually critically think of how this love for the use of Tik Tok and the rest can be turned into a powerful source of legitimate livelihood.

In many cases, you will see influencers using the same platforms to promote brands. They do so because it's business for them, it’s a source of livelihood.  But rarely will you see an ordinary youth, perhaps even someone running a small boutique, using the same platform to promote her business.

Some are doing it yes, but they are still not looking at digital platforms as powerful marketing tools that can turn around the business.

A few days ago, a Nakuru-based Boda boda rider caused a stir online.  The young man, whose hunk looks attracted the attention of many women, always shares videos wearing boda boda riders gear while posing next to his motorbike.

The rider could have just been posting for fun, but the postings ended up marketing him. But is he looking at the public attention from a commercial perspective? Is he taking advantage of the free marketing to cement his business?

We as a country can only become a leader in digital transformation and innovation if we focus on simple ways of using technology to our advantage.  Continuous skill acquisition and development from young people and even older ones are critical.

Various reports have over time shown that people in rural areas continue to face greater challenges than people in urban areas in terms of remaining connected and positively participating in digital society.

Digital literacy

Lack of digital skills is a barrier to meaningful participation in a digital society.

According to the Digital Economy CS, the government is doing its best to make people digitally literate and equip them with digital skills for optimal uptake of online opportunities. These noble steps should be accelerated.

With digital skills, citizens can adopt, use and monetize online technical, commercial and creative arts opportunities.

 The government should accelerate its plan to establish the digital village smart hubs and studios in each of the wards countrywide.

The hubs are to be designed to support learning, innovation and entrepreneurship by offering free working spaces and Wi-Fi to facilitate the uptake of online jobs by youths across the country.

If this plan is actualized, then the country will have taken a milestone in creating a society that makes money right from the village level from the digital space.

With the 2030 deadline for delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals fast approaching, identifying new strategies to achieve full digital inclusion has become a matter of utmost urgency if we are to have any hope of meeting our Global Goals.

This call means working more collaboratively to solve chronic gaps in rural access, access at home and at school, digital skills training, quality and speed of connection, and equal digital opportunities for marginalized groups including women and girls.

Digital skills are crucially important in leveraging ICTs to boost development. Yet data for such skills remain very scant.

The gap between individuals using the Internet and those with digital skills may mean that many may be using the Internet without being able to fully benefit from it or avoid its dangers.

To address this, there is a need for a serious collaboration between the State and non-state actors.

Thinking outside the box and finding creative and novel solutions to problems is a cornerstone of innovation.

One of the initiatives that caught my attention recently is what the Mozilla Corporation through its Mozilla Africa Mradi programme in conjunction with the Gladys Boss Foundation (GBF) has initiated.

Here, the project involves sponsoring the youth in rural areas to identify community challenges in food or medicine for which they can co-create digital solutions in partnership with Mozilla.

The initiative involves holding workshops for tech start-ups for students in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, to train them how to pitch their ideas and ensure they have access to the information and knowledge needed to establish and run profitable start-ups.

Access to high-speed internet

A few days ago, the World Bank Group Board of Directors approved $390 million (about Sh 52.1 billion) financing to support Kenya’s digital economy.

This is in the first phase of a programme to expand access to high-speed internet, improve the quality and delivery of education and selected government services, and build skills for the regional digital economy.

The Kenya Digital Economy Acceleration Project will use a Multi-Phase Programmatic Approach (MPA) in two phases where Phase 1 will run from 2023-2028, focusing on expanding access to high-speed internet, improving the quality and delivery of education and selected government services, and building skills for the regional digital economy.

Phase 2 will run from 2026-2030, concentrating on building a data-driven and secure environment for enhanced digital service delivery and innovation for the regional digital economy.

This is a very big boost to the country and its plans to advance digital entrepreneurship.

Undoubtedly, digital technologies have the potential to become a major accelerator of economic growth and development and an important driver of progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  We just need to have our eyes on the ball.

The author is the Radio Africa Group Digital Editor. Views expressed here are his own

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