OWALO: Kenya's digital economy on the horizon

State laying 100,000km of fibre-optic cable to unserved and underserved, 8.5m homes, businesses

In Summary
  • The industry is now six times larger than it was at the beginning of the decade.
  • With your participation and support, we look forward to an empowered, digitalised and globally competitive Kenyan society.
One of the two computer labs at Uhuru Gardens Primary School, Lang'ata.
DIGITAL ECONOMY: One of the two computer labs at Uhuru Gardens Primary School, Lang'ata.

As we reflect upon the achievements of the first year of the Kenya Kwanza Government, I would like to take stock of the Digital Superhighway’s; contributions to the socioeconomic transformation of our country, which is well and truly on course under the leadership and tutelage of President William Ruto.  

Kenya’s Digital Masterplan 2022-2032 recognises infrastructure as the foundation upon which all Information, Communication, Digital Technologies and any progress from them is anchored.

It is for this reason that, under the infrastructure pillar, we have embarked on laying 100,000km of fibre-optic cable countrywide, including to currently unserved and under-served areas to provide access to an estimated 8.5 million homes and businesses, 1,450 wards, 400 police stations, 13,000 health facilities, 40,000 public schools, markets, and other public institutions over the next five years.

Without digital infrastructure, Kenya cannot benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things, robotics, virtual reality, fintech, e-commerce, 5G technologies and artificial intelligence that are the new frontier for economic transformation globally.

Working with partners in the private sector over the last twelve months, I am pleased to report that the MIC-DE has successfully rolled out an additional 8,419km of fibre-optic countrywide.

Expanding our fibre optic cable nationwide is a significant precursor to our digital transformation journey. Having recently successfully negotiated World Bank Funding for the Kenya Digital Economy Acceleration Project worth $570 million and additional funding worth Sh5 billon from the Universal Service Fund to support our programmes, we project to add another 10-15,000km in the next 1 year to the National Optic Fibre Network Backhaul Initiative.

To realise the full utility value of the NOFBI, it must bring socioeconomic transformation to citizens by opening up opportunities for job creation, support business, and e-commerce, education, innovation, access to online and GoK e-services, e-health, e-agriculture, and the creative economy while also spurring inclusive growth. This requires providing internet connectivity to the people via Last Mile Connectivity, which connects the main backbone and the users.

Consequently, the government, partnering with the private sector ISPs, is installing 25,000 free public Wi-Fi hotspots in public places countrywide, providing affordable internet connectivity to millions of Kenyans. So far, the MIC-DE has installed 518 Free Wi-Fi Hotspots countrywide.

This is bound to expand exponentially as we expand NOFBI countrywide. The uptake and subsequent benefit from this ICT Infrastructure and its inherent technologies is directly proportionate to the ICT literacy of the users. Our Digital Masterplan emphasises investing in digital skills to optimise digital opportunities and socio-economic transformation.

Consequently, over the last 12 months, the MIC-DE has provided connectivity to 116 educational institutions, primarily TVETs and, equipped them with 11,400 internet access devices, and trained 390,968 individuals through the Jitume and Ajira programmes. This has registered a tremendous success rate, with 119,462 youths gaining employment in digital and physical ICT-related jobs through this intervention. 

To further enhance access, promote innovation and use of emergent digital technologies, and offer ICT literacy, we purpose to establish 1,450 digital innovation hubs, one in each ward.

To date, we have successfully implemented 247 hubs with access to high-speed internet and learning centres with a capacity for 30-100 cohorts, workstations, innovation labs, Wi-Fi hotspots, and co-working Spaces.

These hubs can potentially train 300 youths and create a corresponding number of digital jobs at a minimum, giving an average of 1,500 digital jobs per constituency. The MIC-DE has been working with MPs to amend the NG-CDF Act to enable utilisation of CDF for OPEX sustenance of the hubs.

I’m pleased to report that Parliament has already passed the amendment and is now awaiting assent. Thanks to enhanced connectivity and access, in the last 12 months, the MIC-DE has digitalised fully digitalised 13,482 government services. Kenyans can now access GoK services from the comfort of their homes. The Presidency is also leading from the front in adopting digital services, and as of January 2023, all Cabinet meetings have since gone digital.

To enable citizens to access GoK and other digital services seamlessly and securely in both the public and private sectors, the government is pursuing a digital identity to facilitate virtual consumption of government services.

We have also recently intervened in the market to facilitate inclusive connectivity and access by partnering with the private sector to facilitate local e-assembly and provision of affordable smartphones to MSMEs and those at the lower end of the economic pyramid. The manufacturing plant was launched by the President, on October 30 and is now operational, producing low-cost smartphones at around Sh7,500. 

In the media realm, the MIC-DE is already revitalising the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation by modernising the TV Centre, increasing FM Radio coverage with 20 additional transmitters, and procuring new Outside Broadcasting TV and radio vans.

Ongoing efforts also envisage upgrading the Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting Infrastructure through a partnership between the Kenyan and Spanish governments.

On revitalisation of the Postal Corporation of Kenya, the corporation is undergoing restructuring to ensure efficient and optimal operations. We are targeting e-commerce and financial services.

On the other hand, enhanced marketing of POSTA’s services is bearing fruit. In the last year, the PCK has generated over Sh200 million in revenue through delivery of passports nationwide. It is also working with the Department of Immigration to offer a one-stop service when one applies for a passport.

In the past year, PCK has earned Sh600 million for logistics services provided to the government, expanded its EMS (Expedited Mail Services) offering, and increased new contracts that will see a projected increase from Sh600 million in FY 2022-23 to Sh900 million in 2023-24. It also delivers medical and related supplies to medical facilities in collaboration with Kemsa. The contract is expected to be worth about Sh295 million. 

To ensure the successful implementation of its programmes, the MIC-DE recognises that it must operate within a conducive legal, policy, and regulatory framework and has either developed or progressed vital legislation in this respect.

Some key achievements in this regard are the approval and the gazettement of amendments to the National ICT Policy Guidelines 2020, which removed the mandatory requirement for foreign companies investing in the ICT sector in Kenya to seek 30 per cent local shareholding and the National Addressing System Policy and Bill, among others.

To further align the industry’s operations to its operating environment, we have recently constituted a sector working group to review sectoral legal and policy frameworks and recommend wide-ranging changes and alignments shortly.

While a lot of work remains to be done, the progress made so far is encouraging. According to the World Bank, Kenya’s ICT sector’s growth has outperformed every other sector, expanding by 23 per cent annually during the last decade.

The industry is now six times larger than it was at the beginning of the decade. With your participation and support, we look forward to an empowered, digitalised and globally competitive Kenyan society. Our digital and 24-hour economy is the horizon.


The writer is the ICT Cabinet Secretary 

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