Opinion and Analysis

How the government has made great strides in embracing new technology

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President Kibaki and Information PS Bitange Ndemo (centre) listen as Symbiotic CEO Mbugua Njihia explains how his medical software works during the launch of e-government web portal in July 2011. In the past, ICT was only mentioned in passing but now it is an integral part of public policy debate. Photo/File

President Kibaki and Information PS Bitange Ndemo (centre) listen as Symbiotic CEO Mbugua Njihia explains how his medical software works during the launch of e-government web portal in July 2011. In the past, ICT was only mentioned in passing but now it is an integral part of public policy debate. Photo/File 

By Mike Eldon

Posted  Wednesday, January 23  2013 at  16:01

In Summary

  • Journey was long but much has been achieved such as launch of projects like e-government.

Stimulated by reading Martin Oduor-Otieno’s biography, Beyond the Shadow of My Dreams, in my last article I reflected on the impressive culture transformation that occurred during his time as permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance as part of the turn-of-the-century dream team.

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Today, I take you back to the much talked about national planning process of his day, the PRSP (Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper).

In those miserable years “planning” had more to do with how to extract money from the increasingly crumbling State institutions than with how to build a nation.

It reached a point where development partners, and not least the World Bank and the IMF, concluded that as our government was insufficiently committed to the prudent management of national resources there was no point allocating funds to Kenya.

Here, as all over Africa and in developing countries around the world, the World Bank promoted the rolling out of its three-year PRSP planning framework as one of the conditions to be fulfilled if it was to support projects.

It provided the funding, and serious public engagement was made a fundamental condition. Eight sectors of the economy were identified to be studied, and for the first time in Kenya, ICT was to be among them.

Sector Working Groups were assembled for each of the eight, with representation encouraged from both government and the private sector.

I was asked to join the one for ICT, which was chaired by another member of the dream team, then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communications Titus Naikuni.

As Mr Oduor-Otieno’s biography reveals, Mr Naikuni was beset with many immediate major issues to handle, so he was hardly ever able to attend our meetings. But he was a great champion for ICT, and offered the needed top-level leadership.

Until that time, to the extent that ICT featured on the national agenda it was restricted to the “C” in the middle, and that was mainly to do with the long uphill struggle to privatise the monopoly State telecommunications provider.

So we came up with a four-pronged approach to comprehensive ICT strategy development, comprising policy, legislation and regulation; infrastructure and infostructure; e-government; and human capacity building.

Our convener was Juma Okech, the Director of the Government IT Service, who offered excellent strategic input (he has since passed away), and active participation came largely from a few of us from the private sector, accompanied by several largely passive civil servants.

What a great example of learning by doing this was. It was a wonderful experience, learning from those in the public sector.

We duly produced our report, and I and my colleagues felt good about what we had created —from scratch. The report was due to be presented by our chairman Titus Naikuni to the PRSP Committee on the afternoon of March 28th 2001.

But at lunchtime, on that day he was fired, so he never made it to the meeting. Not only did we find ourselves orphaned, but we soon learned that a new government body, the unfortunately named National Communications Secretariat was established—expressly to produce an ICT policy.

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