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Opinion & Analysis

Benefits of soaring Internet use in Kenya

School children using a laptop computer. FILE PHOTO | NMG
School children using a laptop computer. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

There is a digital revolution going on in Kenya whose implications are far reaching.

Internet World Stats show that in less than four years, Internet penetration in Kenya jumped from less than 50 per cent to 82 per cent in 2017.

Overall, Internet penetration in Africa stands at 28 per cent in the same period. Mobile penetration passed the 90 per cent mark in the same period.

Social media use too is at the all-time high, with more than 12 million actively using WhatsApp and almost a similar number in Facebook. Smart phone use too is above 50 per cent and growing.

These numbers mean so much to different groups. Entrepreneurs in particular salivate at such numbers because of what they mean for new business and revenue models.

It is no surprise that several enterprises whose business models centres around e-commerce have sprung up in Nairobi and are spreading to other cities. Home delivery food chains from the US have become one of the major foreign direct investment additions to Kenya.

New online start-ups are attracting record investments in their early stage funding from foreign firms. Twiga Foods, for instance, is attracting investors from virtually every part of the globe including: Omidyar, DOB Equity, Uqalo, Blue Haven Initiative, AHL, Alpha Mandi and 1776.

But the more interesting one is Dubai based Wamda Capital that injected $10.3 million (Sh1.7 billion) into the food start-up. Several e-learning platforms have emerged and are disrupting education not just locally but regionally.

Eneza, which started just a few years ago, has more than two million local users and spreading across the world.

Elimu, based at the Gearbox, has more than 10,000 readers on a daily basis and more than 200,000 Grade 1 and 2 students using it to read stories across East Africa every week. The political class has not been left behind in leveraging connectivity to improve on their messaging.

A recent BBC article reported that a British based Data Analysis company, Cambridge Analytica, which uses data to change audience behaviour was hired by The National Alliance (TNA) party in Kenya to create “a profile of the Kenyan electorate and come up with a campaign strategy “based on the electorate’s needs.” The party’s candidate, Uhuru, Kenyatta, won the 2013 election.

It is now possible to use data to change audience behaviour. Although it may sound impossible, it has happened in the US.

President Donald Trump used Cambridge Analytica to achieve what many thought to be scientifically impossible. It is also claimed that it successfully helped the Brexit advocates pull a surprise during Britain’s referendum on whether to remain or leave the Europe Union.

If true that it is behind Jubilee this time round, Kenya’s election outcome will cement the role of predictive data analytics in electioneering. Nonetheless, Kenya is under way towards leveraging digital transformation for economic growth.

The full impact of digital has not been felt yet. Much of what we know is the role it is playing in enabling inclusivity. But in my own prediction and if we continue with the same trend, Kenya may be the first African country south of the Sahara and North of Limpopo River to rise out of poverty if the resource of data is properly harnessed.

Many multinational enterprises and local start-ups will emerge to take advantage of a connected society that can easily become a test bed for new innovations.

There is one caveat in all this explosive use of internet. Being online, we expose ourselves to all manner of data hunters. Some mean well, but others may take advantage of the gullible public to misuse private data.

Some, if not most, of the data will be gathered passively. We need data protection laws now more than ever before. Individuals must have the right to know how their data is used before anyone uses it.

For example, the EU user consent policy says in part that “certain disclosures must be given to and consents obtained from end users in the European Union where EU data protection law requires such disclosures and consents.”

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