A government plan to set up information communication centres at the villages is finally being rolled out in December after a series of setbacks since it was announced in 2006.
The World Bank-funded project which involves installing Internet-connected computers at every district had been put off following a delay in releasing funds. (It will now be adjusted to fit into the new administrative structures that has replaced districts.)
The Sh800 million ($10 million) digital villages, to be known as ‘Pasha’ centres (‘pasha’ is Kiswahili for inform), will be equipped with Internet-connected computers and managed under the Kenya Transparency Communication Infrastructure Project.
The funds were released in July but rollout was pushed back to get a financial institution to manage the project aimed at addressing the disparity in accessing ICT facilities like the Internet, which remains an urban phenomenon.
The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the telecoms industry watchdog, figures show that 90 per cent of the 6.4 million Internet users are in Nairobi and Mombasa.
Organisers say the 300 ‘Pasha’ centres are seen as avenue of bridging the digital divide in the country.
The chairman of the Kenya ICT Board Paul Kukubo, who is in charge of the rollout, said the launch is next month.
“The project has taken long, which has been a disappointment to everybody, however the grand rollout has been set for before the end of the year” said Mr Kukubo. “The fund managers will be in charge of disbursing the grants to the entrepreneurs.”
Since its launch, the Kenya ICT Board has only established six such centres in Kangundo, Malindi, Mukuru Kayiaba in Nairobi, Kacheliba , Meru, and Garissa.
The digital centres are critical to the Government in employment creation and use the platforms in boosting its e-programmes that aim at improving service delivery.
The Pasha centres will provide a suite of services via the Internet, digital cameras, printers, fax machines and other communication infrastructure.
Through the centres, users will access government services such as NSSF statements and driving licence application forms.
The Kenya ICT Board has identified 10 training firms to equip entrepreneurs who will be running the digital centres.
They will handle business subjects and IT courses targeting seamless services to the public.
Its four components are training, offering bandwidth capacity subsidy, IT support to the centres and providing a revolving fund.
The entrepreneur training has a budget of $2 million, the revolving fund ($4 million) while IT support and bandwidth support each has a budget of $2 million.
An initiative of the Ministry of Information and Communications, the fund rollout did not take-off due to delay releasing the grant and the difficulty in getting entrepreneurs in certain regions like North Eastern.
The Kenya ICT Board says the project had to abort in such thanks to the harsh conditions that saw selected youths pull out to take care of livestock during drought.
They also went out in search of food and water.
Recruiting new people, the Board says, took time and involved searching for other private partners to mitigate the time loss experienced while waiting for the development institution to release the funds.
Residents will walk into the centres like any other kiosk and be charged for service they get.
Safaricom has partnered with the Government to rollout similar facility that the Kenya ICT Board intends to use in positioning itself on data offering in the rural areas.
Together with other initiatives such as partnering with manufacturers of mobile handsets, computer vendors and financial institutions to offer fast-speed Internet at subsidised rates sets the pace in the race to clinch the yet to be tapped sector.
With only five per cent of Kenyans hooked to high speed Internet access by late last year the data segment offers huge potential for the entrepreneurs.
Others on the project are Telkom Kenya, which has been offering free bandwidth at the first six centres, Posta, which is using their centres, Copycat which provides photocopiers to this centres and Cisco that handles networking and offers Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video conferencing equipment.
Among other benefits, e-programmes have reduced tedious document procurement process prone to abuse.
The initiative being implemented by individual ministries through the e-government department and coordinated by the Kenya ICT Board has set up a single point of reference for acquisition and storage of all personal information.
The Ministry of Immigration rolled out an Integrated Population Registration System (IPRS), the one-stop population register with personal details of Kenyans and registered foreigners.
It will also be possible to register with agencies such as the Kenya Police, Kenya Revenue Authority, and the Teachers Service Commission.