Joseph Mucheru, the techpreneur and former head of Google’s Kenya operations, is among the few people who clinched Cabinet positions during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first reshuffle of the Cabinet last month.
He takes charge of the critical Information and Technology docket, which puts him directly in charge of the media, telecoms and technology industries.
Kenya continues to express the ambition of becoming East Africa’s technology hub. Kenya has also placed technology at the centre of its advancement and positioned it as the foundation on which it will anchor its economy.
The Business Daily’s Mark Okuttah sat down with Mr Mucheru to discuss his assessment of the docket and his vision for it. Here are excerpts.
You have been appointed to the position of Cabinet Secretary for Information and Communication. Were you anticipating this?
It is a long answer. If I look at my academic and career background, I can say that this nomination is the culmination of my skills and experience.
I started my primary education at Kamandura Primary School in Limuru, before moving to Nairobi Primary then to Lenana High School. I then moved to London and the US for higher education. I have worked across multiple companies in ICT. It is a job I can do, but this is not a single man’s job and I plan to work with all stakeholders from the public and private sectors as well as NGOs to accomplish the mission.
I understand it is a complicated docket that encompasses development of communication infrastructure, policy making, dealing with broadcasting and telecommunication matters, among others, and each of these have their own unique challenges. What I can promise is that I am going to rely on my values, teams and partners to get the job done.
What do you plan to do in your first 100 days in office?
The key role of a CS is to create an environment that gives both local and foreign investors confidence and to deliver quality services to citizens.
I know we have a good ICT master plan that provides a great compass on areas we need to focus on as well as the work we need to do. My job is to continue socialising this plan so that all stakeholders can participate in its implementation. I have made it a priority to attract the right skill sets into my ministry to deliver ICT services to citizens and all players in the economy.
I also plan to create an open and transparent system that takes in private sector input in key investments such as the Silicon Savanna — Konza. This is a necessary project to propel the ICT sector forward and we must all make it succeed.
One of the Jubilee campaign promises was to have a digital government, time is running out and with very little to show on this front. What will you do differently to make things happen?
It is not true that there is little to show. First let me use this analogy, when you want to put up a storey house the key thing is to have the right foundation. What the government has been doing is to put this in place, soon the building will take off the ground and people will start seeing the work that was being done.
That said, there are three things that need to be in place to achieve the digital government we want. Human capital remains key. It is only with the right human resources that we will achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.
This is already being done, more recently through the public and private sector partnership named the Presidential Digital Talent Programme.
That effort has already produced 400 graduates attached at several government departments and are being mentored by a number of private companies. This will be scaled up to 500 graduates in the next intake.
Secondly, the country needs to have the right infrastructure to build on platforms like cash payment systems that are necessary for government to successfully roll out its e-services. There is need of a national payment gateway system.
Thirdly, the Government needs to have shared infrastructure. Work is underway to consolidate this and I will ensure we are well placed to succeed.
Public-Private Partnership will play a major role if the government is to actualise some of the projects such as Konza. What have been the challenges in rolling out such flagship projects and what should be done?
In the modern economy it is not possible to work without partnerships regardless of the size of resources we have. Google, for example, is a $400 billion (Sh40.8 trillion) company with about $80 billion (Sh8.16 trillion) in the bank as reserve cash and yet the company cannot do away with partnerships. What we need are open and transparent long term partnerships.
You have lots of insight into competition matters both locally and globally, what is your take on the current telecommunication and broadcasting competition landscape?
These are some of the contentious areas. The key thing is that we must have a regulatory and market structure that fosters competition and at the same time protects investments.
We also need to put in place mechanisms that make it possible to have equitable distribution of the scarce resources. It is not possible to have perfect competition if parts of the country are underserved. We will leverage the Communication Authority’s independence to foster competition.
Issues of cyber-security and passing of the Data Protection Bill are some of the things awaiting your input, how do you plan to deal with them?
Cyber-security is not lost on anyone. I have lessons from Google. With that and the vast experience from other stakeholders we will come up with solutions. On the Data Protection Bill, I want to ensure it is passed into law.
What should the sector not expect from you?
Favours, favours. They should also not expect me to slow down on speed and delivery. Great work has happened in this sector over the past decades and needs to continue. The ministry staff and all its related agencies will continue to be there to service the common man.