It is said that “every cloud has a silver lining.” If there is any silver lining from coronavirus, it is the speed at which the government sought to bring Internet access to remote regions of Kenya.
These far-flung areas have hitherto been literally in the dark due to the high cost of deploying the Internet in a sparsely populated region. Google’s sister company, Loon, signed a partnership deal with Telkom Kenya to provide connectivity to the region.
Some parts of northern Kenya have experienced many problems including a lack of teachers due to terrorism. The current problem of coronavirus has forced an opportunity that will bring learning closer to the children in the area.
There is a need now to ensure that the residents have access to affordable devices, solar panels to provide energy to power the devices, and encourage local content development that can be streamed directly to students.
There were fears that the surge in the utilisation of ICTs to continue teaching during the period when the schools are closed would alienate learners from underserved areas further.
The universities too are looking at how they can restart teaching through online solutions. That would not have been possible if some students cannot have access to broadband.
The investment is a great leap forward and can be made viable if the government provides a subsidy to the region’s residents to subscribe to local broadcasting content.
Telkom Kenya too should make the connectivity affordable by seeking to leverage new business models. It is such strategic moves that bring greater inclusivity for communities that have for many years felt that they were living outside of Kenya.
Exploring some of the problems in remote places could yield new opportunities. Rural to urban trade is often hindered by a lack of infrastructure.
With broadband, it is possible to enhance e-commerce between the pastoralist communities and those living in urban areas, especially this time of social distancing.
Some of the best honey in the country can be found in West Pokot but middlemen exploit villagers by taking advantage of poor communication between remote parts of the country and where the markets are.
To lower the incidence of poverty in such places, the national and county governments must educate the people about the markets and more efficient methods of production.
The connectivity presents a once in a lifetime opportunity to deal with banditry and cattle rustling problems in these regions. These evils happen because the people are desperate for economic opportunities. There is a chance that such can be a thing of the past if the emerging technologies that track and trace animals are put in place.
Abundant connectivity also provides a chance to deal with the perennial crises every time there are heavy rains or drought. An experiment done by the Red Cross Society leveraging blockchain to deal with drought was highly successful in mitigating the crisis. It used a cash transfer system to directly send money to the victim and registration of households.
This method proved far cheaper than all others used previously to alleviate the problem. What was needed was connectivity to seamlessly deal with the crisis.
In my view, rural Kenya is full of unexplored opportunities. Good infrastructure like high-speed broadband will necessitate the discovery of many other opportunities that can spur economic growth and create jobs.
For example, parts of northern Kenya have the best astronomical sites to study the universe. The area is also blessed with many other tourist spots that will add value to other investments in the region.
Developing new infrastructure creates opportunities and opens markets not just for the locals but several other investments.
The new broadband initiative in places that were hitherto ignored would transform the region, enabling students to leverage online learning to catch up with the rest of the country, and present parents with new markets online and create new jobs for the youth.
For this to happen, however, there must be a deliberate move to educate the local people about the emerging opportunities.