Let us walk the talk in Kenya’s quest for innovations hub

Kenya is being recognised internationally for adopting technology. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Kenya is being recognised internationally for adopting technology. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

There are a lot of wonderful things that happen in Kenya but satisfaction for the citizenry is always hard to come by because many negative things counter the good and there is always the feeling that we could do much better.

This applies to the innovation and technology space in our economy. There are local companies creating innovative solutions and developing or transferring skills to young Kenyans while keeping them gainfully employed.

A couple of examples illustrate this. To improve access to the electrical power of a significant portion of the rural population not connected to the national grid, M-KOPA created a mobile-based platform to deliver prepaid solar units.

In response to competition from mobile money solutions offered by telcos, the Kenya Bankers Association developed Pesalink, a mobile-based platform that is changing how Kenyans make bank transfers.

Thankfully, public sector institutions have advanced some of these innovative solutions. The Kenya Revenue Authority has implemented iTax as well as automated its excise tax management system through a track and trace solution in partnership with Swiss company SICPA.

The Kenya Trade Network Agency has also implemented its single window system developed by Singapore ICT firm CrimsonLogic which allows for electronic submission of customs entries.

Encouragingly, as the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2018 demonstrated, Kenya is being recognised internationally for adopting technology and innovation in delivering services to its citizens.

The single window system and iTax were mentioned in the report which noted that the two partners (SICPA and CrimsonLogic) were not only providing the solutions but imparting knowledge and skills to Kenyans. 

Yet as laudable as these solutions are, the role of the State agencies charged with spurring innovation as spelt out in the Science Technology and Innovation Act No. 28 of 2013 come into question.

Are they efficient enough? Do we need a commission (National Council of Science and Technology), an agency (Kenya National Innovation Agency) and a fund (National Research Fund), all operating as quasi-independent institutions? Is our annual budgetary allocation to research, science, technology and innovation sufficient to catalyse an innovation revolution?

These are questions our policymakers should address themselves to five years after the Act’s passage.

Our tertiary institutions also come under scrutiny because of the essential role they play in moulding the careers of our future professionals.

Evidently, the proliferation of schools, colleges and technical universities over the last decade has been driven by a focus on a highly theoretical curriculum, at the expense of more practical and technical training.

The result has been a churning out of paper smart but skills poor graduates who cannot be assimilated into the industrial and manufacturing companies.

We talk a lot about technology and innovation in Kenya as being a critical piece in building a knowledge-driven economy of the future but has there been more talk than actual co-ordinated effort on the part of all stakeholders in harnessing the potential the country has in our youth, which can then be channelled into practical skills that can positively impact development.

James Njuguna is Public affairs and government relations director at TL Message and Media.