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LETTERS: Stop transfer of mobile network business

A mobile telecommunication tower. FILE PHOTO |
A mobile telecommunication tower. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

I refer to the Kenya Gazette notice dated July 12, 2019 in which the Communications Authority of Kenya director-general invited public comments on the intention to transfer Mobile Network Business from Telkom Kenya to Airtel Kenya, in particular the Enterprise and Carrier Business.

I wish to state that I strongly object to this move due to security reasons. National security, especially homeland security

In the first place, it was a serious mistake that Telkom Kenya was privatised back in 1999 in the manner it was done, leaving the government with minority shareholding and limited control over what was once a vital telecommunications network.

It is perhaps only in Africa, that virtually all government telecommunications infrastructure and services is purely in private hands. We claim to have the greatest mobile penetration in the country (which is commendable) but we are probably the most vulnerable to security risks in part brought about by our privatised telecommunications network.

While the transfer intends to keep the fibre network infrastructure under government control National Optic Fibre Backbone, (again which is commendable) it has to be pointed out that this is not sufficient for a truly secure network.

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A truly secure telecommunications network will include fibre, mobile, satellite and land even Land Mobile Radio and copper all controlled by the government. It should be an integrated network.

We are now moving to 5G which will be a game changer for security (especially homeland security including border control and facial recognition), economy, health, education, finance (including crypto currencies), Artificial Intelligence, robotics, IoT and many more.

Yet we want to hand over all that to the private sector!

There is now a proliferation of applications (apps). In retrospect, some apps should never have been allowed to run purely on private networks.

Telkom Kenya is perhaps the only remaining window in which the government can have a say in the operation of its network and provide an alternative network that would be truly secure controlled (not just regulated) by government and take advantage of the above opportunities.

We need such control. At the moment, most communication from Central Bank (and other related financial Organisations) passes through private networks. Most communication in government passes through private networks.

Telkom Kenya should be made to be majority government-owned with limited private sector ownership and participation and the government should come up with a way in which we can claw back ownership from the private and build a secure network that is government controlled where sensitive and critical government telecommunications can take place.

Telkom Kenya used to have and I believe still has, an infrastructure that can be made extremely secure. The same may have been vandalised and gutted but the basics are still there. These can be revamped to achieve a truly secure network in the hands and control of government. A system to then integrate this new network with the other (private) network telecommunications infrastructure can then be built.

The continued belief that we have to privatise all sectors of government is in my opinion misguided and perhaps a selfish justification by some individuals. That narrative, as far as security is concerned, is a serious mistake.

This may seem retrogressive to some, but if we are serious about security, then it is high time we took back control of at least one telecommunications network and re-engineer it to be a truly secure government controlled network. Even the most liberal private sector oriented countries of the so-called developed world have not left their entire telecommunications network and service in the hands purely of the private sector.

Safaricom is a cash cow for government and other investors and that may continue. But to continue to do the same to Telkom Kenya is a mistake and if we do not we shall one day rue the day we handed over all our telecommunications networks to the private sector.

There is no price for the security of this country and its people.

Communications Authority of Kenya, much as it does some form of telecommunications control is not equipped to take care of the deep ramifications that exist in the security sector, that can, and is affected by telecommunications services in private hands.

This is an opportunity for the government of the day to correct a very serious anomaly as currently exists in the country. Our national security is highly vulnerable.

Tole Mwakidedi. advisor and consultant, Skytech Group.

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