Ideas & Debate

How Kenya can use tech partnerships to address personal, public safety concerns


The Society for Road Safety team fixing road safety signs on Ngong Road, Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The role of technology in addressing some of the most pressing challenges in the world cannot be understated. In Kenya, we can tap into new trends in technology to address safety issues affecting individuals and communities.

How can we capitalise on new industry 4.0 technologies, the likes of automation, cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence to make our public spaces and communities safer?

Public-private cooperation will play a pivotal role in creating an enabling environment for this to come to fruition. Uber hosted the Tech for Safety summit in Nairobi to deliberate with entrepreneurs, businesses, the government and the private sector on how to tap technology to address challenging personal safety concerns, including safety within communities, road safety, or the safety of individuals using online platforms.

During the summit, keynote speaker Philip Thigo, a tech, data and policy expert, dived into how collaboration between tech and policy is important in creating a safer society. An example of such collaboration in action is the National Transport and Safety Authority, whose mandate on road safety is minimising loss of lives through road crashes, and who are presently developing safe road networks for all road users with diverse partners on board.

In addition, initiatives like Smart and Safe Kenya Transport (smarTTrans) employ technology, analytics as well as policy experiments in order to save lives and help foster greater inclusive growth for Kenyans.

Safety also extends to apps, which have become vital for our productivity at home and work, as well as in fulfilling our entertainment and social needs. Facebook’s Mercy Ndegwa, Head of Public Policy East Africa, spoke about how the social networking platform is using technology to help make the Internet safer.

Facebook has open-sourced two technologies that enables the company to detect identical and nearly identical photos and videos as well as more specifically harmful content, to assist in preventing these from being shared and going viral.

Uber greatly values user privacy. In fact, data privacy and security have never been more important in how we use technology to make our lives easier, more convenient, or more connected to the people and communities we care about.

Our commitment to protecting user privacy is baked into our software through features such as maintaining the ability for riders to use our service, without enabling location services on their smartphones, as well as riders and drivers having the ability to call and chat with each other directly from within the Uber app. This means that users do not need to share their phone numbers.

These are just some of the examples of how the Kenyan government and various businesses are employing technology to help make Kenyans safer.

As a responsible business, whose services are used by millions of people across the globe and continent, the safety of all our users is a key priority for Uber.

Consequently, we’re constantly exploring and building new products to enhance the safety of our riders and our driver-partners, using the Uber app.

As we head into the new year, we are keen on continuing to ignite conversations and debate with like-minded individuals and organisations, in order to identify future actions that can be developed into solutions to advance safety in Kenyan cities.

Njao is Uber country manager.