As President William Ruto assembles a new government to run his crucial first term, one of the key ministries to watch will be the ICT given the potential it has to create jobs for the youth.
The past decade has seen Kenya make significant strides in ICT infrastructure, services and trade, with the country cementing its status as one of the leading tech hubs in the region.
According to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), value addition in the ICT sector stood at Sh294 billion last year, a 30 percent increase from Sh223 billion in 2017.
Last year the KNBS recalculated the country's economy with the new figures putting Kenya's ICT sector output to Sh252 billion as of 2019, up from Sh116 billion. The rise in value was attributed to the factoring in of sub-sectors previously not measured including mobile money, which has seen a meteoric rise in recent years.
Since 2017, the country's total bandwidth capacity has more than tripled from 3.1million Mbps to 10.8 million Mbps with at least six undersea cables landing in the country.
This extra capacity has spurred uptake with the country's utilised bandwidth capacity growing even more rapidly from 916,287 Mbps per year in 2017 to 4.8 million Mbps as of last year.
Other strides made in the sector include establishment of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, ODPC and reforms in the mobile money sector led by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) to cut the cost of transactions and deepen financial inclusion.
In April this year, outgoing ICT Cabinet Secretary Joseph Mucheru unveiled an updated digital masterplan set to guide the State's digital policies over the next five years.
The Kenya National Digital Master plan 2022-32 plans to spend Sh585 billion in the country's ICT sector over the next 10 years with Sh17.3 billion required in the current financial year alone for the digitisation of government records and building new IT infrastructure.
According to the plan, Sh5 billion will be spent on the digitisation of five billion government records, and Sh800 million will go to digital skill gaps survey across 10 sectors.
Out of this, much of the expenditure (Sh405 billion) in the 10-year plan will go towards building of fibre optic infrastructure, new data centres and community networks.
Some of the policy fixes in President William Ruto's Kenya Kwanza Alliance are in line with what the previous administration had anticipated as the next phase of growth for the sector.
The Kenya Kwanza manifesto acknowledges that the sector has fallen short on some of the promises that had been made in previous years.
These include the promise of setting up business process outsourcing (BPO) industries that would become a leading employer for the sector. The manifesto also cites the Konza Technopolis and automation of public processes in sectors such as health and agriculture as examples of other state projects that still lag behind.
As part of its commitment, the incoming administration has promised to build 100,000 kilometres of national fibre broadband throughout the country within five years as well as the digitisation and automation of all government critical processes with 80 percent of government services going online.
President Ruto has also promised to establish an Africa Regional Hub to promote the development of software for export; a reduction in the cost of calls and data and the establishment of a Presidential Advisory Council on Science and Technology.
This will then inform how the government coordinates the ongoing and planned ICT deployment projects for maximum benefit and enhance the sector’s supportive role to other State agencies, ministries and departments.
Just recently, the National Treasury officially inaugurated the Nairobi International Financial Center, NIFC. NIFC is expected to facilitate Nairobi’s elevation to one of the region’s leading destinations for foreign direct investment and is one of the State organs that requires expert resources and personnel in close partnership with the ICT sector.
Yes, the ingredients are there, but these are all ambitious undertakings that will require strategic funding and partnerships with the private sector as well as local and international development agencies to realise.
In addition to this, there is a need to address the high cost of digital services that has been occasioned by several rounds of increases in excise and VAT. The government has in recent years turned to the ICT sector as a new cash cow in a bid to widen the tax net and boost public coffers.
While this is understandable in an environment where the tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has been dwindling, the government should ensure the goose that lays the golden eggs is not chocked.
The blueprint has already been drawn and the incoming administration need not reinvent the wheel but only build upon past successes and strive for international best practices.
Kenya is the first country in East Africa to enact the Data Protection Act and the country’s mobile money sector by far outpaces regional peers.
The country, however, still lags in the global scene in indicators such as broadband connectivity, adoption of artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain far below developed economies.
Incoming ICT Cabinet Secretary assumes a role that is a central pillar to the day-to-day workings of the government and vital for stimulating economic growth across the other sectors.
It is our hope that whoever it is, will have the foresight backed with political goodwill to take the country’s ICT sector to the next level.