The Covid-19 menace has had varied implications on various aspects of the Kenya economy. Unlike other sectors, ICT was able to bounce back fast after experiencing a shock in March and April last year.
This is evidenced by an increase in the number of ICT services agents, number and value of transactions as well as of customers. As an example, the number of mobile money agents increased by 26.2 percent from 224,108 in December 2019 to 282,929 in December 2020.
The number of clients rose by 13 percent from 58.4 million to 66 million during the same period while that of transactions grew by 17 percent from 155 million to 181.4 million.
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the largest rise was posted in the value of mobile money transactions, which increased by 58.2 percent from Sh382.9 billion in December 2019 to Sh605.7 billion in December 2020.
The expansion can be attributed to increased online transactions due to Covid-19 safety protocols.
Jobs in ICT were sustained during the period when others were laying off staff. As at June 2020, the number of employees in ICTs mobile service sub-sector stood at 8,728 compared to 8,689 recorded during the same period in the previous year.
In addition, the sector has a huge potential to generate jobs at “the last mile level” initiative when more ICT services are integrated with commercial activities.
For instance, business process outsourcing (BPO) has a potential to support job creation for youth in form of customer service work, data entry, transcription, digitisation, financial accounting, auditing and other higher value-knowledge processing.
Further, with full implementation of Konza technopolis project, the sector has a potential to expand capacity to create many openings in the country.
Prior to the pandemic, the economy was moving towards more ICT-based operations in nearly all sectors. With Covid-19, the economy is likely to experience a more enhanced change to digitalised economy.
As an example, the pandemic has seen enhanced provision of various ICT services notably in computing and communication. This indicates that transformation will not only happen in the services sector, but also in other segments given the strong linkages.
Transformation though demands a reorientation of skills of workers towards ICT-related applications and investments. Even though the skills gap currently is not significant, with emerging ICT technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Internet of Things, additional basic and advanced knowledge shall be required.
ICT plays a catalytical role given its significant backward and forward linkages with other sectors. For example, ICT services facilitates growth of financial services with money transfer, e-commerce albeit at nascent stages, improved public service with e-government, and human capital development through e-learning.
Kenya has continued to report significant progress in the digital transformation space at the global level during Covid-19 period with for example, innovations in real time data collection and management, cybersecurity support systems, and big data management.
That said, access to digital services remains a challenge to a vast majority of the population due to either high cost of devices, internet services, ICT gadgets or limited access to better ICT broadband infrastructure.
For the ICT sector to continue enhancing resilience and greater efficiency and competitiveness of firms, it is important for the government to nurture strong collaborations and partnerships with the private sector.
This will increase investment in ICT infrastructure and innovations by harnessing novel approaches to technologies, development of applications and sustainable business models and expanding ICT infrastructure in underserved rural areas.
There is also need to fast-track investment in complementary services such as access to quality power supply and internet connectivity for sustainable use of ICTs countrywide.
Further, is the need to support development of digital skills partly by scaling up innovations in education and skills development sectors, and promoting private sector-led skills development initiatives in high level ICT skills such as programming. It is also important to strengthen the legal and policy framework supporting the sector.
Eldah Onsomu, is the principal policy analyst, Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis