It has been almost two weeks since Connected Kenya Summit and Open Government Conference were held in the Coastal City of Mombasa. I attended all the sessions at Connected Kenya Summit and a bit of Open Government Partnership Conference. Now the big question is, did the two make the world a better place to live in? Here is my take:
Time to Connect the Citizens before telling them to innovate
As always, innovation is a buzz word at some of these events. The theme for this year was connecting the citizens at the county level. And naturally, the bigger picture was what it would take for the citizens to start being innovative at that level.
It was repeated several time that every county now has a fiber connection and with that the Government seems to think that as long as there is a fiber cable at the county headquarters, the county is connected. That is a bit sad considering the digital divide within this country. In my opinion, completing the Last Mile connection is the most critical aspect of connecting citizens at the county level.
The digital divide between the rural folks and those in urban centers is huge. The digital divide even within Nairobi which is the most wired in Kenyan context is still a big problem. The areas considered by many to be for the rich (able to afford) are overwhelmed with Fiber connections while the Ghetoish (poor neighborhoods) places lag behind.
When you look at the situation critically, it is hard to blame ISPs for scrambling to connect the same areas while leaving the other places uncovered. The ISPs are in it for money and are accountable to their shareholders. With that in mind they can only connect places which they feel make business sense. So it is upon the Government to look for ways to ensure that citizens are connected. According to the draft Broadband Strategy, Kenya is aiming to properly connect everyone by 2017 .Here a little bit of the part talking about Broadband Connection.
“Broadband connectivity that is always–?on and that delivers a minimum of 5mbps to homes and businesses for high speed access to voice, data, video and applications for development. Access to
broadband in Kenya for all citizens has the potential to generate enormous social economic benefits. Some of the benefits that accrue from national access to broadband include economic growth, job creation, growth of investment opportunities, access to online government services, improved that they are education and training services, improved national safety and security services among”
Well, the above can happen in the long run through the Private sector but we all know that it will take some time unless there is incentive for the ISPs. The other way would be for the Government to come up with a venture in the model of TEAMS. Whatever way you look at it, TEAMS paved way for the Private sector to invest heavily in laying undersea fiber cables. I think similar project, where the Government aim is to connect every village, will force the ISPs to follow in the foot step or to plug in on the same
Shared Resources is an open Dream
Shared resources was the first topic at the Connected Kenya and the Government at this point have no idea how to do it. What should be shared between the National Government and The counties or between the counties themselves? For example the last mile connection.
In this case it is not only the Government, even private sector should learn to share resources. That brings us to the issue of shared cables for the ISPs. Practically ISPs can sit down and agree to share cables and avoid duplicating them in the same areas. That would make a lot of sense, but keep it in mind that they are in it for money as I have mentioned earlier. The way things stand, for them to share the cables, probably the Government would need to come up with a law restricting the number of cables that can be placed in the same street or the same house.
What is take to start and Grow a Business around Here?
It is one thing to create an app or start a business but turning it into a successful venture is another ball game altogether. This is something which I have talked about recently and I still feel the business component of the Kenyan apps is missing. At the connected Kenya many felt that it is not about idea but how the owner(s) execute it. I think Kenyan developers need to enroll for finance and business courses. Sustainability is everything and in a market where funding still hard to come by, having a business case from the word go is crucial. Instead of Founders and Developers spending all their time chasing funding and competition, it is time for them to develop business models and look for clients /customers.
Money at this point is at the enterprise level and not the Consumer level
If you run a startup in Kenya and you want to make money then go for enterprise apps or software. Yes, Kenyans don’t buy apps, so making money from them directly is impossible at this point. With that mind never tells us how many times you app has been downloaded because it does not help you and it is not helping the observers.
As expected the issue of laptops came up and whether they are necessary in the first place. The rumours on the sideline were that the contract has been given out to a French Company and the laptops will be here regardless of what we say at this point. So are the laptops for the class one kids really necessary?
President Uhuru made this promise during campaign period and due to the publicity it got from that point, it would be political suicide to back off from it. For that, we will have the laptops come next year but whether the project will be successful is another story. Some of the questions asked were. Will the laptops be the tools for the education content delivery or the subject matter? How about teachers, are they in a position to help the kids learn on how to use the laptops?
Under new management
Silicon Savannah? Yeah, what is that? The new management in town seems to have a completely new agenda. The Digital Villages project has been cancelled and the cabinet secretary in charge of ICT said they redesigning the ICT Master Plan and I suspect Konza City is no longer a priority. From there you can see why may be the new Government thought Dr. Ndemo is not needed for the new era.
I also felt that the new management will not be as close to the industry as the likes of Dr, Ndemo and Paul Kukubo were. Don’t be surprised if it becomes impossible to get a meeting or present an idea to the Cabinet Secretary or the Principal Secretary. The Cabinet Secretary was in Mombasa but in came like a boss, presented what he thought people want to hear and then off he went. Anyway it is still too early to make judgment on this.
Discussing the County matters without the County Governments.
I was really bothered when it appeared the Governors, or those meant to be charge of ICT within the Counties, considered the event a waste of time. Yes, the deputy Governors of Nairobi and Kiambu counties were present and the education secretary of Mombasa County also represented the Mombasa County Governor. But with 47 counties and 47 Governors, I did not get why not a single one bothered to show up. We were discussing matters to do with the counties and I would have liked to see strong delegations from every county. I know there are those who opposed to conferences and consider them a waste of time. That is right, the discussion in some of these conferences like Connected Kenya are shallow but the networking opportunities and chances to struck deals are so high. Almost everyone in the tech industry in Kenya was at the Coast. During one of the dinners, the MC called out the CEOs to come on the stage and there were over 15 CEOs.
Every county Government needs to start wooing these guys to invest more in their areas. Increased presence of some of the companies like Safaricom, Orange and Microsoft means better connectivity, better tech infrastructure and increased employment opportunities. So whether you consider Connected Kenya crap. Missing out in an event that everyone that matters attended is a missed opportunity.