Rwanda should rightfully be branded the Silicon Savannah, not Kenya.
Discussions and debates I normally have with Kachwanya always end up with the conclusion, “Kenya is not a maker of technology, it is a consumer. Even MPESA that we pride ourselves with wasn’t conceived in Kenya. Safaricom just became an implementer of someone else’s technology – that’s why it is paying billions of dollars to Vodafone each year in license fees”.
That statement is true. We would like to think of ourselves as the most innovative in the region, the most tech savvy, the Silicon Savannah. But what do we make? Silicon Valley in California received that name because it made Silicon chips, still does. What Silicon products does Kenya make? Kenya, as opposed to other technologically branded countries, cities, and towns, is nothing but a consumer of technology. Every technological product used in Kenya is made elsewhere. Heck, even the government can’t trust Kenyan developers to provide it with key software such as IFMIS, iTax, and number of other software the government uses to manage its operations and communication.
Still on our discussions with Kachwanya, we have reasoned severally that if the government wants a key software programme, the best it can do is to gather together 7 to 10 key graduate and post graduate software developers with a proven track record, pay them around shs 3 million each, host them in an hotel environment for a year or so, define to them the problem the government wants to solve with the software, and let them come up with that software from scratch.
In so doing, not only will the government have solved a key unemployment problem, but also encouraged talent development, boosted the use of locally grown solutions to local problems, but also empowered the youngsters that even us – we can.
Spending shs 3 million shillings on 10 guys works out to be shs 30 million, way cheaper than the shs 300 million plus the government spends on acquiring foreign made software solutions, solutions that at the end of the day are still hackable.
But that’s not the subject of this article. The subject is that Kenya doesn’t have anything under her sleeve worthy of the brand Silicon Savannah, apparently, Rwanda does.
In the last few years, Rwanda has been making technological waves after waves. From the successful implementation of one laptop per child project that Kenya tried and badly flopped at, to now becoming a country that manufactures smartphones. In the Facebook Page Rwanda the Heart of Africa, we have this update, “President Kagame launches first smartphone factory in Rwanda. Smartphone factory , comes at a time when the country is digitising its services, from money transfer, mobile payments to government services.Locally made smartphones will be available on the local and international markets within two months”
Thanks to tech centrism in Rwanda we receive news such as “Rwandan Students Create Anti-Corruption App”, and many others that have been emanating from the small East African country over the past five or so years. Contrast that with the headlines we have had in Kenya over the past couple of years. Headlines compiled by Ephraim Njega and originally posted on his Facebook Timeline.
1. Kenyans with Sh100,000 in bank fall to 13-year low
2. NSE hits 10-year low as blue chip stocks plunge
3. Kenya’s trade surplus with Africa drops to record low
4. Cement use falls for first time in 17 yrs
5. Tea price falls to five-year low on oil, devaluations
6. Insurance penetration drops to 15-year low
7. Nairobi house approvals slump to 5-year low
8. Homes tax drops 21pc on low property sales
9. Formal jobs fall to 6-year low despite GDP boom
10. Interbank rate down to an eight-year low
11. Private sector borrowing slows down to 10-year low
12. Power consumption dips to five-year low
13. Fuel consumption hits 3-year low on high taxes
14. Kenya’s maritime trade ranking at five-year low
15. Eurobond raises Kenya’s public debt to Sh5.8trn
16. 88pc of NSE share accounts dormant.
The lack of home grown tech products, lack of serious government policies to encourage innovation, the continued consumption of imports that has worked to increase our trade deficit, and generally our abhorrence of local solutions disqualifies us from being the Silicon Savannah. Rwanda on the other hand is making big strides to become just what a Silicon Savannah country ought to be.