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A Word With ICT Authority CEO As The Connected Kenya Summit Draws Closer

by Femme Staff

As the Connected Kenya conference draws closer, here is word with the ICT Authority CEO Stanley Kamaguya on the ICT ecosystem in the country, and what lies ahead.

Here is what he had to say.

Could you please provide an overview of the mandate of the ICT Authority in Kenya?

The ICT Authority is a parastatal within the Ministry of  Information, Communication and digital economy. It was established to support the running of an efficient Government through deploying ICT systems and rolling out the infrastructure that is required across the country to help citizens access the internet and Government services.

We also undertake empowerment of citizens and the public in terms of  skills development and we run  various  training programs to empower the public.

We have another huge mandate to create an environment for supporting innovators and enabling them to get into the commercial space in the ICT industry. It is our hope that  we will be able to set up a software industry in Kenya that is robust not only to serve our country, but also to be able to export software outside the country. Those are the broader areas that we support.

As we do that, we also ensure that the systems that are run by Government are safe for citizens to interact with online. We are therefore charged with ensuring that there are adequate measures put in place on issues of cyber security.

From where you sit now at the center of Kenya’s ICT landscape, how does it look like compared to the ideal situation and what can be done to improve the areas that are deficient?

I think we have  come a very long way  in terms of development of the ICT  infrastructure and Government has made significant investments in this area. We are served by six undersea cables that connect Kenya to the rest of the world. Internally, we have invested in networks where we have laid out over 25,000 kilometers of fiber with ICT Authority alone doing about half of that, which is 12,000 kilometers of fiber. There are other Government agencies that have enabled us to deliver significant impact from a service delivery perspective.

When you look at the infrastructure that is currently in place both from the private and public sectors, you realize that almost half of our citizens still do not have access to broadband connectivity. One of the issues that we are now struggling with is infrastructure investments which are very huge and we have been given a target of 100,000 kilometers of fiber by the Government.

In the next five years, we are seeking collaborations with our private sector players to synergize and avoid duplication of efforts. We understand commercial interest in private sector but we want to establish a framework where we can collaborate better and  take advantage of the infrastructure that is already in place so that the investments that are coming both from government and private sector can be channeled towards reaching those areas that are not currently served.

We are getting into different models of engagement from a PPP perspective, but also establishing collaboration frameworks so that we also encourage the private sector to cooperate more to deliver the bigger agenda. We believe that rather than competing, we can deliver connectivity to our citizens and reduce the cost. This will then spur huge economic growth that then goes back into improving the livelihoods of our citizens. A thriving economy is also good for private sector, so we think it is a win-win situation if we work together.

So the question would be,  where are we as of now?  Assuming the ideal situation is 100% mark, how would you rate where we are at in terms of percentage?

If you look at the statistics around connectivity, we are just below  50% of internet penetration. I think the latest report was about 43% and we really hope that  in the next 2 to 3 years we can be able to cross the 50% mark and move towards about 70-80% of broadband connectivity.

But even as we do that, the other critical thing that we need to address is those people who already have  connectivity and look at ways of reducing the cost. We are asking ourselves, how do we have more people with less investments in terms of fiber? So that then we reduce the costs.  We are also looking at  other possible technologies  which we can deploy including  wireless technologies for us to be able to connect more people and especially in areas where really it does not make sense to lay out fiber  away from the ICT infrastructure.

Let’s talk about skills. From where you sit, do you see like the country has the manpower with adequate digital skills to be able to steer the government’s vision? Is there a skills gap that you see hindering that vision from being realized?

I think as a country we are well positioned from a resource perspective in the area of ICT. In fact, in the recent years, we have been exporting a lot of our ICT skills to the neighboring countries, so I think that we do have the adequate skills. We also have a very young population that is eager to learn. They are curious and keen on experimental learning, and this is clear in the innovations around ICT.

So from  a country perspective, we do have  the skills required to deliver the digital economy. The question is, how are we utilizing these skills and how are we encouraging our people to channel their efforts towards the ICT agenda?

I think that’s where we need to do a bit of work for the young people and innovators to feel that the government is extending enough support for them to explore ICT. We are also scaling capacity building for the ICT  teams within Government so that they can be able to offer even better support. We are also equipping the public sector workforce with the required skills to deliver these services.

You are five months in office so far. What do you hope to achieve by the end of your tenure?

There are a number of areas that I think we’re going to be able to focus on over and above laying out infrastructure. The first thing is to increase bandwidth connectivity and reduce costs.

The second issue is around streamlining Government operations. How do we do that? By digitizing Government. We have had a huge opportunity to use technology over the years and a lot of work has gone into this, but it has been done in a very slow manner because every institution of Government has been having different ICT initiatives. We are now working on a road map to consolidate and build one Government cloud so that we can be able not only to share data, but also to  streamline operations and make sure that  we give our citizens one view of Government.  

The third area is innovations. By the end of  my tenure,  I really want to set up the right environment and infrastructure to support our young people, to be able to innovate solutions that are ready for the market. Solutions that address our day to day needs but can also work in the commercial space in a scalable and sustainable manner.

One of the biggest issues that  we are facing as a country in the innovation space funding, and a lot of our innovators get funding externally. But what usually happens is that they are either being bought out by foreign entities, or the ideas vanish without them getting the right amount of compensation. So we are looking at establishing modalities to offer our young people a safety net as they innovate.

This fund will also look at training our innovators on soft skills and business skills. We have so many startups that come up, but they don’t survive after two or three years because although the people are sharp, and they know the technology, they are lacking in these other skills.

We hope that we can create that environment and be able to spark real innovation and a full-blown software industry in our country.

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