[kictanet] ICT Opportunity alert: Will the true entrepreneurs stand up?

Al Kags alkags at alkags.com
Wed Dec 12 11:50:30 EAT 2007

In these heady political times in Kenya, it is perhaps not sensible to
discuss issues surrounding development. But then another school of thought
would have it that, there isn't a better time to discuss matters surrounding
development than these heady political times – even at the risk of seeming
to campaign for one candidate at the expense of another. Then there is the
thought that the electioneering (who came up with that word?) period is a
brief interlude in the journey of life that we must go through so we must
not interrupt our thoughts on development because of political events.

Having said that, I find myself unable to proceed without joining the rounds
of applause that have been going round for the remarkable team that the
Minister for information and communications, Hon. Mutahi Kagwe and his
Permanent Secretary, Dr. Bitange Ndemo for being the first in the leadership
of that ministry to make huge significant strides in the development of ICT
in Kenya – right up to setting up the infrastructure (Kenya will fully be
networked and connected with fibre connectivity by May 2009) and the
framework for capacity building through the fairly young Kenya ICT Board.

The Kenya ICT Board has been mandated to mainly market Kenya as an ICT
destination and to build capacity for the country to be competitive as an
ICT destination – and taking from the speed and work ethic of the minister
and the PS, the board does not have the luxury of slow development. In fact,
the word "rapid" appears more than once in the various documents that it
must work with and its mission.

Through support from the world bank and the central government, the Kenya
ICT Board has a significant budget that it is going to use to build capacity
in various areas including the digital inclusion program that is going to be
carried out through the facilitation of entrepreneurs across the country to
start digital villages – essentially glorified cyber cafés that will provide
access to training and to government and other services through the

The digital villages program will see the board provide training, direct IT
support, business support and even a revolving fund to ensure that
entrepreneurs can start the digital villages and sustain it as a business
long after the Transparency and Communications Infrastructure Project (TCIP)
has come to a close – the money is finite, after all.

The outsourcing industry has also seen some significant attention as a key
component of the ICT sector because of its strategic take-outs in terms of
employment and wealth creation in the ICT industry. Before the fibre
connectivity kicks in, the Kenya ICT Board is empowered to provide bandwidth
capacity support (jargon for a bandwidth subsidy) that will enable the
outsourcing industry players to enjoy the comparatively lower bandwidth
costs that they would, if fibre connectivity was already in place. The
intention is that that support will spur growth.

These two projects in particular come together in various ways. Of course,
the most obvious is that singularly and together they provide a very strong
opportunity for employment and wealth creation for many Kenyans across the
board, in a fairly short time. But the potential benefit to the economy goes
beyond that direct benefit.

An easy way to illustrate this is with an example that I have heard Dr.
Ndemo give a number of times and that makes a lot of sense. The key
challenge to having justice done is the time it takes for cases to continue.
One of the key contributing factors is the amount of operational work that a
judge must do in order to record a case and therefore come to a fair

A judge must write down in English all of the evidence that he or she will
hear as he listens to the witness. Writing being what it is, the evidence is
given for a long time, factoring the pauses that the judge needs to write
down what he hears. That information must then be collated, synthesised and
understood for a fair judgement to then be issued and they have to write
that down as well. Multiply this by the number of cases pending in the
backlog of the courts and you will understand the delay in getting justice.

The perils of such a system we already have experienced with corruption and
sloppiness being a necessity for convenience. How many times do innocent
Kenyans plead guilty so that they can pay a fine and move on with their
lives instead of having to remain along the corridors of the courts of years
on a minor case? How many times have Kenyans chosen to give "Kitu Kidogo" to
the clerk or the judge or someone to hasten their case – and while hastening
it have the judgement placed in their favour?

This is easily solved with the help of ICT. We could record the proceedings
of the court, outsource an audio recording to a digital village that has the
transcription facility, where the proceedings are transcribed to text and
then sent back to the judge to make a ruling. Time becomes less of an issue
and transparency and accountability then become strengthened. In fact, if
you have such a facility, you can ask some firm questions about the delay of
cases because of the effectiveness of it all.

It is clear that the government and the Kenya ICT Board have the concepts
right in terms creating the opportunities for wealth and employment
creation. What must now be ignited is the private sector. The entrepreneur
must seize the opportunity that is beginning to show itself and make the
most of it. Sadly, so far, the developments in the ICT sector have largely
had the attention of activists – even those who have their businesses.

When else did you hear of entrepreneurs fervently asking the government to
regulate them?
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