Interview: Fred Matiang’i
How can Kenya’s digital infrastructure be improved and nationwide connectivity strengthened?
FRED MATIANG’I: We have invested heavily in national broadband infrastructure, and we are hoping that when the second phase is complete, the system will be something we can rely on. The fact remains that there is no single country, especially in the developing world, that has the resources to build all infrastructure by themselves. For this we need to involve the private sector more, facilitating their role in the development of digital infrastructure. We launched the National Broadband Strategy last year, and to implement this fully we need about KSh100bn ($1.14bn). Judging by demands we currently have on labour resources and revenue streams, we will not be able to fully implement it alone.
Earlier this year we launched a campaign with the ICT Authority to persuade county governments to waive fees and allow private investors like Liquid Telecom to lay fibre optic cable across the country. This is because in terms of ICT deployment, the only answer is more broadband. We are not yet a fully data-driven environment and we intend to overcome this challenge by increasing public consumption of internet services. Countries that have succeeded in increasing the contribution of ICT to GDP are those that do not rely heavily on private consumption. We are trying to carry out key public sector projects and migrate public sector services to the digital platform, increasing consumption and strengthening penetration.
What is the plan to involve county governments in ICT infrastructure developments?
MATIANG’I: We need much more focused coordination with county governments. We want to align our national ICT plan with the local plans, because this is how we sell our message and help counties understand the importance of deploying ICT services. Only then can we build capacity at the local level. This might not be our direct responsibility, but it is ultimately in our interest to build this capacity at least in terms of policy development, so counties see what policy options are available and how they benefit directly.
It is important to remember that county governments have only been in place for eight months, and two-thirds of this time has been spent establishing the government structures. I think that county governments will start thinking about policies in 2014. There will be a fair amount of handholding moving forward, and we never expected this to be easy. We are working on many projects with the local governments already, and we hope that through these demonstrative partnerships, other counties will join us. Some counties have no network connectivity of any kind. These are initial establishment problems, and 12 months down the road I am convinced the story will be different.
In what ways can educational institutions and ICT firms boost their collaborations?
MATIANG’I: The first challenge for institutions such as Kenya Education Network is collecting resources. How can we give more Kenyan students access to computers? How do we make it so that seven out of 10 students can purchase a laptop? This is not an issue in the UK or the US, for example, but it is a major challenge here. We have been working with several private sector players like Samsung, who give freshmen laptops with some kind of concessions. Many companies are doing these things, and we need to find more resources like these to boost collaboration in this regard.
In terms of training, the private sector has done a fantastic job. SAP and Cisco, among others, have been training graduates through internship programmes. Kenya is very well endowed with well-trained human resources in ICT. Eight universities are teaching ICT, and six of these have come up with incubation centres that are devising very interesting applications and solutions. In terms of supply of human resources, I do not see this as an issue. The only reason why we have capacity challenges in the public sector is because the private sector is capable of offering more to skilled graduates.
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