Joseph Mucheru: Interview
What kind of policies are needed to promote fair and effective competition in the ICT sector?
JOSEPH MUCHERU: Our central focuses are to ensure the reliability and choice of services that the market offers to customers, to use regulation to curb monopolistic tendencies, and to ensure innovation and services with the highest-quality standards. In recent years the industry has seen a rise in investments, presenting evidence that the market is still open and growing. Several firms have launched operations linked to the availability of 4G services, and two new companies have joined the three big mobile operators to cover the spectrum. The voice, data, value-added services and mobile money markets have to be analysed separately. Although the shares in voice services are not very diversified, this market is contracting; meanwhile, thanks to its numerous players, the market for data services is growing. Taken together, these two trends have led to the emergence of a new environment in the technology ecosystem.
In what ways are e-government platforms advancing transparency and facilitating business?
MUCHERU: Technology is at the heart of many of the administration’s policies within government. Kenyans have benefitted from the e-citizen network and huduma centres, which are centralised platforms that offer over 120 digitised government services. In addition to extending this system, the state is hoping to simplify service provision by providing a unique, lifelong service delivery number to every Kenyan. This ID will enable citizens to access all the different state services, such as the issuance of driving licences, health coverage, education and security services. Consolidation of these platforms will also be used to evaluate and foresee national resource needs, in order to ensure the supply of goods and services. Meanwhile, ICT has increased the efficiency and transparency of government, which is working to offer more information to its citizens, especially related to the use of public funds.
How can ICT growth support the Big Four agenda?
MUCHERU: There are specific ministries in charge of implementing this agenda, and ICT cuts across them all. Different needs will require different ICT solutions. In affordable housing, for instance, technology will enable government and private companies to readily locate both material and human resources. It will also increase employability by linking employers with workers, and enabling the gig economy, a practice that has altered the future of work globally and has led to the increase of online professional activities and contracts that bring labour opportunities to the individual, even in remote areas of the country. On universal health care, digital registration will improve access to, and the administration of, health care services countrywide.
How could Kenya’s start-up ecosystem be improved so that it becomes a regional digital hub?
MUCHERU: The main problem that start-ups face in scaling up is a lack of opportunity to reach investors and, for those that do, early acquisition by larger firms. Sometimes, those that invest in start-ups do not even operate in the same field as their acquisitions, and tend to absorb them for the human talent that these start-ups have put together. This hinders these start-ups’ efforts to develop the quality, volume and value of their activities. We are working to engage start-ups to identify their needs and foster an environment for growth, in order to grow our companies to unicorn status. Significant resources have been set aside to implement the Big Four agenda, and we aim to allocate part of the budget to support the growth of these young, local businesses and other innovators. For example, the WhiteBox.go.ke initiative provides a platform for entrepreneurs to present their ideas, innovations and products to the state. These undertakings will be evaluated and presented to relevant government stakeholders, and if found to address our needs, will be considered for support and absorption, as per regulation.
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