[Column] Tonny Tugee: Kenya’s digital journey - Where are we now, and where are we going
Kenya’s ICT sector has seen a 10.8% average annual growth since 2016, making it one of the fastest-growing tech environments on the continent. This success can be largely attributed to various innovations in our digital space, with the ICT sector on track to creating 250,000 jobs and contributing up to 8% of GDP by the end of 2020. Kenya has firmly established itself as a digital trendsetter in Africa, but how far have we come on our digital journey? Let’s have a look at some notable developments and partnerships that have been implemented and how they may shape the future of Kenya’s digital environment.
Mobile payment platforms
After the launch of Safaricom’s M-PESA in 2007, Kenya has not only emerged as a leader in mobile payment platforms but has also driven its economic growth through financial inclusion. Huawei has recently partnered with Safaricom and other network providers to aid the implementation of services like M-PESA, a mobile money platform, M-TIBA, which provides medical treatment through a mobile health wallet, and Fuliza – a service that lets users with insufficient funds borrow money to complete their transactions on M-PESA. Over KES 6.2 billion in transactions were processed in Fuliza’s first month, and its total loans rose by 30% when the pandemic hit East Africa.
Microloan platforms like Fuliza have empowered millions of Kenyans who would otherwise not have had access to finance, and it therefore comes as no surprise that Safaricom contributed 6% to our GDP in 2020. Other international platforms have also taken notice, like dLocal, a leading cross-border payment platform which has expanded into Kenya and three more African countries to allow payments on M-PESA and Airtel, making it easier for merchants in Kenya to take their business across borders and grow into new markets.
Connectivity is undoubtedly a cornerstone of digital transformation, and Kenya has many projects in place to realise nationwide connectivity. The Ministry of Information, Communication and Technology has started constructing a 630 kilometre high-speed fibre optic cable that will benefit communities, government, and businesses in the North Rift region of Kenya as well as promote cross-border trade with South Sudan.
Airtel Kenya, the second largest telecoms company in Kenya, has partnered with Nokia to deploy 4G and 5G-ready infrastructure across Kenya. SEACOM has partnered with Vodacom to reach more business clients across Africa, and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, announced a roll-out plan for Project Taara, which will provide super-fast connectivity using light beams. Google’s Loon project is also bringing connectivity to remote regions with stratospheric weather balloons, which has been significantly improved by a new AI weather navigation system.
These advances in connectivity will lead to noticeable improvements for Kenyan citizens and businesses when it comes to access to and the capability of any Internet-reliant technology. This will also help include more people in the country’s growing digital economy, improving education opportunities and employability. Connectivity is not just necessary for digital transformation; it can act as an economic catalyst – but only if it’s fast and reliable.
While Kenya is considered a continental leader in digital technologies, manufacturing’s contribution to GDP has declined over the last decade. President Kenyatta has set out some ambitious goals for manufacturing in his Big Four agenda, hoping to raise its GDP contribution from 9.2% in 2019 to 20% by 2022. ICT adoption has been recognised as a key factor for improving the sector. For example, modernising tools of operations, such as application programming interfaces (APIs), can give workers control over multiple processes on a single virtual dashboard, but this also requires the workforce to be digitally trained.
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers has launched a policy framework to improve digital capabilities, foster competitiveness, and manage digital change in an inclusive way – which can be seen in its call for women to take part in the manufacturing industry. Kenya’s manufacturing industry still has untapped potential, as a Syspro study found that only 11% of manufacturers were fully automated, so there is much room for growth.
70% of Africans rely solely on agricultural income, and with a growing population, farmers are struggling to keep up with demand. Fortunately, digital tools are beginning to replace manual processes and online commerce platforms are on the rise. Safaricom’s Digifarm is providing small farmers with access to finance, as well as advice and information – all on mobile. Liquid Telecom has also partnered with Twiga Foods, an online business-to-business food market, to improve farm productivity through different agricultural sensors such as a weather station, soil moisture and temperature probes, and more.
Technological improvements in the farming sector could lead to the creation of more jobs, food security as well as economic growth. Some international agritech start-ups have seen 110% growth in the past two years, which is why it’s clear that technological solutions are defining a new age of agriculture.
A brighter future
Kenya has all the ingredients to fast-track digital transformation. It has a young, tech-savvy population with a passion for learning, and an established government capable of supporting major IT projects. Our mobile platforms are empowering people with financially inclusive services while connectivity is beginning to reach every corner of the country. At this rate, despite the difficulties of 2020, Kenya’s digital future looks bright.