PATRICK NDEGWA: Will the updated National Digital Masterplan accelerate digital transformation in Kenya?

In April 2022, Kenya’s Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs marked a significant step in the country’s journey towards digital transformation with the release of the country’s revised National Digital Masterplan at the annual Connected Summit in Diani. The plan places technology at the heart of the national economy. It lays out ambitious targets over the next 10 years with regards to the rollout of ICT infrastructure and the creation of new employment and business opportunities across multiple sectors.

Though still serving as a medium- to long-term blueprint for the best-case scenario, the plan demonstrates Kenya’s commitment and potential to become a guiding light for other African nations in constructing an economy of the future; one that incorporates industry-leading Internet and enterprise data solutions. It’s therefore important we identify the ideas and solutions we need, and understand the role that each element plays.

The conceptual model and finer details

The plan identifies four key pillars that are essential to transforming Kenya into a globally competitive digital economy: digital infrastructure; digital government services, products, and data management; digital innovation, enterprise and digital business; and digital skills. These are all very important components and what helps validate them are supporting ones that cover everything from data and cyber management to policy, as well as legal and regulatory frameworks.

Some of the plan’s most notable ICT key performance indicators (KPIs) for digital infrastructure include:

  • 100% availability of broadband connectivity across the country.
  • 60% reduced cost in Internet connectivity.
  • 50% increase in SMEs.
  • 99% reliability of broadband connectivity.

From a short-term perspective, these pillars and goals speak to the current discourse and estimations of Africa’s digital potential. According to the 2020 e-Conomy Africa Report by IFC and Google, the continent’s Internet economy could reach $180 million by 2025 and account for 5.2% of its gross domestic product (GDP). These are rational expectations but, in the case of Kenya, there is an opportunity to surpass them through meaningful partnerships.

The role of the private sector

Two of the plan’s guiding principles include efforts to engage and collaborate with the private sector, as well as technology neutrality, which refers to the use of common or interoperable standards and protocols. In a way, one leads to the other as private enterprises are positioned to offer wholesale, industry-standard solutions that provide a level playing field for economic players and institutions. Access for all is the goal and it is in that way that we must look at the Digital Masterplan holistically. 

When it comes to digital economy and infrastructure, it is not ideal for any nation to be perpetually playing catch-up with the rest of the world. This is certainly the case with Africa and, credit where it is due, the continent’s tech ecosystem is set to experience tremendous growth in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and with increased access to tech talent. This may not be breaking news anymore, but it remains imperative that African nations continue to invest in new technologies and digital infrastructure so that they can operate in and compete on the global stage. With the help of private enterprises rolling out the necessary components and possessing the required knowledge and skill sets, that is rapidly becoming a reality. 

The building blocks of next-gen ICT

Speaking in broad terms about technology and the various tech trends can only get us so far in envisioning our shared future. To that end, it’s best to talk practically when it comes to what Kenya’s leadership is setting out to achieve.

For example, the biggest flagship programmes highlighted in the plan include the installation of 100 000 kilometres of high-speed fibre optic infrastructure and the establishment of 25 000 Internet hotspots across the country. This opens the door for society at large and the bulk of Kenya’s population – be they scholars, entrepreneurs, or leaders – to have access to high-speed Internet services and participate in the greater economy and society. In addition, the plan refers to a regional submarine maintenance depot that will ensure maintenance support for submarine cables that serve the region. This demonstrates awareness of the importance of Internet connectivity as the foundation for digital infrastructure. All of this will be made possible through collaboration by multiple actors and partnerships between respective sectors.

The plan also prioritises education in several ways. It refers to digital literacy programmes and capacity building for thousands of ICT professionals alongside public servants to promote high-end IT skills. Having the right infrastructure and tools is only as good as knowing how to use them and, by investing in the necessary initiatives, we can enable present and future generations to learn not only how to operate these systems, but innovate beyond them.

Going forward, Kenya is set to benefit exponentially from a shared vision. By working together, and knowing what we’re working towards, digital transformation will become the defining trait of a prosperous nation and economy.

Patrick Ndegwa is the Business Sales Lead for SEACOM East Africa.

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