Kenyan government aims to attract foreign investment with ICT merger

The acting CEO of the Kenya ICT Authority talks about progress and problems

Six months ago, Kenya merged three IT governmental bodies, the Kenya ICT Board, Directorate of e-government and Government Information Technology Services, to form the Kenya ICT Authority. Since then, the government has finalized its Public Private Partnership law and several partnership projects are expected to be awarded this year, mainly involving digitization of records and use of ICTs to enhance service delivery.

Some of the high-level projects are in health care and involve the national referral hospital, Kenyatta National Hospital, ministry of health, immigration department and the national identity card registry.

Victor Kyalo, acting CEO at the ICT Authority, answered questions about the merger and the projects.

What is the difference between how government services were delivered previously and now?

If you look at what was there before, Directorate of e-government was providing services within the government ministries, while as the Government ICT Services was more outward looking on [questions of] how do we enable business in Kenya, how do we attract investment in Kenya? The Kenya ICT Board was tasked with making sure certain processes in government are elevated to a level where international players coming into the market can identify the areas to invest in the sector.

The ICT board was therefore working closely with the two ICT bodies to realize government ICT objectives. First was looking at e-government and how to enhance services to serve citizens. The second one was how to support the ministry of information and communication to provide connectivity, content and capacity to the citizens, and the third was outreach to get more people using ICT services.

With the formation of the ICT Authority, we are under one roof and we are supposed to think about those things in a coordinated manner. If you look at the functions we have been given now they are very broad. We are now providing services within government as well as serving international and local stakeholders.

We need to ensure government services are trusted and also ensure [a] business environment for ICT to develop. The only difference is that we are now doing it under one roof with an expanded mandate. When we now talk about literacy, it is not only in government civil servants, but also in citizens of Kenya to be able to offer ICT services.

There have been accusations of inefficiencies within the three bodies. By bringing them together, aren't you enlarging the inefficiencies?

The services offered by the three bodies were at times overlapping and if you look at the overlaps, they could have been a source of inefficiency. Human resources also could have been source of inefficiency. We are addressing the issues, but the ICT Authority will deliver better services to the citizens.

If you look at distributed budget within government, we actually get more mileage under one roof rather than as separate entities. We can now collaborate and exchange synergies under one roof and consolidated budget, which means we can achieve more milestones in a project.

There have been some big investments in government that have failed. How will the process change?

I don't think the projects have failed. Some of them are working, but I can say they have lost momentum, because after the warranty period [if] you have not paid for maintenance ... the platform used may not work optimally.

We need to rethink how we standardize, we need to agree on the platforms the government will be using. Right now, the government is running on several platforms and interoperability can be a challenge, meaning some of them run in isolation while different ministries may have a chance to collaborate.

We need to energize the projects and take them to a level where they achieve the purposes they were meant for, because if we look at all these projects they are at a point where we need to do something very small to get them out there working.

The private sector feels like the ICT board did not do much to move the sector forward, e.g., the bandwidth subsidies for BPO [business process outsourcing] and Tandaa grants. Any future initiatives?

If you look at the connectivity, we can say we achieved because we laid fiber in places it could have never happened, we have connected universities and colleges in remote areas. Regarding the BPO sector, we did not use all the money that was there for that purpose, we probably used a tenth of that money allocated. It emerged that bandwidth was not the only problem affecting the sector, we needed to address marketing Kenya as a BPO destination, and developing the local universities to adequately serve the ICT sector.

When private sector looks at failure, we can also look at lessons learnt. For example, on the Tandaa grants, some people were entrepreneurs because they had seen an opportunity to make money while others were truly interested in growing their business. If we review the grants and success stories, we have 25 percent success stories. Others failed miserably because either they were designed to fail or they just failed.

Kenya's ICT sector has attracted international attention, how will the Authority support it going forward?

Locally, the ICT sector has developed tremendously, we have developers from the innovation and incubation hubs delivering internationally and partnering with international companies. We also have international tech companies that are setting up locally, with an eye on the local market as well as the region. Our role is to ensure an environment that allows tech business to grow.

There are a lot of government ICT projects that require partnership between local and international companies for efficient delivery. Our focus is to make sure that there is business growth and continued investment.

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