April 29, 2013, 12:11 PM — Six years ago, the World Bank teamed up with the Kenyan government to launch an ambitious digital villages project, commonly known as "Pasha."
The project was met with a lot of optimism mainly because the government had just unveiled the Kenya ICT board, comprised of private sector executives earning Word Bank-level salaries, and expectations were high. The idea was to set up a digital center in each of the 210 constituencies in the country. The centers would provide digital services, mainly government services, allowing people to reduce the distance they needed to travel in search of government services.
The centers were also supposed to spur innovation and provide employment in rural areas, hopefully allowing more people to move from Nairobi, the capital, to the rural areas, decongesting the capital.
Today, only 63 centers have been set up; some of the people who received the money thought that it was general government aid, not to be repaid, others thought the ICT board would help them run their businesses. Some invested the money in other existing but financially ailing businesses while others took the loan and bought cars.
The board says it has no intention to continue with the project until a monitoring and evaluation exercise conducted by Deloitte is implemented. The project is also being handed to a private sector consortium to administer the loans and the recommendations made by Deloitte.
Computerworld spoke to Victor Kyalo, Deputy CEO at the Kenya ICT board and the head of the Pasha project.
CW: What was the original idea for Pasha?
VK: The Pasha fund was created to provide seed capital to entrepreneurs interested in setting up businesses in the 210 constituencies. The people would receive funds ranging from Ksh. 850,000 to 2 million (US$10,000 to $25,000). They would then set up the business, provide value addition and allow the business to sustain itself with time and repay the loan. There was a rigorous application exercise but we assumed several things; that the people applying had studied their areas and found the kind of services that would work, that the people had entrepreneurship skills, that business mentorship was easily available and that government services would be digitized fast enough to allow the businesses to thrive.
There is no doubt that government services provide the highest (level) content online, but some services are available online while others are not; for example, in the police service, you can download forms that allow you to report cases but other equally important forms are not online. Therefore even if you came to the Pasha to download the form, you will still have to go to the police station and fulfill other manual processes.
CW: What is going to be different next time the funds are available?