Academic journal article Africa Policy Journal

Historical Antecedents and Paradoxes That Shaped Kenya's Contemporary Information and Communication Technology Policies

Academic journal article Africa Policy Journal

Historical Antecedents and Paradoxes That Shaped Kenya's Contemporary Information and Communication Technology Policies

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Global Entrepreneur Summit, which took place in Nairobi in July 2015, marked a global watershed recognition of Kenya's quantum leaps in the ICTs sector and its impact on rapid economic growth. The impressive facts and statistics reveal Kenya as one of the few successful examples of technological adoption in Africa's transitional markets, beyond Silicon Valley's well-developed, technology-based entrepreneurial ecosystems. Out of a population of 44 million, there are 29.6 million Internet users in Kenya, representing a 69 percent penetration rate, while mobile penetration stands at 84 percent. According to the July 2015 sector updates by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), the amount of international Internet bandwidth available in the country grew to 1.6 Gbps. The used bandwidth increased by 57 percent to 783,761 mbps. The mobile phone and 3G modems continue to dominate in provision of connectivity.

The growth of ICT access in Kenya has been attributed to massive investments in infrastructure from telecommunications service providers, as well as aggressive promotions to entice users. In 2014, the Kenyan government launched the National Optic Fiber Backbone, which has now connected fifty-seven towns in thirty-five counties. This was aided by fairly marketfriendly policies that encourage innovation, a knowledge-based economy, and foreign investment.

Improved access to mobile, fixed line, and fiber optic broadband has aided a culture of innovation, as Kenyans have been on the forefront in developing Internet-based services and applications that are locally relevant to the Kenyan economy and society. In the field of mobile commerce, the figures are impressive. More than two-thirds of the adult population engages in mobile commerce, making Kenya the world leader in mobile payments. At 86 percent penetration in Kenyan households, mobile payment such as M-Pesa® is redefining the ways in which Kenyans perform transactions and has also facilitated financial inclusion by promoting savings and financial transactions among the unbanked.

The need to access these applications, platforms, and services has also, in turn, had a reciprocal, catalytic effect on the numbers that use mobile phones. These innovations have impacted Kenyan political and economic activity in other fields, including citizens' participation and agriculture. The Kenyan ICT sector has also attracted investment from international corporations, including investments toward the establishment of local Internet exchange points. For example, the Google cache server helped lower the latency of all Google traffic. Another example is the IBM Research - Africa campus, which opened in Nairobi in 2013 as the first commercial technology research facility on the continent. The Facebook Africa Policy division has been collaborating with the Center for Intellectual Property and Information and Communication Technology Law in Kenyan ICT multi-stakeholders policy discussions.

Yet, in the middle of such progress, especially on the economic front, signs of relapse have been noticed. The government has passed laws and introduced measures that restrict civil liberties, ostensibly as antiterrorism measures, as well as to diffuse ethnic tensions. As other eastern African countries like Ethiopia have demonstrated before, without appropriate safeguards, technologies of expression could easily be turned into tools of repression used to curtail the free flow of information, with potential impact on long-term economic growth. This can be avoided if the state's response to emerging threats such as terrorism and cybercrime are curtailed to a point where they are necessary to achieve legitimate aims, are prescribed by the law, and are proportionate to the aims being pursued. By reviewing Kenya's history in ICT policy formulation, the country can learn from its past and avoid prospective policy relapses. This paper seeks to provide a review, explore the ongoing impact of such a relapse to the extent that it is occurring, and provide recommendations for strengthening the impact of ICT through effective policy. …

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