Kenya: Silicon Savannah or Bust?

5 Min Read

Kenya has been in the headlines of late. Aside from the almost assured wins in the marathon and competitive runnning industry, the latest buzz word has been technology and specifically mobile otimized applications and services.

International media has given glowing tribute to the tenacity of the Africans/Kenyans to jump several generation into high technology and ignore a pervasive culture of inculcated processes such as credit cards and checking accounts and fully embrace mobile money. This generally baffles the western economies that have seemingly divorced from common sense and the actual situation of most peasant farmers. Dr. James Mwangi of the Equity bank fame has of late made a name for himself as a self made guru of the African peasant bank client and thus gained a lot of media attention and the associated glitz that comes with being the authority in a given field.

It helps if your field represents the remaining frontier market for the capitalists. The Kenyan Government is not one to be left behind by waves. It is interested in being cool like that. They hopped on to the BPO wave without actually giving any intellectual thought about what it entailed and fully supported half baked youth empowerment schemes that were not self sufficient in any way. An attempt by the president to force government procurement departments to only source from local manufacturers failed so spectacularly that nobody talks about it.

Now all these incidents pale in shadow to the monumental failure by the IEBC to conduct an irreproachable election. Of Course no-one is perfect and I did not expect zero irregularities but the excuses offered by the exceedingly expensive body do not really help in establishing the organisation’s credibility in organizing elections, a once in every 5 years affair not counting minuscule by-elections.

All these events may just point to the general feeling that goverments are just humongous bodies plagued with insane bureaucracy and accepted inefficiency in the light of human rights, technology adoption and innovation in general. African government are usually at the extreem end of this spectrum what with next to zero investment in R&D, horrid bureaucracy that has not been updated since the white man left and the oh so endemic corruption.

None of this is actually helped by events such as the shenanigans of the IEBC in the past few weeks and the subsequent credibility and assurance standards that wind up trickling to the local technology firms that are trying to break out into the international scene.

That the IEBC resorted to acquiring the system from a foreign company that seemingly changed its name enough times in a year and is linked to the Canadian intelligence agency, as opposed to eating its own soup and using a local owned and operated company is damning enough. This is a monumental indictment to the local tech capacity and no amount of hackathons, tech workshops or startups is going to redeem such an embarrassment.

The silicon savannah should not even be based on the American Silicon Valley in the U.S. We have woefully different conditions, requirements and outlook. We dont need a Google or Facebook. Different market. Different solution. The Ethiopian commodity exchange is more useful than poking your high school pal.

There have been several attempts to setup a geographic zone that simply doesn’t play by the same economic rules as the rest of the lanscape. The latest one has been the Fabled  Konza City  that promises Nirvana. Previous ones were the EPZs, Tatu City, Sameer Business park etc that are struggling to get tenants and entrepreneurs to invest in (For those that have been built and are operational)

Much as we may ignore it, the import of such Government decisions is that the credibility of Kenyan firms comes into question and this is very worrisome for all local entrepreneurs.

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