Digital Migration, the boring details

For the last 15 years, Kenya’s broadcast sector has enjoyed the benefits of liberalization; in the old times, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation had the monopoly but that changed around 1999. Capital Fm was the first Fm station in 1995 or thereabouts but it was not until four years later that the industry blew up.

That was probably the other time that the media aggressively engaged with the Communications Commission of Kenya and the then Kenya Posts and Telecommunication. That engagement resulted in allocations of a wide variety of frequencies, FM, Wimax, etc. This point will come out better in the later arguments in this article.

This recent engagement has had public implication, and has therefore had the public more engaged in knowing who will win the battle of attrition. I think both the media owners and CCK/ government are holding their position to see who will tire faster or who has the ability to go to the last mile. My bet is that the media owners are backed to a corner and they will either have to comply or come to a compromise for more time.

I have had no chance to write on the topic, I have left it to the experts but I think I can also add my voice to it.

First let us get some background.

Why do we need to migrate?

In the early 2000’s or so, there were discussions within the ITU, the oldest UN body, on addressing the shrinking spectrum in developed countries. After discussions, a resolution was reached and the deadline was adopted in 2006 at a meeting referred to as the Regional Radio communications Conference (RRC-06), and agreed by 101 nations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. This resolution was heavily pushed by EU and North America because they faced the major pressure to free up airwave spectrum but in Africa, we don’t have a  strong consumer electronics industries or consumer markets that would have put such pressure. Remember the argument of spectrum hoarding and the threat by CCK to cancel allocations? Anyway, as happens in many meetings, African countries committed to the 2015 deadline.

Because not all countries are equal, an exception was made, for countries that felt they could not meet the deadline. They had five more years within which to put their house in order. Latin America decided to take 2020 as their deadline, because they had no particular pressure in that sector.

The ITU has already extended the deadline for 34 African countries and you can read a story I did in 2010. Some of those countries are: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Togo, and Tunisia. The 2020 cut-off was also agreed for countries not at the 2006 conference: Benin, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Madagascar, Niger, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone and Somalia.

So why is Kenya stuck to the 2015 deadline?

Kenya has a very big name within the ITU, wants to keep pace with Southern African countries, which have migrated, wants to keep the bragging rights as the ICT capital of Africa and for those who don’t know, the folks at CCK are rated very highly and are frequently elected to top ITU posts, which means good returns in whatever direction. So, in arguing about a 2020 deadline, you can scuttle many career trajectories.

This is also good for our business, which will be argued in part two of this post.

The issue of content interference…..

One of the main arguments by media owners is that their content can be interfered with because Signet is owned  by government and PANG is Chinese, which has exhibited its obsession with controlling what goes out to the public.

But is this the real reason?

Let us agree that if the government wanted to knock any content off air, whether private or public, they have the ability to do so. Read about the Indian government ban on news in community radio stations.

The best practice would have been to go the US way, where the media owners are also content distributors, so there was no change per se in the American case. Kenyan media owners had the chance to apply for a signal distribution license but they self destructed because they could not agree on which media house had to own what percentage, some of the media owners felt they were bigger because they had more money, while others thought they should own a majority shareholding because they had more stations. In the end, there was no desire to put in a winning tender.

Should we blame the CCK for not awarding a license of the basis of a non-compliant tender? We complain about these things but when they are applied to us, it seems unfair. I am not privy to who was in the tender committee, that wasn’t important, bottom-line was that the tender documents were flawed, according to those evaluating.

Why are media owners bitter?

The media owners feel bitter because they have made immense investments and now, they will have to look for other things to do with the passive infrastructure like masts, radios etc. My suggestion is that they should offer broadband services or lease them to companies in those areas that can offer internet services.

Currently, the media owners club is for those with money to pay for frequencies, lay the infrastructure and sustain it. This is a massive investment for the big boys and girls. Digital broadcasting will change all that and allow even people with small money to be media owners. This is not good for media owners, it is good for the rest of us.

Content the new competition

Now that infrastructure and big capital outlay is no longer the main competition point, content will have to be. People will be drawn to stations because they talk to them and address their needs. For instance, during the boycott by Royal Media, Nation and Standard groups, we had to watch K24. My mother is a Citizen fan but she had no idea why they were off air, she switched to the next station; K24. At that time, it was an agricultural show, where farmers share their experiences.

It was the first time that mum shushed us. There was a guy talking about strawberry farming and she wanted to learn one thing; how to deal with the insects and birds that had tormented her and her strawberries. She learnt that the home remedy was to mix charcoal remnants with the soil and put a net to protect the fruits. She was so impressed and said that every week, she will be tuning.

Now, its not a glamorous example but for that day, K24 won a new viewer because the content addressed my mother’s needs. Now, apply this to the many other areas that content has been lacking.

Part two…… Business opportunities.


From Social Media Campaign to Action

Once is a while, Kenya’s social media or online constituency is touched by various causes. The most famous was Kenyans4Kenya and the most recent was Bring Zack back Home campaign.

For some reason, both were led by Safaricom; either because of their strong Corporate Social Responsibility or the sheer number of the zeros in their annual results. It may also be because they have the numbers in terms of subscribers and their advertising budget is to boot. Whatever the reason, it is good.

Naturally, when money is concerned, there are those who contribute, those who just ask questions, the skeptics who see the eating opportunities and those who obsess with details on how the thing will work 10 years later. Some do all the above and others do none, and it is still ok.

So, for this post, we will talk about Bring Zack Back home, which was mainly calculated to build a spinal injury rehabilitation centre. Currently none exists in Kenya and a trip to South Africa and the attendant costs can run into tens of millions.

This will be a rehabilitation centre, not a hospital per se, it is not taking away the work done at the hospitals. It is the place people can learn how to deal with the sudden or gradual loss of spinal use, learn how to use the wheelchair, families can get support on how to care for loved ones and most of all, where people can get rehabilitated.

Some of these things sound so alien, until you meet people and families living with these challenges or until you fundraise to go abroad and wonder why these services are not available locally.

For this day, I decided to go to Isinya and see how the project is going, the building is standing on a 12-acre piece of land and is expected to include ultra modern facilities most notable; a gym and media centre.




The initial target was Sh 250 million and 73 million was raised. Eight million went into taxation because most of the donations were via airtime and Mpesa. Safaricom tried to negotiate with KRA about waiver but they hit a dead end. To raise the money, Zack pushed his wheelchair from Nairobi to Namanga, cheered by well wishers.

The construction has already began, and it is projected that well wishers will continue contributing, to make it a reality.



Here is Zack welcoming William Ruto, the deputy president to the ceremony. For some reason, Zack didn’t look very jovial but again, he probably was unwell.

Zack gave a very sober speech and had requests to Ruto:

  • Having special lanes for wheelchair users
  • Dealing with fumes from poorly maintained cars; how can the government help this?
  • Sh 8 million was paid to the Kenya Revenue Authority, how can the government intervene?
  • Waiver be extended to the construction
  • Sh 176 million still outstanding and it would be nice if government chipped in




Ruto took the stage and after platitudes, he promised several things, key among them:

  1. The government will pay for personnel, assist in management and running of the facility
  2. He donated sh. 3 million from his salary and
  3. Government to contribute 30 million of which 10 million will go to KRA to pay taxes
  4. After his generous donation, Industrialist Manu Chandaria announced that he would  give 30 million too

It would have been nice if Ruto had given 50 million, maybe Chandaria would have been drawn in and match the 50 million, which is good. My only hope is that Chandaria will not demand the naming rights, I hope he is satisfied with his name in Kenyatta University and Nairobi hospital. Given that the public participated heavily, it wouldn’t be nice to just name it after one person.



For me the day was capped by a poem by this girl, who addressed the challenges faced by school kids in wheelchair, like taking long to carry out chores that seem mundane to an able bodied person.

It was a day to witness what the power of giving can do, and the stories made it all seem like the rehabilitation center should have been there ages ago.