What can we expect from Mucheru, Kyalo in ICT?

There is no doubt that the appointment of Joe Mucheru and ICT Cabinet Secretary and Victor Kyalo as PS is expected to provide new impetus to the ICT sector.

Why?

For the last two years, Kenya’s ICT sector has been uneasy over the rate of progress, much of which was blamed on unsupportive government officers and changing global trends.

The unease stems from the fact that seven years ago, there was a lot of hype, government support and international goodwill that resulted in competitions, grants and general investments in the sector. With this progress, Kenya seemed to be taking its place as a bonafide contender for Africa’s top technology hub.

That momentum seems to have slowed since the appointment of Dr. Fred Matiang’i as the head of Ministry of Information and Communication. The concern was that Dr. Matiang’I lacked deep understanding and appreciation of the ICT sector because he was an outsider in the ICT sector. In some cases, outsiders bring about change and development and in other cases, it doesn’t happen.

For those who know Kenya’s tech scene, these are the leading lights in policy and technology in the last 17 years; since the Kenya Communications Amendment Act took effect. Mucheru is probably well known for his role in growing Google in Africa, he was the first hire, when the content giant decided to set up offices in the region.

Mucheru and Kyalo were involved in policy advocacy and ICT sector involvement  through the Kenya ICT Network (KICTANET), an online forum that allowed members to contribute to government policy,  and the Telecommunications Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK), a private sector lobby group.

However, those who have transitioned from private to public sector know that it can be tough. You need the workers at the ministry to help in delivery of promises, the supporting team usually determines the success and can sabotage or support, just like the private sector.

One of the arguments for sector challenges is lack of support for the government front, usually blamed on clueless leadership. Now you have people at the top who understand the challenges and opportunities in the sector. For once, the PS and CS are industry insiders, if they fail, then its not because of appointment of “wrong” or clueless leaders who don’t foster growth in the industry.

For those old enough to remember the “dream team”, we know that success in the private sector doesn’t always translate to success in the public sector. Success will be hinged on culture change for some of the characters who are set in their ways and may not be too happy with regime change. Kyalo has already navigated the murky waters, let us see how Mucheru deals with crocodiles.

So, what should we expect?

Leadership and direction- E.g Safaricom dominance

One of the biggest controversies relates  to the issue of Safaricom dominance and the best way to support Orange and Airtel to turn around profits and find a way to compete with Safaricom.

When asked about this topic by the parliamentary vetting committee,  Mucheru promised to work with the Communications Authority and explore ways to help the other telcos to be more competitive. He mentioned infrastructure sharing as one area that could promote more competition.

He was quick to mention that Safaricom is valued at $ 5 billion, which is lower than Whatsapp ($19b) and Uber ($60b). Of course there is no correlation between market capitalization and market dominance but I got his point to be that we must grow more billion-dollar companies before curtailing their growth. The fact that the committee didn’t pin him more means that they were either clueless or will allow Mucheru to bullshit around, as long as he can drop big names and jargon.

The CA and Matiang’I have been at odds with Safaricom, writing to parliament and promising to implement measures that cut Safaricom’s growth instead of helping others competing and catching up. Mucheru had constructive suggestions, let us see if he will implement/

The problem is that whether we like it or not, Safaricom supports other smaller companies and in cutting its growth, the government is eventually cutting the growth for other smaller companies. For instance, Mpesa depends on smaller local software developers to innovate, if the revenues drop,  this jobs go to India, where the costs are way lower. Of course, market forces could force similar results but its better than government doing it. That is why this fight makes more tech companies jittery.

It will be interesting to see how Mucheru handles this balancing act between the government and its largest tax payer.

Leadership and direction- Blockchain, bitcoin, etc

Every time new technology comes up, there is usually apprehension from the incumbent; mainly it borders on the economic effects but is usually masked as public interest; to a larger extent that is…… for instance, when Mpesa entered the market, banks complained to the Central Bank, arguing public interest and demanding that Safaricom be licensed as a bank and comply with all the rules if it wants to handle money. It was a convoluted battle that Safaricom finally won and banks had no choice than to partner.

Countries like Japan, Tunisia and many in the EU are exploring how to use blockchain. It will probably take another 10 years for it to go mainstream. You can read about bitcoin in Kenya here. CBK has already cautioned the public on its usage.

In this respect, Mucheru and Kyalo should offer leadership and insights on the best way for Kenya to go.  Whether CBK recognizes the opportunities provided by blockchain or not, will be down to the approach and guidance from the ICT ministry.

Restoring the vibrancy

There was a time Kenya’s ICT sector was vibrant, with competitions here and there, which provided opportunities for new ideas and career “app competition winners”. People say that the tech ecosystem doesn’t benefit from competitions but for the young guys from school, it can offer some motivation and a way to set up.

Its funny how some people vilify app competitions, even if they are well known or found their footing in those competitions. I recently read some WhatsApp messages from some guys saying how competitions spoil the industry. The irony is; the two loudest characters have won the most money and were a mainstay in those competitions. They ran professional start ups; being know just by pitching in those competitions.

For the people entering Kenya’s tech space now, you missed a boom of unaccounted government money, forget about the $1,000 Barclays is giving, this was money 🙂

There is so much we can expect, but this is all I can think about for now; read what Mucheru promises in this article.

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New ICT Authority to bring good news to some

For the better part of this year, senior ICT strategists have been angling and positioning themselves for appointment at the newly created ICT Authority. In exercise of the powers under the State Corporations Act, the president directed that the new body will replace:

1. The Kenya ICT Board established in 2007

2. E-Government directorate established in 2004

3. Government Information Technology Services established in 2003

The decision to consolidate was taken after inefficiencies and shifting blame between the three bodies led to non-delivery of services. In-fighting and clashing of egos over who is more powerful than the other led to non-delivery of services.

The best part is that Information and Communication Cabinet Secretary has the powers to appoint the first CEO, without advertising for three years  but subsequent CEO posts will be advertised and vetted by the board.

READ MORE

Reviewing the ICT Board, six years later….. Guest writing

Some days back, I visited the ICT Board to chat with Victor Kyalo about the digital villages project. I remember when I wrote about the launch in 2008, there was so much hype and I wanted to find if the hype was still there.

I found that there has been challenges, from recipients buying cars, investing in other things to success. I also found out one nice thing; women recipients showed more commitment, which was good for women in ICT.

I must admit that lending people Ksh 800,000 to 2 million is a great idea but if the business case isn’t proven, you cant blame the people who felt it was better to buy a car for public image, or even to operate as a taxi.

Why wouldn’t such loans be given to thriving businesses that lack capital to finance projects? You can imagine Victor gave me a long winding answer that seemed to say that such a project is in the offing.

I am writing a review of the board’s performance in the various areas, according to my knowledge and experience. If you have views of how the board has performed, whether positive or negative, please share by giving me a blog post.

I gave Paul Kukubo and his team a chance to write weeks ago but he declined or is yet to keep his promise or (insert your excuse here).

Topics that come to mind:

1. BPO

2. Chipuka

3. Ease of doing business, how has the board improved government processes in the last six years?

4. Tandaa grants

5. Pasha

6. Silicon Savannah/ Silicon Kelele, depending on which side you are

7. Government telephony, interconnection, I hear Dimension Data got a contract or Ksh 32 million or $ 32 million (ksh 270 million) depending on who you talk to. If you know anything, please share.

8. Most exotic place that board has gone to present about Kenya’s success- this is a humour piece.

9. Most outrageous promise made or achieved

10. An open letter to the next board CEO

 

Send your contributions to rebecca@wanjiku.co.ke

 

Paul Kukubo, Victor Kyalo, set to leave ICT Board

After five years at the helm of the Kenya ICT Board, Paul Kukubo is leaving his post as CEO and Taking over as the head of the East Africa Commodities Exchange. No website yet but you can read more about it here. Paul’s contract was renewed in 2010 for three years through this Gazette notice.

Victor Kyalo, the Deputy CEO at the board is also set to leave, to go back to teaching at the University of Nairobi, but he will probably not take long before he bounces back to the ICT sector 🙂 He lectures/teaches electrical engineering at the University.

Victor Kyalo

Paul and Victor have been leading lights in Kenya’s ICT industry and are responsible for setting up the board and showing its relevance to other ministries but with the e-gov directorate, you understand why the roles were confused.

Now its time for all in the industry to forget all those things we never liked with the board and start with all the nice things, and how we will miss them. Yes, seriously 🙂

And here I go………

During their leadership, the government of Kenya was able to appreciate technology and innovation, opened its data for developers, and set up the youth fund, which was supposed to supplement venture capital and savings.

Who can forget Tandaa……. The content grants, they made some folks rich, some skipped town while others realized running business is hard.

IBM set up a research lab, government is contributing Ksh 170 million and the staff is being sourced from the best universities globally, given that Kenya has no capacity.

During its earlier years, maybe first or second, the board supported BPOs, in fact, I think that was the main reason it was formed, but priorities have changed.

Who is taking over?

Eunice Kariuki is the deputy CEO and can be expected to take over, if there is no argument that we need fresh blood to be injected…… or some other argument like that.

So, what do you have to say about the duo? You can put your nice things in the comments 🙂