Why hold Kenya conference in Bellagio, Italy?


The other day, I saw an press release that The Kenya ICT Board was holding a conference on Kenya’s ICT industry attractiveness in Bellagio, Italy.

I know the Bellagio Forum is high level and attracts the heavy weights in the ICT industry but the first question that came to mind was, why hold a conference about Kenya in Italy? In my folklore, there is a saying that “Mburi ndiendagio ii gichegu” loosely translated to mean that you can not sell a goat that is still in the shed, the buyer needs to see what they are buying and compare with the superlatives that you may be heaping on it.

In this case, I thought that if the board wanted to demonstrate how the Kenyan industry has grown, the easiest thing was to bring the hot shots here, visit the BPO centers, both large and small and let them pitch idea etc.

I have no problem when conferences are held in exclusive lodges in Mombasa, because it blocks people from walking in and out but Italy? I thought that was a bit far.

To understand the matter better, I caught up with Paul Kukubo, CEO of ICT board, and sought to just understand the rationale behind the conference in Italy. It was during the iHub one year anniversary so we didn’t get to talk much but I got the gist. (He is also posting very nice tweets and photos from Italy).

Here are the main points that he shared:

1. The conference is sponsored by Rockefeller Foundation

To me this didn’t make much sense because if it was an issue of money, the govt has more than enough. I am not convinced that Italy was the only venue that the foundation could fund, am sure they can do it in Kenya too.

2. Some of those participants may never step into Kenya, because of a combination of reasons

I understand, Kenya’s image may not be the best internationally, blame it on the media but if we know they may never come or make positive influences, why bother? Maybe we need to concentrate on markets that may be open to us. One insider, who owns an outsourcing firm, told me that it may be better to go to company owners and execs directly instead of consultants, who may not have our interests at heart.

3. It was a perfect opportunity to market Kenya

I have no doubt about this, but will it yield to business for the BPO industry, coz am sure thats what many of them in the industry are concerned about.

I am sure that to some, this post demonstrates ignorance and a lack of understanding of the industry but am also aware of people in the BPO industry who have complained that such trips include the same BPO owners over and over again, so if there is any business to be made, then the same BPO owners are set to benefit.

Is this fair? Yes, No, Maybe.


  1. Not fair at all. First of all there is more to ICT in Kenya than BPO and outsourcing and connectivity. Secondly, this is above most of the startups so its for an exclusive few. Elitism at its finest I believe.

  2. Wanjiku, you are spot on. This is not right and its not fair. I hate to build conspiracy theories when I know there are people doing their best at their jobs but somewhere I can’t help but see a case for an all-expenses paid trip for the ICT Board and Min of ICT staff plus the per diems.

  3. I imagine if some reps in gok went to Japan to discuss Kenyas drought then got hit by the tsunami. That would be funny in a dark way.
    The truth is NGOs are more corncened in getting funding for their projects than solutions for the problem.

  4. This is awesome. Can wait until Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is operational. These clowns can then go waste more time and money in space…

  5. Spot on! You’re story pokes holes at so many gaps that just go to show how far we need to go to deepen corporate governance if we’re to show value to all stakeholders.

    Smacks of Cash, not content, is king!

  6. From the picture, it looks like a meeting (with potential investors) rather than a conference.

    What I don’t understand is KICT Board preoccupation with BPO. I would rather they focussed on making the country more conducive for investments instead of marketing the country. There is a lot of untapped funds in Kenya that could find it’s way into IT. As it stands, all the money is heading into real estate.

  7. Thanks for the post.

    If these same old BPO owners get investors to fund their development, then the SMEs will learn from them and use them as a benchmark so that they don’t re-invent the wheel (of successful seeking of capital). If the trip fails the SMEs who missed out will learn from the mistakes made. It all works out in end if the upcoming business owners have the right attitude.

  8. Last year, ICT board was to take Kenyan Developers to FB. To experience the FB Environment.

    Heheheeeeee… We are stillw aiting for the flight confirmation.

    Slowly, it is all about trips and passport stamps and holidays. NOTHING to do with ICT.

  9. Well said. To start with ICT board should sit down with seasoned local developers and Software Companies look at all the opportunities within the government and start by that automation. Why should GOK Look for External Companies to carry out such while we have the capacity.

    Idd Salim what do you think..?

  10. Italy is a half-day trip away for potential investment partners in Europe. Kenya is a multi-day trip. Do the math for someone whose time is his most precious asset. 2 days is 10% of a working month.

    Placing investments in a country is less about visiting a place than getting comfortable with the people who will guide policy and safeguard your investments. If you’re going to meet influencers, you need to meet them first on their turf before extending invitations for them to come thousands of kilometers to yours. Business relationships are just like having a date. Let’s go to my house isn’t appropriate on day 1. You write well, but please don’t be petty about big goals that take time, money and effort to achieve.

    There are people whose only memory of Kenya is the riots of 2007. They have very little time and so many alternative places to invest, they couldn’t possibly visit every one of them before deciding on a shortlist. We assume too much if we think we’re automatically on a shortlist. The world is more competitive than that. The ICT Board is only doing what people seeking investment all over the world do.

  11. @Wabner, this is Kenya so we know thats not true. It might not be fully about comforts of travel and having a good life, but I havent heard a Kenya delegation say no to travel, even for the most irrelevant things. But what irks me more than this things happening outside Kenya, is that other parties concerned, local parties, smaller parties, or should I say partners are getting bypassed and that is not fair. Our work is not just to simply get international partners, there are darn good local companies, local money and local skills, and whatever we don’t know, I don’t see any arm of government asking for people to skill up. We always invite Western companies to give us grants/loans and the same Western companies are awarded contracts negotiated in places like Bellagio to do the said work, and the poor local citizens get to pay an arm and a leg for this service.

    If you are looking for investors, living lavish in Bellagio is not the best way to go about doing it. Atleast from local perspective, it looks silly and greedy.

  12. People do business with people they feel comfortable with, in surroundings that help the networking process. If you think you’re going to look competitive against the competition by acting poor and needy instead of ready and able, you just don’t get it. Investors don’t invest because of sympathy, they do it because you look like you’ll help them make money.

    There is time and context for local parties and partners and there is time for international partners. It also takes different actions to get the two types of partners onboard.

    By appointing yourself arbiter of what is darn good, what is time wasting, and what travel is necessary or not, you betray your real goal. When a “Western” (whatever that means) partner gives money in grants, they give their conditions. It’s a binary decision to take the money and conditions or refuse it. Why don’t you generate your own capital instead of looking to “Western” partners or the GoK to do it?

    You are being petty, please accept that and then complain about the lavish Bellagio as much as you want. That way, at least everybody will understand where you’re coming from. It’s frustrating listening to faux independent Africans asserting their independence then complaining about how foreign grants are allocated. Renounce them all and grow your own cake! You can’t be left out of your own party.

  13. @Wabner

    I don’t mind being petty, especially when my hard earned tax money is put through blatant abuse. And working in government or government agencies, a lot of people use this as a blind cheque to do whatever and go wherever, even to the most irrelevant things. Funny thing, today, someone else, aside from the people replying to this post said that we spend more time attending all sorts of things than actually doing things (http://www.simple.co.ke/Z4Z). In my opinion, in some cases, money needed is available locally, just that its not “available”. Our government is known to make deals not in our best interest and the ICT board is an arm of the government, its been happening for ever and its not about to change, so when they go forth and seek investors everywhere every other day, well then, to me, there is something wrong. And Kenya’s issues I believe should be discussed where they are pertinent to, but then again, I could be wrong and the ICT board could be doing the right thing. But history repeats itself once to often.


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