As we celebrated World Telecommunication and Information Society Day on 17 May, a spotlight falls on the impact of ICT technologies and Internet connectivity. Many of us take Internet access for granted. But, for many Kenyan citizens and enterprises, it is a catalyst for change. One that unlocks new value through new online experiences and empowers people to communicate, innovate, and prosper.
However, digital transformation is never an easy or prompt process. It’s only through a collective effort that we can confront the challenges East Africa faces when it comes to broadband connectivity and Internet infrastructure. As those challenges become more complex and developing nations fall behind others, leveraging new technologies and achieving long-term, sustainable growth becomes trickier.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, an estimated 407 million people in the 46 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) were using the Internet in 2022, accounting for 36% of the total population. LDCs are defined as low-income countries that are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human capital. Furthermore, 720 million offline people in LDCs represent 27% of the global population, meaning that more than a quarter of the human race does not have access to this critical and foundational resource.
Kenya’s Internet penetration currently sits at 32.7%, with the country home to nearly 18 million Internet users and the number of users growing by 8% between 2022 and 2023. This is significant growth, but expanding access remains challenging, with variable factors standing in the way. These include a lack of infrastructure, the rural-urban divide, low-income levels, and insufficient digital literacy levels.
The role of ICT
While ICT is a sector unto itself, it has dramatic consequences for others. ICT technologies can transform some of Kenya’s most critical industries, including agriculture, finance, and manufacturing, supplying 4IR technologies and solutions that digitize analogue processes, unlock access to new markets and product development opportunities, and enable citizens and organizations to participate in the global digital economies and communities. ICT is especially important from an education perspective, as it has become integral to the teaching-learning interaction. Not only is the physical gap between educators and students bridged, but communication and collaboration open the door to digital skills training and exposure, a critical component of preparing new generations for the future.
ICT is constantly evolving. Antiquated technologies, such as landline telephones, fax machines, and even floppy disks that fall under the ICT banner have given way to new technologies such as robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Service providers and institutions face a challenge in that regard. The infrastructure we build today must be “future-proof” and yield long-term value for the people and businesses who use it.
But whatever the future may hold for a connected Kenya, it starts by working together and ensuring connectivity for all.
The journey of a thousand steps
Kenya and East Africa hit the ground running at the start of this decade when it comes to ICT growth and development. We see this in national policies and the private sector’s efforts to build new infrastructure and expand the continent’s ICT footprint.
The launch of the Google Equiano subsea cable last year, with SEACOM now offering private line services as part of its expansive cable ecosystem, represents a new stage of Africa’s digital transformation journey and provides new opportunities to users and enterprises across the Eastern region. The strategic alliance between SEACOM and multinational ICT company BT is a milestone in offering African companies enterprise communications and networking services.
The alliance also strengthens the availability of cloud and security solutions at a time when enterprises are doubling down on cloud computing. According to the Cloud in Africa 2023 report by Worldwide Worx, the majority of surveyed organizations in Kenya increased their spending on cloud services in 2022. Kenya’s data centre market is also growing rapidly thanks to service providers expanding the country’s capacity.
Finally, Kenya plans to install 100 000 kilometres of national fibre optic cables over the next five years. With the help of the private sector and ICT vendors, the project will go a long way in ensuring reliable and affordable Internet connectivity for all stakeholders, including Kenya’s citizenry and its blossoming ecosystem of start-ups, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
World Telecommunication and Information Society Day is all about possibilities. The possibility of a future where East Africa is defined by its relationship to technology. A relationship that is forward-thinking, inclusive, and sustainable. We bring the future into the present by working together across Kenya and the region to advance ICT infrastructure and solutions.
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