Kenya is at the forefront of African tech innovation, fueled by a hungry, young population and a burgeoning startup ecosystem. Yet, its full potential remains untapped. The nation is on the edge of a huge growth path, ready to make the most of its growing tech sector, a sector that could greatly change its future and redefine its future landscape.
The proliferation of tech startups in Kenya, challenging the status quo with improved solutions, groundbreaking ideas, and transformative platforms, underscores the sector’s dynamism and pivotal role in the country’s socio-economic fabric. However, despite the sector’s robust growth and its competitive edge within the global tech arena, the journey is far from complete. The Kenyan tech sector’s onward march beckons for a supportive scaffold from the Government to unlock its full potential.
While the Government’s role in nurturing the tech industry and bolstering innovation has been commendable, certain areas necessitate further strengthening to ensure a tech-empowered future for Kenya.
Rwanda’s tech hub, Kigali Innovation City, attracted $2 billion in investments within five years through tax breaks and infrastructure support. India’s Skill India Mission trained over 40 million people in digital skills, creating a readily available talent pool for tech companies. These are not hypothetical anecdotes; they are blueprints for success.
Strategic Recommendations for Government Support.
Prioritize and Spearhead Competent Leadership
Leadership is not merely about holding a position but about translating visionary ideals into tangible realities. A recurrent impediment hampering the tech sector’s growth is the placement of leaders lacking the requisite tech acumen, vision, and understanding in critical roles. The presence of leaders bereft of a deep understanding of technology’s nuances stifles innovation, leaving potential tech startups floundering before they can even take flight.
The Government’s role is paramount in ensuring the appointment of proficient leaders who not only grasp the transformative potential of the tech industry but can also steer, educate, and manage resources efficiently to catalyze change.
Establish a dedicated Tech Advisory Council composed of industry experts to inform policy and guide government initiatives. Partner with universities and tech hubs to identify and train potential tech leaders for public service roles.
Prepare the Next Generation for Tech
The disparity in emphasis between technology-related subjects and traditional academic disciplines in Kenya’s education system is stark. From a scarcity of qualified IT instructors to inadequately equipped resources for teaching ICT, the challenges are manifold.
To cultivate a future workforce of innovators and problem solvers, it’s imperative to nurture this talent from the grassroots. The Government’s intervention is crucial in revamping the curriculum to incorporate compulsory tech-oriented courses, thereby equipping learners with the requisite skills to navigate and thrive in the dynamic technological landscape. Implement a mandatory national digital literacy curriculum within CBC framework from primary school, focusing on coding, AI, and cybersecurity. Partner with tech companies to offer internships and mentorship programs for students.
Bridge the Gender Gap
The underrepresentation of women in Kenya’s tech sector, with less than 30% of positions held by women, mirrors a global challenge. Dispelling the entrenched notion that tech is a male-dominated field is pivotal.
Government initiatives such as scholarships for women in tech, boot camps, and educational programs can serve as catalysts, encouraging more women to embark on tech-centric academic and career paths, thereby enriching the talent pool and diversifying the skill set within the tech sector. Launch government-funded scholarships and boot camps specifically for women in tech. The Government should consider partnerships with NGOs and tech companies to create mentorship networks and career development programs for women in tech.
Formulate Policies that Support Tech Growth
Fostering an ecosystem that champions innovation, research, and development is indispensable for the tech industry’s expansion. While the Government has made strides in supporting the tech sector, there’s an imperative need for more robust policies that facilitate the exploration, implementation, and collaboration between the public and private sectors of tech projects.
Recently, we saw a video where the president was promoting his online jobs promise. In the video, a young man demonstrates how he earns money working online. He said he was working for Remotasks.
While it is true that one can make a lot of money through platforms like Remotasks, getting the accounts to do so is not a straightforward affair. It is also costly. Some of these platforms also don’t allow Kenyans to sign up. Those who do have to go through many hassles and their accounts are often closed.
If the Government is genuine about these digital jobs, it should engage the platforms’ owners so that our young Kenyans can easily sign up. The Government should also ensure the country has affordable, accessible, reliable, and fast internet to facilitate this remote working.
Business process outsourcing is not a new thing. But the growth of the internet has pushed it to a new high. This is one area where we can generate a lot of forex while bringing down youth unemployment. But the Government needs to be serious and go beyond lip service.
A place like the Konza Technocity can be designed as a remote working city. It should have all the infrastructure necessary to support these emerging economic opportunities. The economic potential from that in terms of job creation is enormous.
We already have many people in this country earning money online. Digital creators are a good example. But people still have to contend with a lot of challenges. Key among them are slow internet, lack of equipment, and supporting infrastructure. All this can be provided in a digital city like Konza, built for a purpose.
Why can’t the president prioritize a place like Konza for his affordable housing project? There, they can have high-speed internet built into the houses. And they can create world-class studios for those who want to create content.
This is how you build an economy. You identify an opportunity and create an industry around it. The Government can also Establish a NATIONAL regulatory sandbox for tech startups, allowing them to test and refine their products in a controlled environment. Implement fast-track approval processes for promising tech projects with clear social impact.
Subsidize Taxes to Enhance Financial Viability in the Tech Sector.
Financial robustness is the backbone of any thriving industry. For the tech sector, where innovation and rapid evolution are the norms, financial flexibility is even more critical. The high taxation regime and other fiscal burdens significantly impede tech startups’ ability to innovate, scale, and compete. Government intervention in rationalizing the tax structure can provide the much-needed fiscal breathing space for these nascent companies, thereby nurturing a conducive environment for innovation and growth. Offer tax breaks and incentives for tech startups, particularly in high-potential sectors like fintech and agritech. Facilitate angel investor networks and venture capital funds focused on Kenyan tech startups.
In addition to the outlined strategies, it’s imperative to acknowledge the economic backdrop against which Kenya’s tech sector operates, notably the volatility and depreciation of the Kenyan shilling. The weakening of the shilling not only inflates operational costs for tech companies, reliant on imported technology and services, but also deters foreign investment, critical for the sector’s growth. A depreciating currency can lead to increased uncertainty, making long-term planning challenging for tech startups and established companies alike.
The Government must prioritize stabilizing and strengthening the shilling to foster a more predictable and robust economic environment. Implementing sound fiscal policies, encouraging foreign investment, and bolstering Kenya’s export capacity are pivotal measures. A stable and appreciating shilling would enhance the financial viability of the tech sector and position Kenya more favorably in the global tech arena.
The Government can implement measures like:
- Fiscal discipline: Reducing budget deficits and controlling public spending can build investor confidence and stabilize the currency.
- Diversifying the export base: Encouraging exports of manufactured goods and processed agricultural products can generate more foreign exchange and strengthen the shilling against imports.
- Promoting tourism: A thriving tourism industry attracts foreign currency, boosting demand for shillings and driving up its value.
- Improving access to credit: Simplifying loan processes and lowering interest rates for businesses can incentivize investments and stimulate economic growth, strengthening the currency by boosting production and exports.
One of the biggest obstacles to Kenya’s tech sector growth is the issue of credit crowding out. The Government’s reliance on high-interest borrowing through treasury bills and bonds creates an environment where private companies, particularly early-stage startups, struggle to secure affordable loans. This effectively starves the tech sector of the capital it needs to flourish.
- High T-bill and bond rates: When the Government offers high-interest rates on its debt instruments, banks are often incentivized to invest in these instead of lending to businesses. This drives up overall lending rates, making it significantly more expensive for startups and established tech companies to secure loans.
- Limited credit availability: As banks prioritize government debt, the pool of funds available for private sector lending shrinks. This creates a credit shortage, further handicapping companies trying to access capital for crucial investments like infrastructure upgrades, research and development, and talent acquisition.
Solutions for a balanced environment:
Now, let’s propose concrete solutions to create a more balanced playing field and ensure adequate credit access for tech companies:
- Targeted funding mechanisms: The Government can establish dedicated funds or credit guarantee schemes specifically for the tech sector. These mechanisms can offer lower interest rates or partial loan guarantees, making borrowing more attractive for tech companies while mitigating bank risks.
- Development finance institutions (DFIs): Strengthen the role of DFIs like the Industrial Development Bank and equip them with additional resources to directly finance innovative tech projects. This can bypass the commercial banking system and provide vital capital to promising startups.
- Debt restructuring: The Government can explore restructuring its existing debt portfolio to extend maturities and lower interest rates. This frees up resources for private-sector lending and reduces the crowding-out effect.
- Capital markets development: Fostering the development of Kenya’s capital market can provide alternative fundraising avenues for tech companies beyond bank loans. This can include initiatives like promoting venture capital and angel investor networks, facilitating stock market listings for promising startups, and developing innovative equity financing instruments.
Supporting Kenya’s tech sector is not just about economic growth; it’s about empowering its people, solving regional challenges, and positioning the country as a global innovation leader. By implementing these specific, data-driven, and collaborative solutions, the Kenyan government can unleash the full potential of its tech sector and shape a brighter future for all.
Technology, like a raging storm, is quickly taking over the world. With the surge of AI, robotics, and advanced information, we can expect more changes, more complex than what we now think is the evolution of Technology. To adapt to the changes and growth, we need now, more than ever, a competent, functioning tech sector. We may be unable to prevent the storm, but we can always prepare for it.