To CS Mucheru, there is a bit of opportunity and ICT in everything

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By Kevin Motaroki
ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru is as cool as they come. I had called him earlier in the day, and when he called back in the evening, he explained he’d been in TICAD. I was in traffic, and just then it got moving. I profusely apologised that I had to hang up, and could I please call back when I got home, half expecting a curt ‘don’t bother’ and a disconnection tone. Half an hour later, I rang him. He picked on the second ring, as cheerful as the first time. He must have been home because I heard him say, in that fatherly tone, “polepole, usianguke”. I explained I wanted to do a profile interview of him and he said, “sure, why don’t I call you back tomorrow evening so that we set it up?” He speaks crisply and assuredly, then quietly and reflectively, often responding to questions with questions that leave one feeling, “I should have seen that…”

What is the ICT space like in Kenya? Is it as good as we like to think it is – opportunities, growth predictions and adoption of technology in different segments, etc.?

Kenya has positioned itself as the Silicon Savannah, and we aim to be the choice destination for ICT investments in the region. We lead the world in mobile financial services through M­Pesa and, as such, have established ourselves as an innovation hub for Africa. With technology catapulting the growth of globalisation and trade across borders, Kenya is strategically located to take advantage of the open markets. As a government, we want to see Kenya become a globally competitive knowledge­based economy, and taken major steps to enhance our attractiveness to investors.

Kenya has obtained great successes in ICT growth. Statistics worth noting include: mobile penetration of 89.2 per cent with 38.3M subscribers; 24.8M mobile money transfer service subscribers – the total amount of money transacted through mobile money platforms expanded by Sh2.816 billion in 2015; 24.8M data/Internet subscriptions, today – 94.4% of the Kenyan population has access to 2G network services and 78 per cent to 3G services. Further, LTE/4G services are currently undergoing trials in two cities.

The country is also working towards enhancing broadband penetration; in 2015, the ICT Sector contributed 7.3% of the country’s GDP and we aim to grow this to a 10%+ contribution by 2020. ICT is core to everything that we do, from Agriculture, to Health, to Education… The ongoing explosion of technology platforms such as mobile devices, sensors, tablets, wearables etc. continue to drive growth in our economy.

Over the past 5 years, both local and international technology companies have successfully set up shop in the country, disrupting the modus operandi. Companies such as Jumia, Kilimall, Sendy, Little Cab, Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, AirBnB, Netflix, Waze etc. are all driving change in the service industry. I expect that these disruptions will soon become the norm. Innovation is right at the heart of it all.

Despite increased access – in the country and the region – there is a huge digital divide in terms of data availability, which boils down to cost. Does this worry you? Do you feel, in the spirit of social and economic transformation, we are at that point where Internet access should become a right?

Access to information is a right accorded to every citizen. Kenya has come a long way to accomplish major milestones in the achievement of universal access for all. There is, however, a lot more that needs to be done to bridge the digital divide. Projects, such as the National Optic Fibre Backbone Infrastructure (NOFBI), TEAMS and SEACOM have tremendously strengthened broadband and communication systems in the country.

The Ministry of ICT continues to commission NOFBI rollout to all counties and eventually to every constituency. This project is aimed at boosting Kenya’s ability to tap into opportunities provided by the next generation of telecommunications. It will also enhance the development of rural ICT and make e­Government services more accessible to constituents.  NOFBI is a catalyst to all projects within the Ministry of ICT and will greatly enhance the implementation of Constituency Innovation Hubs and the Digital Literacy Programme.

Projects such as the Constituency Innovation Hubs, being rolled out in partnership with Members of Parliament, will offer free Wi­Fi to the public in all 290 constituencies as part of our wider mission of ensuring affordable Broadband connectivity across the country. dsc_2170-3dsc_2104-3

How permissive is Kenya’s regulatory and policy regime in regard to growth of ICT? Is the pace of infrastructural growth, for example, good enough to facilitate social and economic transformation in the levels you would like to see it reach?

My Ministry is currently undertaking a review of our National ICT Sector Policy in consultation with stakeholders, in recognition of the rapid technological evolutions as well as industry and market trends in the ICT sector. The revised ICT Policy is expected to drive the pace of Information Communication Technology innovations in the country and resonate with the rapid technological advances, changing public needs and evolving global trends. It will nurture the nascent sub­sectors, including engineering, hardware and software development, and business solutions.

We are also working on various other legislations that will foster a conducive environment for positive growth in our sector. These include the Computer and Cybercrime Bill, 2016, Data Protection Bill, 2015, the Konza Technopolis Bill, 2016, Language Policy, Access to Information Bill, 2015, and the Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill 2015. This last one seeks to classify ICT as a public utility with a dedicated and/or shared infrastructure alongside power, water and sewer systems. It will address vandalism in infrastructure investments, which exposes service providers to approximately over Sh5 billion annually in repair, maintenance and loss of revenue.

There has been opposition, globally, to existing regulatory frameworks, and governments are being forced to rethink policies, particularly because of the feeling that tight regulation kills innovation. This was evident when a Bill on ICT regulation was introduced in Parliament a few months ago. How do we regulate to attain efficiency and protect consumers without killing innovation?

The role of government is to provide a conducive legal and regulatory environment for ICT to thrive. We are continually revisiting our laws and the regulatory regime to ensure that it is supportive of our vision for ICT. This is in tune with global best practices and it is supportive of our national, regional and global commitments.

The adoption of data use has been unprecedented. But most of this is in the service industries, in Kenya at least. Do you feel sectors like manufacturing have been left lagging? Why is this so? What can be done?

It is estimated that, with the growth of the Internet of Things (IOT), approximately 25B devices will be in circulation worldwide by 2020. If only 2B of these devices are in Africa, why do we, Kenya, have to be net importers? We need to position ourselves to serve this oncoming demand and invest in technology companies today, to drive that change.
The digital promise to Kenyans will only be realised with the correct and appropriate numbers of skilled individuals that populate the ICT ecosystem. The Digital Literacy Programme will not only grow and nurture technologically empowered future leaders, but has also led to the development of local assembly and manufacturing capabilities to ensure sustainability of the programme.

Research, development and innovation are key in growing our manufacturing capabilities. We have a robust network of public and private sector ICT research and development hubs – these include Fab Lab at the University of Nairobi, iLab Africa at
Strathmore University, as well as private sector hubs, such as iHub, among many others. What Government is doing is to foster and grow these environments to drive innovation and growth.

What projects have you taken up since joining MoICT? What has your progress been like?
Vision 2030 places ICT at the core of its achievement; ICT underlies all processes. A good ICT ecosystem would assure the attainment of the development goals in the blue print. I have embraced my ministry’s vision of realising Kenya as a globally competitive knowledge­based economy, and I am driving projects that are aligned to Vision 2030, which will see us achieve these goals.

Who is Joe Mucheru?

I am different things to different people…  and I am on a mission to create opportunities for the youth – one day at a time, to make our home more inclusive and cohesive. I challenge myself, start-ups, and, really, everyone around me, daily, to recognise and seize opportunities, in their businesses, careers, jobs and lives.

You picked the phone on my first call. We don’t get that a lot around here, especially not from government hot shots? Is that a personal ethic, or were you just curious to find out

who was calling?
I have never actually thought about this. I always answer my phone if I am available.

Is there something you’re struggling with at the moment?

Yes, very many things, actually – it is what keeps me going, day in, day out.

What is the best thing about being Joe Mucheru?
I am who I am, and I know who I am.

Do you have a leadership style?
It adapts and changes based on the team dynamics. Overall, I believe in empowering my teams to deliver on a shared vision.

What is transformational leadership to you?
Leadership that develops followers into leaders; it brings out the best in everyone.

Aside from ICT­driven transformation, where else do you excel as a transformational leader?
It is impossible to differentiate ICT from anything that we do; it is everywhere – in our day-to-day lives and even in areas that traditionally did not involve ICT e.g. farming. I am lucky to be part of an industry that empowers all.

Are you at the peak of your life?
Are we ever at the peak of our lives? I have had a great past, been through the ups and the downs, gaining wisdom with every experience. I look forward to the future, to whatever lies ahead, and staying true to my mission of seizing opportunities as they come my way.

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