The state of Kenya’s digital economy

The state of Kenya’s digital economy

By Antony Mutunga

The coronavirus pandemic has not only shown the world how woefully unprepared we are in managing epidemics, but also the importance of digital technologies. Even though it has taken us a pandemic of global proportions to realize that digital technologies are necessary, they were already on the ascendancy before COVID, particularly in the developing world. For instance, Kenya’s journey with digital services has been advancing since the introduction of mobile money in 2007. As a result, many Kenyans have become used to the digital services and the advantages they bring.

According to Omidyar Network and Dalberg’s Kenya’s Digital Economy: A People’s Perspective report, out of over 2400 Kenyans surveyed, 84 percent said that digital devices and services have improved their daily lives, while about 30 percent stated that they had recorded an increase in their incomes. This is a clear indication that the country has invested much in digital transformation, from advancements in mobile money to digitally offering public services, and that the people are taking advantage of the technology.

The report states that 94 percent of Kenyans use mobile money while 27 percent use e-government platforms. And even as more Kenyans make use of the digital services, those already conversant with the services are excited about the other digital services that’ll soon be rolled out, like Huduma Namba, which 45 percent of those surveyed expect to improve access to digital services.

According to Naoko Koyama, Dalberg advisor and lead author of the report, Kenya is now embracing its digital economy as the foundation for creating an empowered society. “It’s critical to capture how this is currently playing out in the everyday digital experience of Kenyans across the country,” said Naoko.

But despite the popularity of digital services, there are still challenges that have stymied their access and use. For instance, digital safety and privacy concerns are an important factor. Cyber-crime and hacking have evolved in recent years; without adequate deterrent measures, many Kenyans have tended to shy off from some digital services. In fact, in accordance with the report, 30 percent of those surveyed said they have experienced digital fraud at some point while 71 percent (self-employed and SMEs) cited digital fraud as their reason for not using digital services.

Additionally, those who live in rural and remote areas are restricted to basic digital services such as access to mobile money but miss out on other services due to lack of infrastructure and training. With inadequate network coverage, many people still rely on 2G and 3G, which means they have unreliable service. 

According to Robert Karanja, the Director Responsible Technology at Omidyar Network, the report offers guidelines on what to improve in the coming years to ensure every Kenyan is part of the digital economy. “The next few years offer an opportunity to build on Kenya’s exceptional digital progress and to embrace lessons from surveys like this to advance the nation’s commitment to ensuring every citizen, enterprise and organisation is participating in the digital economy,” said Karanja.

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