COMPUTING

"KENYA’S DRAFT ICT POLICY AND STRATEGY NEGATES DEVELOPMENT GOALS"

Kenya recently held a national ICT convention aimed at bringing together a wide group of stakeholders to discuss Kenya’s information and communications technology (ICT) policy and most importantly work towards an implementation strategy. The convention was organized by the Kenya ICT Federation (KIF),a body incorporating many private sector organizations involved in the sector such the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) and the Kenya ICT Board that was recently formed to try and incorporate all the main actors including civil society organizations.

The convention was held in Nairobi, Kenya at the end of March over a 3-day period and was funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and had received endorsement from the highest office in the country, with a minister from the Office of the President presiding over the opening ceremony.

Taking a close look at the profile of the organizers of the convention, observers could not help thinking that the presence of a large numbers of private sector organizations coming together to talk about ICT policy and strategy would be enthusiastically supported by the government, which has been focusing its ICT policy strategy on the support of private sector initiatives. However, not even the business groups present were happy with the government’s ill-coordinated, non-inclusive attempts to draft a national ICT policy and the recent piecemeal introduction and haste to move towards implementation of scattered, under-resourced ICT projects.

Few of the groups present ­particularly the civil society and community groups whose interests and efforts have been ignored in government plans- were convinced by the organizers calls not to get bogged down in analysing the current policy position and instead to focus on developing a strategy for implementation.

As various speakers talked about the current national policy, many were surprised to hear that the draft national ICT policy released in late 2003, just prior to the World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva had in fact been updated and reviewed and that a Œnew’ draft was in circulation. The Œnew’ draft had been issued sometimes in February but only circulated to a select few on the Œneed to know’ basis said Charles Nduati, the Executive Secretary of KIF. Delegates demanded to know why they had come to a forum intended to provide a platform to develop a comprehensive national ICT strategy when the latest draft of the policy document had not been made public.

Demands to have the new document copied and distributed were turned down by the conference organizers who indicated that since the document was labelled Œconfidential’ they could be arrested for distributing a document that had not been officially released for public distribution. Efforts to query the government representatives present at the convention as to the status of the latest version of the ICT policy did not bear fruits either and incredulous delegates were advised to contact the relevant ministry and demand a copy as "tax-paying citizens who have the right to access public policy documents".

Features of the current draft framework

A presentation on the Œconfidential’ version of the national ICT policy illuminated conferencists on important questions regarding the current ICT policy and thereby forming the basis for next steps - strategies for implementation. The salient features of ICT policy framework were presented at the opening of the convention by Mike Eldon who also serves as the Chairman of KIF:

* Kenya’s key policy documents fail to incorporate the role of ICT as an enabler of various goals included in government plans to transform the country into a Newly Industrialized Country (NIC) by the year 2020, and as an enabler of national programs to reduce poverty and promote economic recovery.

* The Kenyan government has been slow to formulate and implement ICT policy and it is only recently that the government announced an e-government strategy.

* The ICT policy formulation and implementation strategies vacuum has been filled by efforts from the private sector and civil society actors.

* Current policy defines the role of government as the principal policy-making authority while the role of private sector is relegated to one of operator and civil society is somewhat lost in the middle.

* The current policy framework defines the main policy issues in terms of economic impact, liberalization of certain key sectors, e-commerce, e-government and human resource development.

Without dedicating any time to discuss the current draft and issues of concern, Mike Eldon indicated the need to move discussions onto policy implementation or strategy formulation as the key to getting anything done when so many are looking for results. So the convention mirrored the problem of Kenya’s ICT policy. At the heart of the matter is government’s failure to address ICT policy and strategy in a cohesive and comprehensive manner. The current draft policy apart from not being publicly available is said to be lacking in many areas. There is no clearly-defined strategy and day-to-day activities by the government are not sending a clear message on a common vision for all.

This position is not helped by the latest move by government policy to prioritise economic development in the (questionable) belief that economic growth will automatically result into significant social development. A key example is that the government, in pursuit of attaining Newly Industrialised Country status by the year 2020, is focusing on the private sector as the country’s "engine of growth" and thus putting in place major policy frameworks for enabling enhanced private sector participation in the economic growth of the country . However, many claim that in reality the frameworks are not actually private sector-friendly as government has not taken action on some of the major policy issues that private sector has been lobbying on the government to act upon. Sammy Buruchara of the Telecommunications Service Operators Association of Kenya cited a case where private sector inputs to the ICT policy were ignored. At the same time there is also the feeling that current government policies and activities are geared towards appealing to foreign investors with little regard at local investors, a fact confirmed by both Brian Longwe of Africa Internet Service Providers Association and Bill Kagai of Circuit and Packets and the Free and Open Source Foundation of Africa (FOSSFA).

At the same time, the role of civil society organizations and other community development projects is ignored by the current policy framework and strategies. For instance, the latest initiative by the government on e-government strategy with no mention of civil society involvement.

Occupying a key position on the podium, Mr Peter Gakunu, a government representative and advisor to the cabinet moved on to talk about Kenya’s latest initiative. an Œe-government strategy’, aimed at applying ICTs to transform the efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and accountability of exchanges within Government, between Government and citizens and businesses locally and abroad, was released in March 2004 and is supposedly ready for implementation.

The glossy booklet distributed to all delegates outlined ambitious plans, including the delivery of all published material into the public domain through relevant government and departmental websites and the networking of all ministries and departments. While all this seemed well-intentioned, what was thrown into relief was the government ad-hoc approach to ICT policy and implementation strategies. Kenya is rushing into a complex e-government strategy without having first finalised a national ICT policy.

And it appears the government is already getting tripped up by their haste. The minister admitted to the convention that it’s seeing that "ICT skills in government are inadequate indicating a serious capacity problem for effective roll out of [the] e-government strategy".

Moving ahead with implementation without a human resource development strategy running in parallel will only result in failure or wastage of funds as government will end up having to fund additional training for civil servants which could have been avoided if ICT literacy has already been provided as part of a national ICT plan.

The Economic Recovery Strategy (ERS) has been THE buzzword coming out of the 2003-2007 Economic Recovery Strategy For Wealth and Employment Creation aimed at spurring growth, including creation of job opportunities and wealth. Dennis Kabaara of the Institute of Economic Affairs criticized the government for once again looking at ICT as a sector, instead of a development enabler, and thus proposing certain growth and financing indicators for the sector.

In his presentation, Kabaara pointed to five key growth sectors in the ERS and the average growth per annum projection during the five-year strategy period of 5.0% in the ICT sector. In comparison, the Kenya investment programme data for the same period shows only a 0.27% planned investment into the ICT sector.

From an investment point of view there is no way to explain how the 5.0% sustained growth would be achieved with an investment of a mere 0.27% of which only about half of the funds are available, meaning the actual investment could be less than 0.15% going into ICT of the overall investment expected to be injected into the Kenyan economy between 2003-2007. This indicates inconsistencies of government’s understanding of the potential of ICT contribution to economic growth, said Kabaara.

Kabaara placed emphasis on how Kenya’s national policy and strategy focused on ICT as a sector, thus placing efforts on the development and strengthening of ICT-service provision industries (telecommunications and ICT-enabled services) instead of adopting a conscious policy towards promoting ICT as an enabler to socio-economic development.

Again backed up by statistics, Kabaara demonstrated that more than 90% of Kenya’s population lived in rural areas outside Nairobi and thus focusing on ICT as a sector would only have impact on the urban population which has access to ICT services. He said Kenya would only achieve the development goals especially those of the Kenya’s Poverty Reduction Strategy by taking a crosscutting approach to ICTs, and not addressing ICT as a separate sector. Such an approach would ensure "ICT is mainstreamed within all sectors, without marginalizing any groups such as gender and pastoralists".

Kabaara concluded his presentation by calling for a holistic ICT policy and strategy driven by national development goals, "Is there a pro-poor national ict strategy or policy?" he asked.

An interesting comparison of Kenya policy situation with other countries’ was presented by the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis. The review supported the observation that Kenya’s current draft policy lacks a single vision that harmonizes the efforts of the public and private sector, civil society entities and communities. It also revealed that some key issues (infrastructure development, human resource capacity building and dealing with the digital divide) have been poorly addressed and that government had not paid sufficient consideration as to how ICT initiatives will be funded, again corroborating economic data demonstrating the under-funding of ICT investment.

Private sector operators at the convention though enthusiastic about pinning the government down in order to finalize national policy seemed somewhat caught up in the narrow perspective of ICT as a sector and assuming that growth in ICT-enabled services will lead to or is equal to economic and social development.

While private sector organizations are doing a great job in lobbying government to move fast in policy implementation, their biggest single failure is that they have a tendency to forget about the wider development paradigm in their lobbying strategies.

There was a heavy presence of private sector operators at the conference but their presentations all focused strongly on lobbying government to implement policies that create an enabling environment for the delivery of ICT services. No wonder the government is turning a blind eye to demands by the private sector. One government delegate having being cornered as to why the government was inept at implementing ICT policy replied that government "cannot formulate and implement policy that is largely driven by private sector concerns" and appeared to indicate that private sector concerns were too skewed towards improved service delivery and profit-making and with little regard to the development agenda.

A presentation by the telecommunications service providers association (TESPOK) raised some concerns around failure of government to include private sector in policy formulation and lamented that neither the policy draft of 2003, nor the new ‘confidential’ draft included private sector input.

It is worth mentioning that some key elements of private sector organizations were noticeably absent from the convention. For instance, the Computer Society of Kenya, which has been actively lobbying for policy reform in Kenya, was absent. One cannot help wonder why miss such an opportunity to network and find synergies with other stakeholders in this important process. Perhaps CSK were in a meeting to talk about the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the role of African private sector organizations with the secretary general of the Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors (CCIB). Given the nature of contributions and interests pushed by CCIB at the WSIS processes which mostly favour private sector interests in developed counties sometimes at the expense of developing countries, Kenya’s private sector organizations might be better off aligning themselves with the government and civil society entities as far as the WSIS process is concerned.

All in all, Kenya’s private sector could consider reaching out to a wider and more diverse group of constituents to achieve better results in the lobbying to government on policy formulation and strategy, as well as begin to take a broader view of ICT as an enabler to development, and not merely an industrial sector.

Civil society participation at the forum was noticeably very poor in comparison to private sector actors and government representatives. A hand-count indicated less that 10% of the delegates came from civil society organizations and the numbers present fluctuated widely throughout the duration of the convention.

While the importance of involving all stakeholders in key policy processing is constantly espoused, one cannot help wondering why civil society numbers were so low at this convention. Was it because civil society organizations were not informed? Was it because there was a registration fee to attend? Is civil society itself not aware of the importance of being part of ICT policy formulations?

One of the key organizations involved in ICT policy did present their work and key activities undertaken by civil society around policy processes in particular related to the WSIS. The Kenya WSIS Civil Society Caucus secretariat ­based at APC member in Kenya, Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN-EA)- presented details on how the caucus has been operating and results achieved at the World Summit in Geneva as well as a local workshop on ICT policy held the previous year . However, while that work is laudable, it has been mainly carried out by is a very small group of civil society organizations who are actively involved in the ICT sector. Civil society organizations and NGOs not working directly with ICTs, such as those working in health, trade, micro-finance, agriculture and so forth, do not yet recognize how ICT policy impacts on their work, or when they do have not been working closely with those organizations already lobbying around ICT policy issues. Such a scenario has only perpetuated a culture wherein many organizations feel they are not part of a process or do not need to act on ICT issues because they are not directly involved in the sector.

Civil society organizations working specifically with ICTs have a responsibility to reach out to the wider communities and have them attend workshops or related activities to create awareness on the role of ICT as a development enabler and thus discuss ways in which all can work together to lobby government action on ICT for development. It is only then that civil society will be able to work collectively with other sectors such as the private sector to lobby government to develop a progressive policy framework and strategies for the nation.

Africa ICT Policy Monitor Team

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