Representatives of civil society in Kenya have called for its inclusion in the redrafting of a policy on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the East African country.

They say they were denied an opportunity to comment on the policy when it was first drafted. "The civil society works a lot with ICT and they are large scale disseminators of ICT programmes in the country," observes James Nguo, chair of the Civil Society Caucus on ICT in Kenya. "The only chance we have for inclusion is in the development of policy in this sector." The term "ICT" covers internet services, telecommunications equipment and services, media and broadcasting, and other information and communication activities.

Private sector lobbyists have also complained of being locked out of consultations on the initial draft of the ICT policy. In a previous interview with IPS, Sammy Burachara, chairman of the Telecommunications Service Providers Association of Kenya, said "The creation of the country’s draft policy did not include players in the private sector. Even after it was written, we (the private sector) did not get access to it."

In addition, the eagerly-anticipated policy has been dismissed by Information and Communication Minister Raphael Tuju, who described it as outdated, incoherent – and unable to match the growing needs of the ICT sphere in Kenya.

The new policy is intended to cover issues such as access to ICTs and the legal framework for the industry’s operations. At present, only a minority of Kenyans are able to make use of personal computers. The Computer Society of Kenya puts the estimate at one computer for every 2,000 Kenyans – while the national power grid serves less than 15 percent of the population. Nguo agrees that the absence of a suitable infrastructure has proved a hindrance to the development of the ICT sector, and that government should give this matter priority.

"Issues such as the infrastructure of ICT and the need to know who is doing what to avoid duplication should form the core of the discussions towards a national ICT policy," he noted. High equipment and training costs have also been cited as stumbling blocks to unlocking the potential of ICTs. Matters are worsened by the fact that Kenya has high levels of illiteracy. Computer education in Kenya was introduced in 1998, although different government ministries have yet to coordinate their approach to ICT education.

Francis Carey Onyango, a former executive director of the African Centre for Regional Computing, says the new ICT policy should focus on providing high-quality education. "Without a skilled human resource base on ICT, the development of the sector will be stifled, constantly relying on expatriates to deliver for us," he notes.

Furthermore, the ICT plan is expected to take into account the "gender gap" that sometimes exists with the use of modern technologies. At present, most women who live in the rural areas of Kenya have very low access to ICTs due to the high costs associated with computer use. Rural women also need to be able to use local languages in their dealings with ICTs.

IPS News