The Africa Business Forum: Innovative finance to harness technology

February 12, 2021 - 5 minutes read

Introduction

The Virtual Opening of The Africa Business forum was held on the margins of the 34th Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly Of Heads Of State And Government on 8th February 2021 at 14.45 hrs to 16.00hrs East Africa Time. The Forum was themed Innovative Finance To Harness Technology. 

H.E Uhuru Kenyatta gave the forum’s opening remarks. His remarks highlighted the benefits the world and Kenya in particular has reaped from embracing technology. He also highlighted the core pillars of Kenya’s digital strategy as well as key achievements attained by His Government through embracing technology.

 Highlights

The President emphasized:

  • the importance of digital technologies in driving economies and helping Kenya and the world “leapfrog” by allowing us to circumvent physical infrastructure and institutional capacity barriers.
  • Digital technologies have become a key pillar of our response strategy to the COVID-19 Pandemic. In the face of containment measures necessitated by the pandemic, technology has kept governments and businesses running; and enabled international cooperation and engagements, such as we are involved in today to, be sustained.
  • Technology has enabled our children to continue learning from home. However, much more needs to be done in this area to close the very apparent digital divide.
  • In Kenya, the Executive has seamlessly switched to virtual meetings to maintain momentum in key government programmes.
  • Kenya has a huge ambition to transform into an industrialized and job-rich economy.
  • Kenya is the Silicon Savannah, and is full of experiences of the transformative power of innovation and digital technologies. Lacking the financial resources to immediately address deficits in infrastructure, institutions, and human resources, but endowed with a techno-savvy and entrepreneurial pool of well-educated youth; we have embraced the digital revolution and its disruptive technological innovations as a spear point of our development strategy.

Pillars of Kenya’s Digital Revolution Strategy

The strategy is anchored on five key pillars, namely:

  • providing affordable, accessible, and reliable digital infrastructure;
  • development of digital government;
  • development of digital business;
  • development of digital skills and values; and
  • creation of an ecosystem that enables and cultivates innovation-driven entrepreneurship. 

 Pillar One: Affordable, Accessible, And Reliable Digital Infrastructure

Achieving affordable, accessible, and reliable digital infrastructure for businesses and households is a foundational requirement for unlocking the potential of the digital economy.

  • More than 85% of Kenyans have access to the internet.
  • Kenya has laid down over 6,000 kilometers of the National Fiber Optic Backbone Infrastructure (NOFBI) across all the 47 counties.

While the Jubilee administration has made significant milestones with respect to the first pillar, there is still the unfinished agenda of completing last mile connectivity to all schools and to the remote parts of the country.

Pillar Two: Development Of Digital Government

With respect to the second pillar, to enable efficient public service delivery, the Jubilee administration has established digital services and platforms across the country.

Currently, the Kenya Government has over 200 digitized services offered through Huduma Centres countrywide as well as an online self-service E-Citizen platform.

Both platforms, which are widely utilized, offer one-stop access to essential services such as applying for Passports or National Identification Cards; and registering businesses, births, or deaths.

Kenya is also progressively digitizing core government services such as filing of tax returns, land registries, court procedures and rulings, and public service records.

Pillar Three: Development Of Digital Business

The third pillar of this framework is supporting growth of digital business. In Kenya the growth of e-commerce has been underpinned by success in mobile money payment platforms, such as M-PESA.

  • About 40 percent of private enterprises in Kenya are engaged in e-commerce and
  • 70 percent of all e-commerce payments in Kenya are settled through various mobile money payment platforms.
  • In 2020, Kenyans transferred Ksh.5.21 trillion (US$ 47 billion) through their phones, translating to an average of Ksh.14.27 billion (US$ 130 million) daily. The 20 percent increase from the previous year was spurred by relief measures on mobile phone payments aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus by lowering the cost of mobile money transactions as well as the cash transfers to the most vulnerable in our society.

Pillar Four: Development Of Digital Skills And Values

The fourth pillar is development of digital skills and inculcation of ethics and values. To take innovation to the next level and position Kenya as a technology hub for both local and multinational companies, we are building the technological capabilities of our people on several fronts.

  • The Digital Literacy Programme exposes our primary school children to digital technology.
  • The Presidential Digital Talent Programme provides one-year paid internship opportunities to ICT and engineering graduates.
  • The Ajira Digital Programme provides up-to-date listings of opportunities in digital jobs from local and international platforms and curates a wide range of training programmes; thereby empowering young people to earn decent incomes from digital platforms.

To ensure technology is embraced, holistically by all business sectors we must contain misuse/abuse of technology. We, therefore, in our training pay particular attention on ethics and values as it is key to sustainable adoption of technology.

Pillar Five: Ecosystem For Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurship

Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurship is the fifth and final pillar of our strategy. Kenya boasts a robust innovation ecosystem typified by the more than 40 active tech hubs in the country, including some that are well known in the region such as Nailab and i-Hub. The tech hubs provide co-working space for members as well as support and mentorship for young entrepreneurial Kenyans as they launch their start-ups.

  • The Government is working with innovation hubs to lower entry barriers for ICT entrepreneurs and help scale their business in the country and beyond.
  • To strengthen our digital technology footprint, we have established several strategic partnerships.
  • The Smart Africa Initiative is a network of some 30 African countries seeking to leverage technology to create a single digital market on the continent.
  • Similarly, the UNDP-led SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Accelerator Lab provides a vehicle for partnerships, investments, and business linkages to accelerate local innovations and ideas; including twinning Silicon Valley with the Kenyan tech community.
  • Partnerships with a wide range of technology giants such as Safaricom, Google, Huawei, Microsoft, and IBM are supporting a nurturing environment for Startups and Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) to thrive.
  • The President also leverages his role as a Global Leader for the Generation Unlimited Initiative (GenU) to tap into useful global experiences through GenU’s connectivity pillar.

Reaping A Harvest

Kenya is beginning to reap dividends from a flourishing digital and innovation ecosystem. In  Kenya:

  • more than 85 percent of the population has access to the Internet, supported by a thriving fintech sector.
  • Vibrant tech startups are producing a steady stream of creative solutions to the everyday problems that place a constraint on development.
  • The digital National Address System has spurred e-commerce and facilitated technology companies such as Uber to establish a footprint in Kenya.
  • Simple innovations are improving health outcomes. The Afya Child Health Information System, for example, is a mobile phone application for reporting births and deaths by the community health workers, which is then uploaded by the Registrar of Persons. In another example, the mSoS uses mobile phones to report disease outbreaks and other health emergencies, in real time.
  • Digital technologies have also enriched our democracy and enabled participatory development. About 3 million Kenyans use Facebook every day, and many more are on Twitter and other social media platforms.
  • Digital migration from analogue has greatly expanded access to television and radio services, further broadening the democratic space.

 Fintech Sector

The success that Kenya has achieved in fintech is, attributed, in part, to the unprecedented increase in connectivity and the proliferation in the use of smartphones driven by low-cost devices and low-cost data plans.

  • It is notable that ninety-five (95) percent of Kenyans now have access to financial services.
  • The Kenyan fintech ecosystem has evolved from a money-transfer centric space in 2007 to a robust integrated fintech ecosystem today. It has transformed into an integrated payment and banking ecosystem with robust credit and savings platforms such as M-Shwari, M- Pesa and Equitel.
  • Kenya has recently implemented a Digital ID – Huduma Namba, through which citizens are assigned a unique and verifiable digital identity, from cradle to grave. The National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) is, intended as a single source of truth to validate a person’s identity.

Social Impact

The real breakthrough lies in the way these innovations build on each other and integrate to create cumulative socioeconomic impacts. Success of this ecosystem requires continuous review of a dynamic environment that supports a robust digital market. It is necessary to create an enabling regulatory environment, develop a vibrant and sustainable financial and research support structure to spur innovation, and to partner with a broad range of technology players across the ecosystem. We are yet to reap the full benefits of digital technologies in expanding job opportunities or supporting the growth of MSMEs.

2021 and Beyond

  • Kenya is making digitization central to its post-COVID-19 recovery strategy and a critical accelerator of the SDGs. This is expected to have a positive impact on our economy.
  • Trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) rules has begun in earnest from 1st January, 2021. To accelerate the creation of a common digital market, we need to harmonize standards and achieve interoperability in our digital platforms.
  • The President invited the private sector to harness the enabling environment outlined above to invest in Kenya and to offer targeted solutions, products, and markets. This will help deepen our digital imprint, spur innovation, and create jobs.
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