While on my daily browsing I came across this article talking about the remarkable explosion of ICT activity in East Africa since the landing of the SEACOM fibre-optic cable. Reading on I was struck by the fact that no Kenyan media outlet has reported this story. Kenya unfortunately is addicted to cynicism, negativity and an ever improving skill in floccinaucinihilipilification.
While some of the reasons for this despondency may be understandable it seems Kenyans have lost even the art of appreciating good for what it is – GOOD. Intellectual honesty has been thrown out and replaced with the national pasttime of whining. In this blog I try to steer away from politics because it is evident that political views are not always rational. However it is important for Kenyans and by extension other Africans to recognize the enormous opportunities that are staring us in the face and make the best use of them.
Experience has shown that any society that is determined to succeed usually does. This is actually a fact because it never fails to succeed. It is when a people sink into despondency & hopelessness that things begin to fail and degenerate into chaos. Kenya however has alot of things going in it’s favour and if the people can be made to see this then they will find something positive to work towards. It is also important to realize that development of a people is an incremental process. Here it is important to look at our development. We did not learn everything we know today in a single day or within a week. It follows that a country cannot be expected to develope into a first world country within a year or even a single 5yr term. So here are a number of positive developments that I think will have a tremendous impact on Kenya and the wider East African Community. SEACOM and Altech sign Alliance on Bandwidth.
JSE listed Allied Technologies Limited (Altech) and SEACOM have announced a strategic alliance for the mutual acquisition of bandwidth capacity. The agreement sees Altech procuring two STM-16s from SEACOM (equivalent to 5Gbps), with the option to upgrade, within 3 years, to double this capacity, to an STM-64 (10 Gbps). SEACOM will in turn purchase 6 STM-64s throughout the East Africa region on the terrestrial backbone network owned by Kenya Data Networks (KDN), a subsidiary of Altech.
Altech has a very strong focus on East Africa in the telecoms space, and has already acquired 10% in the TEAMS undersea cable through KDN which will provide the company with 10 Gbps of international bandwidth. According to Venter this makes Altech the second largest bandwidth holder on the African continent.
According to both Venter and SEACOM CEO Brian Herlihy the utilization of bandwidth in East Africa exceeded expectations. Herlihy said there has been a 200% increase in data usage in the region after SEACOM went live, and that 3G users in Kenya are experiencing 5 times the download speeds since the new submarine cable was lit.
The same massive bandwidth uptake and consumer benefits are not seen in South Africa, something which Herlihy said is disappointing. According to Herlihy there have been some announcements locally, but much slower than SEACOM would have liked.
LION Fibre-optic Cable.
Many Kenyans are aware of SEACOM, TEAMS and EASSy. However not many have heard of the 4th cable known as LION which is an acronym for Lower Indian Ocean Network. This is the cable system that links the tiny but progressive island nation of Mauritius with Madagascar which then connects to the SAFE cable system an older fibre-optic cable system that connects South Africa to Asia. The first phase of the cable linking the two countries has already been completed at a cost of €7 Million.
The second phase is the one that is very exciting for Kenyans. The plan intends to link the LION cable to the coastal city of Mombasa where the cable will link up to SEACOM and TEAMS which effectively makes Kenya a communications node while also adding a 4th fibre-optic cable which provides further redundancy and bandwidth to Kenya and the wider East African region. For further information on the proposed plans you can it read here.
N-Soko and Craigslist.
In a further indication that Kenya is moving into the digital realm the famous American online classifieds’ firm Craigslist announced that they had established a presence in Kenya. Though many Kenyans may not be aware, Craigslist is a huge online advertising firm that is a household name in the United States. Their entry into Kenya is further indication that the Kenyan economy is an attractive market for foreign investors and has enormous potential.
The Nation Media group obviously the largest media house in East Africa also announced the establishment of an online platform similar to Craigslist which will help launch their classifieds section into the digital realm. N-soko as their website is called is quite an attractive portal as you will find out when you visit their homepage here.
RTGS introduced in Kenya.
Real Time Gross Settlement as the name suggests is an electronic payment system that processes large cash transactions instantaneously or in real time as it is known in technical jargon. Whereas many Kenyans may already be using EFT otherwise known as Electronic Funds Transfer this is not yet real time and still results in some significant delays.
Though Kenya has a relatively well managed financial sector that is quite conservative in it’s business practises, many have called for local banks to be faster in adopting information and communications technology. This was demonstrated when Mpesa took the local banking sector by surprise and almost rendered them obsolete. Since then banks have reacted by adopting mobile banking solutions and products which have radically altered the banking sector.
The adoption of the RTGS is occuring after our East African neighbours Uganda & Tanzania who have already adopted the system. The system has been in testing in Kenya for the last 4yrs and was rolled out in stages. The first step saw the introduction of [MICR] Magnetic Ink Character Recognition technology in processing cheques which reduced instances of cheque fraud and also resulted in shorter processing times of approximately 3 working days.
RTGS will apply to amounts of K.sh 1 Million and above initially before being rolled out for lesser amounts. This will see the elimination of cheques for large transactions and result in quick money transfer which will greatly boost efficiency. It will certainly be a very welcome development from having to wait 3 working days to receiving your payments instantaneously. This is actually a very good development for Kenyans. In the Netherlands where I live I have to say I haven’t seen a cheque for a very long time. Most payments in the Netherlands are settled by bank debit cards. Infact all supermarkets and places of business have EFTPOS which is EFT at Point of Sale. The system works very efficiently and the same should happen in Kenya when majority of the people move to it.
Finally RTGS will prove very important in ensuring smooth cash transfers for the wider East African region because it is also being implemented for foreign exchange transactions. Europe has already perfected it’s version of RTGS for the entire European Union. If 27 countries with different cultures can pull it off so can 5 East African countries with a largely harmonized culture. For further reading on RTGS in Kenya and East Africa read it here.
Social Networking Websites.
An increasing number of Kenyans have taken the concept of social networking like a duck takes to water. Most middleclass urban youth have a facebook presence. An increasing number of professional and upwardly mobile Kenyans are on Twitter and the numbers are growing everyday. Many Kenyans are also active in blogging. Infact Kenya is the third African country with the largest amount of blogs  on Afrigator. It lies fourth after the inclusion of general blogs on Africa. All this interest in the online world which is a goldmine of information can only portend good things for Kenya in future.
The government has demonstrated that it is intent on moving most of it’s services online. Recently the govt has ordered all it’s ministries to submit their tenders and procurement details on to a single govt portal. The immigration department has also improved it’s services online and the introduction of biometric passports and ID’s will boost this. There are also plans to digitize medical records, digitize land records, do digital villages and the KRA the tax agency has already moved to online collection of taxes. Recently the govt also moved to establish a website that would handle business licenses which would greatly boost efficiency and reduce corruption. There are also plans to have an electronic drivers’ license which would also increase the amount of information available to traffic police which would improve traffic management.
In conclusion all this developments indicate a country intent on modernizing it’s activities. The desire for this is driven by the need for efficiency, eradication of corruption, need for socialization and most importantly a voracious need for information which will greatly boost literacy levels and hopefully lead to innovation and a more civil society. Kenyans need to have a positive attitude, realize that they have a beautiful country, intelligent people and sufficient natural resources which they can utilize to provide a high quality of life equivalent to any advanced nation on Earth. Kenyans, Yes You CAN.