How often have we heard it? The future for Kenya lies in wind farming, bee keeping, fish farming, bio fuels, finding oil off the coast, or more tourism. Most often though the advice is for Kenya to embrace ‘new’ information technology (IT) and the wonders of the web. Do that, say economists, columnists, business leaders and politicians and jobs, money and economic growth will flow. They could well be right but not the way we are going about it at the moment.
To be fair to the government, billions of shillings have been invested in laying fibre optic networks and import duty on electronic goods has been set aside with the aim of lowering internet costs: all to little avail it seems.
THE ‘JULISHA’ SURVEY
A survey called ‘Julisha’ commissioned by the Kenya ICT Board reported in the Daily Nation this week has revealed that 58 per cent of consumers have no connection to the internet because they do not have a computer, while 28 per cent of those lucky enough to own a computer cannot afford the cost of internet subscriptions.
The cheapest laptop costs about Sh25,000 and Safaricom (who control about 80 per cent of the access to the internet in Kenya) are charging between Sh1.25 and Sh2 per megabyte. For the vast majority of Kenyans, that’s not cheap.
Add to those costs the price of a simple modem and other must-have gadgets, together with the continued problems with accessing sufficient bandwidth, and it’s little wonder that Kenyans are at present only make slow progress to the great goal of IT liberation. Speeding along the internet super-highway is a luxury most cannot afford even if they can get on to it in the first place.
NEW TECHNOLOGY AND NEW JOBS, BUT NOT FOR US
One of the great advantages a Kenyan IT revolution will bring to the country, we have been so often told, are more jobs, particularly for the young. Again, it seems, not the way we are going at present.
It was the Kenyan ICT Board survey, again, that revealed the bad news, this time via the Business Daily on Wednesday.
Kenyan companies, it was reported, are searching for expatriates to run IT departments. The problem is, the Board says, that our universities are turning out graduates who do not have the necessary skills and are not up with the latest trends.
According to the Business Daily the survey showed that Kenya ‘is reeling from a shortage of systems analysts, systems engineers and software developers’ against a background of the Kenya ICT Board projection of a 30 per cent increase in the demand for such staff over the next two years and an increase of 70 per cent in the demand for software developers over the same period.
Web designers and support staff apparently we can produce but the top jobs will go to expatriates and of course that will mean higher costs because they get paid more, charging between $300 (Sh27,000) to $1,500 (Sh135,000) per hour.
It’s nice work if you can get it. Unfortunately nowhere near enough young Kenyans are being given the education necessary to take advantage of the opportunities. It is a tragic missed opportunity for our economy and young people.