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Digital economy will help speed up Kenya's growth

OPINION
By Will Meng | February 5th 2021
Huawei Kenya CEO Will Meng.

UN Secretary-General Guterres has said the Covid-19 pandemic is the worst global crisis since the Second World War. Indeed, 2020 was an extremely difficult and unusual year for everyone around the world due to the pandemic. In 2020, people's way of life changed greatly, challenging economic development to an unprecedented extent.

In 2020, traditional industries struggled, and new business models such as teleworking, online education, e-commerce, and telemedicine developed disruptively. In 2020, the fight against the pandemic and economic recovery were the top priorities of every country, and Kenya set an example for Africa in both the fight against the pandemic and economic recovery. Kenya was one of the first African countries to adopt and implement a string of rigorous policies, and one of the few countries to have positive economic growth in 2020.

Crisis often stimulates change and brings new momentum for economic growth. These new business models and practices have accelerated digital transformation among traditional industries. Globally, the digital economy has become the growth engine for the economy. It has become a key tool for countries to drive economic recovery and growth. According to Oxford Economics, the long-term return on investment for digital technologies is 6.7 times more than that of non-digital investments. During the pandemic many countries have revised their digital economy strategies and increased investments. Data from several countries, including China, South Korea and Thailand confirm digital technology has accelerated economic recovery.

Kenya is also on the road to digital transformation. In 2017, the third medium-term plan for Kenya Vision 2030 regarded ICT as a fast-growing industry. Two years later, President Kenyatta released the Digital Economy Blueprint at the 2019 Transform Africa Summit, making Kenya the first country in Africa to do so. He hailed ICT as a key factor in the political, economic, and social development of Kenya that would accelerate the realisation of Vision 2030. We are pleased with Kenya because under the President’s leadership the country has established a working group on the digital economy and has already actualised several achievements.

Towards the end of 2020, the government released the draft Digital Economy Strategy, which further clarified the strategic direction Kenya's digital economy development would take, and updated it based on what has happened during the pandemic. Online work, online education, and e-commerce have expanded faster than could have been imagined, mitigating the economic and social impacts of the pandemic and laying a strong foundation for the future. In a recent TNTP Public Hearings Presentation, National Treasury statistics showed that Kenya's overall economic growth rate was predicted to be 0.6 per cent for 2020. The ICT industry growth was 8.8 per cent, the second fastest growing industry. It is gratifying that Huawei is a contributor to this.

The construction of digital infrastructure is a top priority when developing the digital economy and ecosystem. Huawei has been operating in Kenya for over two decades. During this period, the company has worked with the telecommunication companies, and helped with the growth in mobile network coverage. Thanks to the efforts of multiple stakeholders, this coverage has now reached 96 per cent of the nation’s population, with the figure projected to increase in the coming years. With this proliferation came a growth in mobile money transfer, which currently serves over half of Kenya’s population and is a significant contributor to the country’s economy. Huawei has also worked with the Ministry of ICT to build the National Optical Fiber Backbone Infrastructure, providing links to local government offices across the 47 counties nationwide. Ministry of ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru said the government has made tremendous progress in digitisation efforts and commended Huawei’s continuing contribution towards growing Kenya’s digital economy.

With regards to cyber security, Huawei has always held both cyber security and privacy protection to be of paramount importance. We have implemented and maintained a comprehensive end-to-end cyber security assurance system. For decades, we have maintained a solid track record in security in Kenya and across the globe. We are referencing industry best practices to build a system that is sustainable, reliable, and compliant with applicable laws and international telecom standards. This system covers everything from policies, organisational structures, processes, and management to technologies and standard practice to fully meet our customers' demands.

In addition, since the pandemic began in Kenya, Huawei has pro-actively fulfilled our corporate social responsibility with various donations including of videoconferencing equipment and thermal imaging thermometers to various organisations, including the Health ministry who have used them to co-ordinate the pandemic response, and share experiences with international partners in China and beyond.

Umoja ni nguvu; umoja ni maendeleo; umoja katika kazi ni mafanikio, na kwa haya yote, talanta pia ni muhimu. Huawei is well aware that talent plays a crucial role in national development. From the beginning of the pandemic, we have provided training to more than 5,000 people through online learning. Through the "Learn ON" project, Huawei collaborated with more than 30 universities to support over 2,000 students in distance learning receiving recognition from lecturers, university students, and UNESCO.

Huawei also worked with the Ministry of ICT to provide more extensive online training on Cloud and AI for students in the Presidential Digital Talent Programme and provide online training to about 800 civil servants. Our UniTech Talk series lectures are bringing the latest technology insights and trends to students from over 40 Kenyan universities. In addition, we sponsored and supported the "Fursa vs Virus Challenge" nationwide innovation competition, receiving accolades from President Kenyatta.

We recently closed the curtains on 2020 and are currently embarking on a new journey, 2021, which we hope will be a promising year. While we are still fighting the pandemic, the difficulties will pass, and the digital economy presents Kenya with a leapfrog opportunity. Huawei will continue to focus on the Digital Economy Blueprint proposed by President Kenyatta to help achieve Kenya's Vision 2030.

First, we will continue to work with governments and telecommunication companies to build more advanced infrastructure to bridge the digital divide. Huawei will also work with the Ministry of ICT on the construction of the Konza Technopolis data centre aimed at further digitising Kenya's government operations.

Second, we will focus on growing digital business in the tourism, health, education, finance, and energy sectors amongst others. We will collaborate with the Ministry of Tourism and Safaricom on a digital tourism project to attract more tourists from around the world, thus accelerating the recovery of Kenya's tourism sector. We will also work with the ministries of ICT, Health, and Education to connect hospitals and schools to high-speed internet to bring better services to users.

Third, we will use Huawei public cloud services to help small and medium-sized enterprises with digital innovation. Huawei will also work with telecommunications companies and universities to build innovation labs.

Finally, as the digital economy becomes more important, so does enhancing digital skills and values. In 2021, Huawei will continue to cooperate with universities to provide ICT Academy training and more professionals with practical opportunities through our Eastern Africa training centre. In conjunction with partners such as the ministries of ICT and Education, we will continue to provide ICT training resources for the Presidential Digital Talent Programme, the Ajira Programme, and civil servants training. The Huawei DigiTruckwill also be dispatched to more counties to train young people on basic IT skills.

As a part of Kenya, Huawei will continue to participate in its development. I am convinced that Kenya ni mimi, Kenya ni wewe, Kenya ni sisi sote. Together, we can all contribute to the realisation of Kenya Vision 2030.

The writer, Mr Meng, is the CEO of Huawei Kenya.

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