For about a week, a number of government websites were suspended and visitors were met by a lovely blue page with the message, “Error 403 – This web app is stopped”. Following this shutdown, the Ministry of ICT released a statement acknowledging the outage and promising that they would be restored, “Some government of Kenya websites were down and the ICT Authority was working round the clock to ensure that the issue is urgently resolved and normal services resumed. The ICT Authority apologises to its valued customers for any inconvenience caused,” read the statement from the ministry.
Later on, it was revealed that the reason for the shutdown was unsettled bills between the government and hosting service provider, Microsoft Azure. “This is to do with the ICT Authority, they owe money to the company and that is something that is in the process and I think it will be finalized,” said Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT.
Joe Mucheru then later expressed his concerns over Kenya’s overreliance on foreign service providers, questioning why the government cannot contract local startups for such services, “There’s the question as to whether some of the services we are buying, we should be buying them from overseas as opposed to using local service providers… must we import even hosting of a website?” asks the puzzled Cabinet Secretary.
According to sources within ICT Authority, the bill in contention runs to hundreds of Millions, which casts doubt as to whether the Minister’s intention to switch from Microsoft Azure to a local provider is fuelled by the need to promote local startups or just a hide and seek game with Microsoft. As of today, the websites had been restored with no official communication from either party regarding the current state of affairs.