Yesterday, the ICT and Digital Economy Cabinet Secretary (CS) Eliud Owalo did an extensive interview with Citizen TV’s Waihiga Mwaura in what can be termed as the first interview of such a kind for the new ICT CS.

He has been in office for the last couple of months and succeeded his long-serving predecessor Joe Mucheru.

The whole discussion during the aired meeting was all about pushing a digitization agenda in the country.

Part of the agenda includes launching free public Wi-Fi hotspots in several counties.

Digitization of government records

The CS has also reiterated President Ruto’s goal of digitizing at least 5,000 government services within the next six months, as stipulated in the Digital Superhighway document that was part of his campaign.

To this end, the ICT Ministry reports that 350 services have already been digitized. The CS believes that the goal of digitizing 5,000 services is possible within the next six months.

eCitizen for all Govt payments

It has also emerged that the government has taken over the eCitizen platform and plans to upgrade the infrastructure and add more services to it.

The eCitizen platform was previously run by a private sector entity for the past 10 years.

The government took over the platform because it is an integral component of digital space and the public interest is better protected when it is in the hands of the state.

However, the final nod from the Attorney General is needed before agreements can be signed to fully transfer control of the eCitizen platform to the government.

Another key point that emerged from the interview is that Treasury has gazetted the platform as the official government digital payment platform.

Public Wi-Fi Hotspots

The CS further shed some light on the launch of public Wi-Fi hotspot locations in Nairobi, Nyanza and other parts of Kenya.

The target audience for the hotspots are people in markets, schools, and those involved in various value chains in the Kenyan economy.

The purpose of the hotspots is to enable Kenyans to participate in e-commerce and reduce the need for physical movement during transactions.

The hotspots will allow individuals to showcase and sell their goods online without physical interaction.

Reportedly, 17 hotspots have already been launched in Nairobi and plans to launch more in other cities.

The goal is to roll out 25,000 hotspots by 2027, with an average of 5,000 per year, and the government is working with different service providers such as Google and telecom companies to achieve this.

The ministry will monitor the usage and activity levels of the hotspots on a daily basis.

Owalo says that the hotspots are helping to move idle youth away from bus stops and into more economically productive activities.

His Ministry aims to leverage technology to create digital jobs for young people.

He expects that the initiative could create 1.5 to 2 million jobs for youth, and the initiative also includes follow-ups and ensure that the hotspots are functional.

The hotspots have been launched in other markets, such as Marikiti market, City Market, Nyeri, Ahero, Kapsabet, and Kericho, and the goal is to leverage technology to enhance e-commerce activities.

Digital taxes

There are concerns about the taxation of the ICT sector, specifically with regard to ebooks, video conferencing, music, and video consumption on certain online platforms. This is a development that was made official in the Finance Act 2021, which introduced digital service tax (DST) for income accrued from a business carried out over the internet or an electronic network including through a digital marketplace. 

Owalo said that the government is reacting to the demands of the market and the fast-growing ICT sector.

He acknowledged that if the taxman is looking for revenue, they will target the ICT sector, however, this does not mean it should be seen as a step backward.

It has since been suggested that instead of increasing taxes, the government should focus on leveraging technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness in production processes and create jobs, leading to more people coming into the tax revenue system.

Cheaper smartphones

Owalo also discussed the possibility of manufacturing smartphones in Kenya for less than KES 5,000 by this year.

He mentioned that telecom companies in Kenya, such as Safaricom, Jamii Telecom, and Airtel, have come together to work on achieving this goal despite being competitors.

The goal is to address a deficit in the market for affordable smartphones.

He highlighted that the infrastructure for manufacturing these phones is already in place and that the goal is for Kenya to move from being an importer of technology to an exporter.

The target launch date for this initiative is July and the target cost per unit will be between KES 4,000-5,000.

The feasibility study for this project is already done and the details about which components will be made locally and which ones will be imported are already sorted out.