Re-visiting Kenya's ICT Policy and Regulatory Framework

A frustration for many ICT law enthusiasts has been the tracing of Kenya’s ICT and Innovation policies and their implementation. The Second Medium Term Plan (MTP) of Vision 2030 gives a partial trace of the framework. This MTP identifies key policy actions, reforms, programmes and projects that the Government will implement in the 2013-2017 period in line with its priorities, the Constitution and the long-term objective of Vision 2030. Readers may remember 1999, the dawn of the dot com boom. This is when the fragmentation started with the division of the Kenya Postal and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC) into Telkom, the Postal Corporation and the Communications Commission. The Government is making amends in today’s information age and the amalgamation of the Kenya ICT Board, Department of e-government and the Government Information Technology Services (GITS) to form the ICT Authority (ICTA) was a welcomed move. The latter is a parastatal under the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology mandated to coordinate the ICT sector.

There is a clear nexus between policy, legal and institutional frameworks’ that needs to manifest ASAP to avert a seemingly “cart before the horse scenario” in the country’s ICT sector. That said a few pointers might help in that regard. To begin with, it is imperative that our policies and strategic plans be “future proof”. That the 2nd MTP of Vision 2030 above is calling for alignment of the National ICT framework with the Constitution shows the policy framework is in dire need of an update. Similarly, the ICT Master Plans are being implemented in five-year phases parallel to the 5 phases of Vision 2030. However, there is no overall plan showing the overriding objectives and the expected results. It has been said that one needs to “dermic” the first phase to arrive at a collection of objectives mainly on infrastructure. Furthermore, there is minimal transition between the plans for instance the second 2013-17 phase makes no mention of the projects in first 2008-12 phase e.g. Madaraka Project, eMado, 9 strategy programme matrix etc. They seem to change depending on the whim of the Incumbent at Telposta Towers.
The legal framework is equally wanting thus further jeopardizing its midwifery role of transitioning the policy framework into achievable institutional objectives. For example, while the 2nd MTP above celebrates our open data portal as the second in Africa and 22nd worldwide, the Sunlight Foundation, which assesses open governance tools, has recently described the project as “floundering” for ministries’ reluctance to release data. While our ICT Master Plans aspire for a knowledge economy, the first step ought to have been the liberalisation of data. Accordingly, Data Protection and Freedom of Information legislation should have been enacted before the launch of the portal in 2008. Moreover, any BPO/ITES envisaged with the west will not take off without safe harbour principles usually guaranteed in such legislation.
On the institutional front, the amalgamation and upgrade of the relevant institutions to parastatal status in ICTA will help to focalize the sector. However, we should aim for a full reunification with the communication angle i.e. CAK. This will reflect the convergence in communication and information technologies in the semantic web and the soon to come Internet of Things (IoT).
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt from our neighbours in Rwanda as Michel Bezy, an Associate Director of the new Carnegie Mellon University campus in Rwanda, elucidates. They may not rival the size of our economy but their ICT Master Plans are traceable to the government’s Vision 2020 both having four-phased 20 year plans. The National Information Communication Infrastructure (NICI) plans comprise NICI 1 (2000-05) the establishment of an enabling environment, NICI 2 (2005-10) infrastructure development, NICI 3 (2010-15) service sector development, and NICI 4 (2015-20) a knowledge economy. They are modest yet achievable remaining on target almost to the letter 14 years later. Moreover, they build into each other i.e. one can trace a project from NICI 1, its revision in NICI 2 and its completion in NICI 3. What’s more, their monitoring and evaluation is external thus integrating transparency and objectivity. Hopefully, a comparable approach will be adopted in the Monitoring and Evaluation Policy and Act envisioned in the 2nd MTP of Vision 2030.
In conclusion, it is undeniably easy to be blinded by the flurry of activity currently exhibiting in Kenya’s ICT sector. However, we need to aim for strategic progress and results. The Rwandese experience above may hint at why we lost the former ICT Board CEO, Paul Kukubo to Rwanda albeit to their capital markets. It is imperative that ICTA conduct a comprehensive review of the ICT policy, legal and institutional frameworks dating back to the 2006 National ICT Sector Master Plan 2006. Otherwise, countries such as Ghana and Rwanda, having rightly identified the issues and building on them cumulatively, will catch up and overtake us on the race to Africa’s Silicon Savannah.

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