By Martin Namasaka
Kenya has been a leader in digital transformation in the continent, with its digital economy contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at 7.7% followed by Morocco and South Africa at 6.82% and 6.51% respectively. As one of the fastest growing sectors, the digital economy is expected to add KSh 1.4 Trillion or 9.24% of the GDP to Kenya’s economy by 2025 according to Accenture’s, Africa iGDP Forecast. Despite the commendable strides in digital transformation, Kenya’s widening digital divide has been loudly criticised. Thus, the pressing need to ensure the country’s digital transformation is inclusive, for all segments of society to participate and benefit from it. This article examines why Kenya needs an inclusive digital transformation and what steps can be taken to ensure that this happens.
The adoption of digital technologies in Kenya is contributing to greater access to information, education, healthcare and many more services all of which are helping people improve their lives and livelihoods. Even so, the divides are still stark as the poor, rural populations and women continue to fall behind. The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) Mobile Gender Gap Report of 2019 showed that women in Kenya are 39% less likely than men to have access to mobile internet and are also 23% less likely to own a smartphone. This gender digital divide appears to be growing with the gender gap in mobile internet use increasing from 34% in 2019 to 42% in 2020. A 2021 study titled ‘Kenya’s Digital Economy: A People’s Perspective’, also found that only “35% of women use advanced digital services compared to 54% of men.
With 44% of the urban population having access to the internet compared to 17% in rural areas, more needs to be done to ensure that basic infrastructure such as internet, electricity and telecommunication networks is accessible for all to participate in the digital economy. This digital divide is a major obstacle to an inclusive digital transformation and needs to be addressed urgently. If only certain segments of society can benefit from the digital transformation, it will only widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and this will have far-reaching consequences for the country.
While access to technology is increasing, digital literacy levels remain low, particularly in rural areas. This lack of digital literacy is a major barrier to inclusive digital transformation in Kenya, as it prevents people from fully participating in the digital economy and taking advantage of new technologies. The Kenyan Government recognizes the importance of digital literacy and has taken steps to address the issue. For example, the government has launched several initiatives aimed at improving digital literacy levels among young people, including programmes to teach coding and other digital skills in schools. Despite these efforts, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all Kenyans have the digital literacy skills they need to participate fully in the digital economy.
With the formulation of the Digital Economy Blueprint (2019), National ICT Master Plan (2016), and National Broadband Strategy (2013–2017; 2018–2023) and many innovative technologies and services being introduced and adopted by the public, Kenya is headed in the right direction. Strengthening legal frameworks and regulations in place to protect the rights of all citizens in the digital space is still crucial. This includes ensuring that data privacy is respected and that people are not subjected to discrimination or unequal treatment because of their race, gender, or any other characteristic. Having strong legal frameworks and regulations will also encourage investment in the digital sector and promote innovation, which can benefit all segments of society.
A multi-faceted approach that addresses the various challenges that are limiting access to technology and digital literacy in the country is needed. First, increasing access to affordable and reliable internet is crucial. Second, digital literacy levels need to be improved, particularly among women, young people, and rural populations. Third, it is important to ensure that the benefits of digital transformation are distributed fairly and equitably across all segments of society. This means that special attention needs to be paid to marginalized groups, such as women and people with disabilities, to ensure that they are not left behind in the digital revolution. Finally, the government and private sector need to work together to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the tech sector. This will help to create new opportunities for people to participate in the digital economy and take advantage of new technologies.
Overall, an inclusive digital transformation is crucial for Kenya if the country wants to ensure that all citizens can participate in and benefit from the digital economy. The government, private sector, civil society organizations, and individuals all have a role to play in ensuring that digital transformation is inclusive and that the country can reap the benefits of the digital age. By working together and adopting a holistic approach, Kenya can ensure that its digital transformation is inclusive and that all citizens can improve their lives and livelihoods.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author.