Monday, July 14, 2008


By Muthoga Kioni (Published in the EAStandard 9th July 2008)

It is an acknowledged fact that Kenya has a propensity for locking the stable well after the horse has bolted. Prior planning and preparation has never been our bane. This scenario can be witnessed in our ICT sector.

ICT is a burgeoning sector that has the capacity of propelling our economy to greater heights. Indicators testify to its potential. Safaricom, an ICT firm, has become the most profitable company in East Africa.

The government has also appreciated the strategic national value of ICT. Various initiatives have been introduced, for example the E-Government Strategy. Universal access to broadband is been promoted by the government sponsored National Optic Fibre Project. All these initiatives are a prelude to the coming of The East African Marine System (TEAMS). This is a submarine cable that will link Mombasa with the UAE and by extension, with the rest of the world. Kenya is clearly in the dawn of a technological revolution.

The existence of this infrastructure will invariably herald a new chapter for our beleaguered our economy. E-Commerce will open up new opportunities to small and large firms alike. We shall witness a fundamental transformation in the way local firms use ICT. Currently businesses are supported by ICT. Kenyan companies will adopt models where ICT will become integral and inseparable from the business and they will subsequently accrue competitive advantages.

It will become possible for consumers to order groceries from Uchumi or Nakumatt online and have them delivered to your doorstep. Long suffering Nairobians will be able to plan departures from their offices or homes by monitoring traffic jams in the city using live footage from internet enabled CCTVs. Our farmers will be able to access global buyers and markets through Digital villages.

Right now these benefits are shining like lighthouses in certain areas of our economy. The runaway success of MPesa was unexpected. National examination results can now be accessed via the internet and mobile phone. E-government has had an impact on the efficiency of central government. There are many more areas where the darkness of corporate and government bureaucracy have been vanquished by the beacon of technology.

These gains are, however, been enjoyed by a minority of Kenyans. This will change when the TEAMS cable facilitates greater access to Kenyans. This enhanced access will precipitate an E-commerce boom and enable us build a knowledge economy. This however hinges on whether we can prevent the horse from bolting before we organise the stable and secure the doors.

Putts Law states that technology is dominated by two types of people - those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand. We are obviously managing something we do not fully understand. This is because we are busy building the technological infrastructure without paying attention to the E-security measures that will determine the viability and future of this technology in Kenya.

E-security has yet to be embedded into our mainstream legislative and policy frameworks. E-security refers to the technical, policy, managerial and legislative safeguards applied to systems and data to protect organisational and personal privacy. These basic safeguards, that should secure the proposed virtual Kenyan economy, are absent. Kenyans are currently vulnerable to various online threats for example fraud, access penetration, data and password theft and others.

The valuable financial tokens that underlie e-commerce - credit card numbers and bank account information - have to be secured against fraudsters who use various methods like internet sniffing to obtain these details. With increased access, unscrupulous merchants will emerge with the sole motive of defrauding unsuspecting Kenyans for a quick profit. E-security therefore underpins our future virtual economy.

We cannot afford to ignore this danger. We have only one chance to guarantee confidence and trust in our local E-commerce environment. That means we must draft and publish a Data Protection Act that regulates the processing of individual data. We must also review and update the 2006 ICT policy that is obviously outdated. Kenya must divorce ICT from media and publish a comprehensive ICT Bill that fully outlines an electronic security framework.

Securing our technological infrastructure has to be in tandem with its development. Our failure in fully appreciating this concept will result in a still-born electronic economy and will dilute the considerable investment Kenya has made to ICT.

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