By Will Meng
UN Secretary-General Guterres has stated: “The Covid-19 pandemic is the worst global crisis since the Second World War”. 2020 came with a pandemic and it was an extremely difficult and unusual year for everyone around the world. People’s way of life changed greatly, challenging economic development to an unprecedented extent. In 2020, traditional industries struggled and new business models such as teleworking, online education, e-commerce, and telemedicine developed disruptively. In 2020, the fight against the pandemic and economic recovery were the top priorities of every country. Kenya set an example for Africa in both the fight against the pandemic and economic recovery. She was one of the first African countries to adopt and implement a string of rigorous policies and to have positive economic growth in 2020.
Crisis often stimulates change and brings new momentum for economic growth. These new business models and practices have accelerated digital transformation among traditional industries. Globally, the digitization has become the engine for economic growth and recovery. According to Oxford Economics, the long-term return on investment for digital technologies is 6.7 times more than that of non-digital investments. During the pandemic, many countries revised their digital economy strategies and increased investments. Data from several countries, including China, South Korea and Thailand confirm that digital technology has accelerated economic recovery.
Kenya is also on the road to digital transformation. In 2017, the third medium-term plan for the country’s Vision 2030 regarded ICT as a fast-growing industry. Two years later, President Kenyatta released the Digital Economy Blueprint at the 2019 Transform Africa Summit, making Kenya the first country in Africa to do so. He hailed ICT as a key factor in the political, economic and social development of Kenya that would accelerate the realization of Vision 2030. We are pleased with the knowledge that Kenya, under the President’s leadership, has established a working group on the digital economy and has already actualized several achievements.
Towards the end of 2020, the government released the draft Digital Economy Strategy, which further clarified the strategic direction Kenya’s digital economy development would take. It was updated based on what has happened during the pandemic. Online work, online education and e-commerce have expanded faster than could have been imagined, mitigating the economic and social impacts of the pandemic and laying a strong foundation for the future. In a recent TNTP Public Hearings Presentation, National Treasury statistics showed that Kenya’s overall economic growth rate was predicted to be 0.6% for 2020. At 8.8%, the ICT industry was the second fastest growing. It is gratifying that Huawei is a contributor to this.
The construction of digital infrastructure is a top priority when developing the digital economy and ecosystem. Huawei has been operating in Kenya for over two decades. During this period, the company has worked with the telecommunication companies, and helped with the growth in mobile network coverage. Thanks to the efforts of multiple stakeholders, this coverage has now reached 96% of the nation’s population, with the figure projected to increase in the coming years. With this proliferation came a growth in mobile money transfer, which currently serves over half of Kenya’s population and is a significant contributor to the country’s economy. Huawei has also worked with the Ministry of ICT to build the National Optical Fiber Backbone Infrastructure (NOFBI), providing links to local government offices across the 47 counties. According to Joe Mucheru, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT, the government has made tremendous progress in digitization.
Huawei has also implemented and maintained a comprehensive end-to-end cyber security assurance system. For decades, we have maintained a solid track record in security in Kenya and across the globe. We are referencing industry best practices to build a system that is sustainable, reliable and compliant with applicable laws as well as international telecom standards. This system covers policies, organizational structures, processes and management of technologies and standard practice to fully meet our customers’ demands.
In addition, since the pandemic began in Kenya, Huawei has pro-actively fulfilled our corporate social responsibility with various donations including of videoconferencing equipment and thermal imaging thermometers to various organizations. This includes the Ministry of Health which has used them to co-ordinate the pandemic response and share experiences with international partners in China and beyond.
Huawei is well aware that talent plays a crucial role in national development. From the beginning of the pandemic, we have provided training to more than five thousand people through online learning. Through the “Learn ON” project, Huawei collaborated with more than thirty universities to support over two thousand students in distance learning receiving recognition from lecturers, university students, and UNESCO.
Huawei also worked with the Ministry of ICT to provide more extensive online training on cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) for students in the Presidential Digital Talent Programme as well as eight hundred civil servants. Our UniTech Talk series lectures are bringing the latest technology insights and trends to students from over forty Kenyan universities. In addition, we sponsored and supported the “Fursa vs Virus Challenge” nationwide innovation competition, receiving accolades from President Kenyatta.
We recently closed the curtains on 2020 and are currently embarking on a new journey in 2021, which we hope will be a promising year. While we are still fighting the pandemic, the difficulties will pass and the digital economy presents Kenya with a leapfrog opportunity. Huawei will continue to focus on the Digital Economy Blueprint proposed by President Kenyatta to help achieve Kenya Vision 2030.
First, we will continue to work with governments and telecommunication companies to build more advanced infrastructure to bridge the digital divide. Huawei will also work with the Ministry of ICT on the construction of the Konza Technopolis data center aimed at further digitizing Kenya’s government operations.
Secondly, we will focus on growing digital business in the tourism, health, education, finance and energy sectors . We will collaborate with the Ministry of Tourism and Safaricom on a digital tourism project to attract more tourists from around the world, thus accelerating the recovery of Kenya’s tourism sector. We will also work with the Ministries of ICT, Health, and Education on a series of projects to help connect hospitals and schools to high-speed internet .
Third, we will use Huawei public cloud services to help small and medium-sized enterprises with digital innovation. Huawei will also work with telecommunications companies and universities to build innovation labs.
Finally, as the digital economy becomes more entrenched, so does enhancing digital skills and values. In 2021, Huawei will continue to cooperate with universities to provide ICT Academy training and provide more professionals with practical opportunities through our Eastern Africa training centre. In conjunction with partners such as the Ministries of ICT and Education, we will continue to provide ICT training resources for the Presidential Digital Talent Programme, the Ajira Programme, and civil servants training. The Huawei DigiTruck will also be dispatched to more counties to train young people on basic ICT skills.
The writer is the CEO, Huawei Kenya