By Tonny Tugee
High unemployment, especially among the youth, remains one of Kenya’s pressing socioeconomic challenges. Figures from June 2020 show that the pandemic exacerbated this, with our unemployment rate rising to 21%. While East Africa is proving to make the most resilient post-pandemic recovery among African regions, with Kenya’s GDP projected to grow by 5% in 2021 compared to Africa’s 3.4%, more still needs to be done to foster job creation in Kenya’s growing digital economy.
Digital technologies are transforming global economies across various sectors, leading to the creation of new digitally centred business models, markets, and job opportunities that did not exist before. Kenya’s ICT sector has expanded remarkably in the past decade, growing by an average of 10.8% every year since 2016, but there is still a lack of nationwide broadband infrastructure and more digital skills needed to realise our country’s true economic potential. Connectivity has a major role to play in addressing this.
The modern business world
Today, businesses around the world are relying increasingly on connectivity for conducting business transactions and payments, running apps and services in cloud environments, marketing, or simply sharing information with each other. Connectivity has allowed for greater innovation, improved efficiencies, and has also helped businesses to either expand into broader markets or create entirely new revenue models.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is powered by technologies such as AI and automation, IoT, quantum computing, big data, and smart factories – all of which are powered by connectivity. Without the basic infrastructure needed to support these revolutionary technologies, businesses in Africa will be left behind while the world accelerates into a digital future.
Consumers are also moving towards digital interactions – a shift that was certainly expedited by the pandemic. If businesses want to connect with more customers today, and especially in the future, they need to be connected to the Internet. Unfortunately, not all Africans have access yet.
The state of African ICT
A report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) highlighted that the economic distribution of the global digital economy shows a striking divide between countries. The United States and China alone account for 90% of the market capitalisation value of the world’s 70 largest digital platforms, whereas Africa only accounts for 1.3%.
What is clear is that Africa is yet to achieve the adequate infrastructure, digital literacy, and comprehensive policy frameworks to fully support digital businesses. And while total mobile Internet subscriptions in Kenya rose by 4.8% from the second quarter of 2020 to the third quarter, Kenya only had 551,715 wired Internet subscriptions as of September 2020.
Wired connections such as fibre are much faster, more reliable, and cost-effective in the long term than mobile Internet – provided the infrastructure exists. There is also a significant divide in connection quality between rural and urban areas, which prevents many people from taking part in the digital economy.
If we want to transform the African economy by leveraging new digital opportunities, we need to lay the foundations first. Without inclusive access to fixed Internet infrastructure, people will be building their businesses on shaky ground. And for those who do have access, we need to make sure they know how to use it.
The realisation of a knowledge economy
One of Africa’s biggest barriers to technological adoption is the shortage of digital skills. For this reason, the Government of Kenya established the Ajira Digital Programme in 2017 to bridge the skills gap in the digital job market. The programme aims to introduce young people to digital work and provides training and certifications for IT and networking, software development, sales and marketing, accounting, writing, creative design, and more.
Platforms like Ajira and Upwork are becoming powerful drivers of inclusiveness, linking job seekers to global communities and allowing them to access more opportunities, share knowledge, and move up the employee value chain. According to Kenya’s 2020 Digital Economy Strategy, 638,000 Kenyans have found work through digital opportunities as of January 2020. Many of these jobs are also listed globally and are available to anyone with an Internet connection, provided they have the right skills. If we can realise a knowledge-based economy by improving digital literacy, we can provide Kenyans with millions more jobs created beyond our national borders.
The jobs of tomorrow
With the world on a clear course towards digitisation, providing Kenyans with reliable Internet infrastructure and the right digital skills will be the only way for them to seize current and future job opportunities. The growth of the ICT sector undoubtedly has the potential for radical socioeconomic change, and advances in technology will only continue to create more digital opportunities. If we want to unlock the true potential of Africa’s workforces, we need to empower more African people and businesses with access to fast and reliable connectivity.
(Tonny Tugee is the MD at SEACOM East and North East Africa).