The Cabinet Secratary for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs Mr Joe Mucheru answers questions from the public courtesy of Sunday Nation.
Sir, as far as succession politics ahead of the 2022 go, you seem to have taken a position against Deputy President William Ruto, whose policy proposals you have criticised. Yet, as a Cabinet secretary, you are supposed to remain apolitical. Don’t you think your political statements are against the ethics for Cabinet secretaries who should not engage in partisan politics? Fred Mwera
As the Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, I am under obligation to ensure the right policies and information are made available to the citizens of this country. I have nothing against the Deputy President, even though there may exist ideological differences. Matters of policy are decided by Cabinet. I sit in the Cabinet and at no time have we deliberated on some of the issues being aired in public. I strongly believe the future of our country will be technology-driven and I would be failing in my duties if I did not point out that truth, especially to the youth.
As regards being apolitical, the law is very clear in Section 23 of the Leadership and Integrity Act, 2012. As Cabinet secretaries we can take a political stance. Further, President Uhuru Kenyatta is passionate about youth. Our biggest asset as Kenya and Africa is our youth, and this is a present asset not a future prospect. With a youth population of 75.1 per cent, our government is keen to provide a conducive environment for them. My obligation is to bring to life the government’s youth policy objectives which focus on four key areas: equip, empower, involve and protect.
Spearheading these objectives and actualising them exposes me politically. This risk, however, does not deter my individual commitment to promote the holistic empowerment of the youth in socio-economic and political spheres f as stated in the Kenya Youth Development Policy 2019.
Duty on communication copper data cables has been increased from 25 per cent to 30 per cent. I suggest this should be zero-rated, similar to fibre optic cables, or revert to 25 per cent. I understand that the high tariff has been implemented to protect local manufacturers, but this high duty has resulted in importation of low quality copper clad aluminium cables that can result in fire if used with power over ethernet (POE) network switches. What can you say about this? Aunally Maloo
As you are aware, the country has ambitious goals of becoming industrialised and manufacturing is part of the Big 4 Agenda. The main purpose of this is to create local jobs. “Buy Kenya, Build Kenya” is not mere rhetoric, but something anchored on a grand strategy to industrialise the country.
I would therefore encourage you to buy these locally-manufactured cables because they are not just good quality but also because by doing so, you will be creating much-needed jobs in Kenya. At the same time, the government has robust quality standards that are enforced by the Kenya Bureau of Standards. These are to ensure that sub-standard cables such as the ones you have referred to in your question do not enter the market.
The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us the need to improve access to the Internet in terms of costs and distribution. What is the government doing to make access to the Internet affordable and available in most parts of the country? Joy W. Ndwiga
Joy, this is true. The pandemic has indeed reinvigorated the urgent need for connectivity and affordable access by all Kenyans. In response to this need, the ministry has made universal access a key priority in our learning and health institutions.
In collaboration with the private sector, we have begun to see massive gains. Kenya has almost 90 per cent Internet penetration. To ensure that we achieve universal access, the government continues to invest heavily in the prerequisite infrastructure. The National Fibre Optic Backbone Infrastructure (NOFBI) project has now connected all the counties and sub-counties and we are now in the process of ensuring connectivity at the ward level. Through NOFBI, we have enhanced service delivery, ensuring critical services, such as health, are digitally empowered.
With the rising cases of identity theft and phone number hacking, how does the government plan to deal with such problems? Ilga Wanza
Ilga, we want to be the pacesetters in Africa and be at par with the best in the world when it comes to regulations touching on the digital space. The first area we have tackled is putting in place the right policies and laws. Access to Information Act, Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act and the Data Protection Act, among others, provide a framework for securing users of digital platforms.
We have also implemented systems to assist in identification of people as well as devices while at the same time reinforcing their privacy. The Public Key Infrastructure that provides users with digital signatures as well as the Huduma Namba single identity system that uses biometrics provides the much-needed security and audit systems. We have also invested in a Device Management System (DMS) at the Communications Authority that will ensure we are able to identify fake devices on networks in addition to ensuring all SIM card owners are registered with their numbers.
Lastly, we are investing heavily in citizen awareness on safe online practices.
Debate is raging in many quarters on the balance between ethics and the power of technology, including the adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in many of our daily activities. Sir, what is your take on this matter? Komen Moris, Eldoret
Technological advances bring with them great expectations. Most importantly, it brings huge opportunities for our young people to learn new skills, create new industries and make money. This matter is so important for the future of this country that in 2019 my ministry set up a task force to review not just AI, but all emerging technologies.
Kenya is at the forefront of using technology to drive innovation in areas like citizen engagement (e-citizen), tax and revenue management (itax), infrastructure planning, management and monitoring. The private sector, especially in financial services, has been using advanced data-driven credit scoring for a long time.
The blockchain and emerging technologies task force report can be found on our website for your review.
Elections are around the corner. For a democracy to exist, everyone’s vote should count. Young voters in Kenya may find that traditional voting methods do not fit their technology-driven lifestyles. In what ways is your ministry working with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to fully engage younger voters and increase voter participation through technology? Muthoni Njakwe
Muthoni, as a first step in fostering youth inclusion, participation and representation in electoral processes, we will work with IEBC to ensure that we employ young people across all levels during the 2021 election process. This will improve knowledge about the needs of young voters, leverage young people’s flexibility, creativity and willingness to learn, and allow them to have ownership of the voting process. We are also working with the IEBC in making the registration processes as convenient and appealing as possible for the youth, especially first-time voters. This will be done by availing our Ajira Youth empowerment centres as registration centres.
We use technology and devices that need personnel who are conversant with such gadgets to ease the election process. On this, we will work with IEBC to mainstream youth.
One would describe the Jubilee promise of free tablets in schools as a disappointment. Was this promise a missed opportunity or a good idea that came at the wrong time? Can your ministry account for the tablets that were distributed? Javan Obiero, Nakuru
Javan, the implementation of the laptop project came at the right time; it is not only a requirement of the Kenya government to introduce use of technology in education but also a global agenda under the Sustainable Development Goals.
Though the programme demands huge capital investment, Kenya has done well and is now leading in Africa. The government has so far managed to distribute devices to over 21,638 primary schools, trained over 300,000 teachers and developed necessary content. Over 99 per cent of schools, including those in rural areas, have received devices and have been connected to the national grid. As in any project of this magnitude, we have had few challenges, especially with continuous teacher training.
Remember this is an education programme where impact is measured after specific time periods – eight years for primary – so it would be wrong to characterise the project as a failure. From our analysis based on validated monitoring reports, the utilisation of technology in schools has risen from 70 per cent in 2019 to 80 per cent in 2020 because of CBC. With Internet connectivity to schools, this will go up drastically.
The Universal Fund run by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) currently stands at about Sh10 billion. Ironically, many parts of this country still suffer from poor and disruptive phone connectivity. Why are we not seeing this Fund put to full use? Faith A. Nyadiero, Kisumu
Faith, about two years ago, our 2G/3G coverage in the country was around 85 per cent. Today we are at 96.3 per cent because of the use of the Universal Service Fund. Prioritising and directing the USF to subsidise projects seeking to accelerate infrastructure deployment in un-served and under-served areas is a key priority for us as this will serve to speed up shrinking of the digital divide. The Ministry working with the CA in 2020 organized and coordinated a tendering process which saw underserved and unserved sub-locations connected to mobile voice and broadband networks across 17 counties in North Rift, North Eastern Region, part of Coast and lower Rift Valley regions.
We also embarked on development of new projects using the USF such as the digitization and automation of the National Police Service Information Management System to enhance service delivery to the public. CA has collaborated with Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) to deploy an education resource portal (Kenya Education Cloud).
The project entails 24/7 monitoring and technical support to ensure reliable access to digital content developed by KICD and other sources. Other projects have included fibre connectivity to over 1,000 secondary schools and hospitals as well as connectivity to Judiciary court rooms as well as equipment. The fund is dynamic and the process of ensuring universal access continues.
In some of the few areas that have not been connected, the challenges we are facing include lack of power, slow procurement process for land and other facilities that are needed to set up as well as in some court cases that have delayed the process. Let me conclude by saying that, while I know 96.3 per cent is not 100 per cent, I believe it is a pass with a distinction (an A). I commend the Communications Authority and the various service providers for the great effort they continue to push connectivity in the country.
Sir, the talk about the Kenya National Spatial Data Infrastructure has become muted. Could you update the country on its status and how the government seeks to leverage on it or cutting edge geospatial technology? Osborne Odindo, Nairobi
The Government has increasingly adopted a multi-agency taskforce approach to achieve national government strategic objectives. Through this approach Osborne, stakeholders drawn from relevant areas are all engaged to achieve a common objective. It provides for an environment to harmonize disjointed or a duplication of national objectives, eases the burden of resource allocation, improves service delivery and harmonised professional standards across state department and agencies. This model not only empowers our own professionals, saves our country money but most importantly it ensures that data generated is in the custody of government and shared across all ministries
It is under this umbrella that the Joint National Mapping (JNAM) and the National Resource mapping projects were conceptualised and approved by Cabinet in May 2018. The projects entail the collection of geospatial and geological data and encompasses the Ministry of Lands, Ministry of petroleum and mining; Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs; Ministry of Interior and coordination of National Government; Ministry of Defence, scholars and quality assurance oversight bodies.
Among other Government projects, the government identifies Geospatial and mineral resource data sets among its top priorities. Before JNAM was established, the government had been reliant on colonial topographical maps. Today, we have up to date geospatial data; a critical component for planning and development. All topographical maps in the major cities have been updated and we are in the process of creating a national spatial data infrastructure (NSDI) to ensure sharing of the up to date geospatial data within government bodies.
Natural resources are useful for the improvement of socio economic development of a nation. In view of this, Kenya has prioritised the objective to acquire data in order to map its geology. Kenya is endowed with different types of mineral resources, but the supporting data as to their presence refers to colonial data sets developed during the pre-independence period. These data are outdated and unreliable for use in the development of a sustainable mining industry
JNAMs has been updating all topographical maps for the republic of Kenya, creating county maps, digitising cadastral data and developing a spatial data infrastructure. So far, new uptodate topographical maps of Kenya have been completed and launched as well as county maps for all counties. In addition, the team has also digitised the cadastral plans for Nairobi County and systems such as the recently launched Lands management system – ardhisasa (https://ardhisasa.lands.go.ke) are utilising this infrastructure.
Therefore, NSDI is not muted. It has made great strides in our digitisation efforts. The government will continue to conduct countrywide airborne geophysical surveys to determine the geology of our country through this multi-Agency approach.
Through this project, Kenya becomes a pacesetter in our region as we continue to conduct the airborne geophysical surveys using our own expertise and resources. This model ensures that all our geospatial information and mineral resource inventory is in the custody of the government for the development of a sustainable mining industry as per vision 2030.