Kenya is reputed to be Silicon Savanna, and for good measure. But is that reason enough to sit on our laurels, celebrate and relax? When we wake up we’ll be at the bottom of the pack. Especially in this fast paced 4th Industrial Revolution, when time waits for none.
We live in a knowledge and data-driven world. Tech-savvy and data sovereign nations chart trends. It is no wonder the fierce salient tech war between today’s biggest global economies 5G revolution. And why should Kenya or Africa by extension pay attention?
There are many who believe Kenya is a ‘sleeping giant’. This week, I participated in 2 Think-Tank Roundtables that were as good as any, and some of these issues were discussed – though in hashed tones.
Should Kenyans of goodwill focus more on the ‘sleeping’ or ‘giant’ part? One of the roundtables was convened by Multi-sectoral National Dialogue Contact Group in conjunction with Academia. It brought together some of the country’s finest brains, among them Prof Chacha Nyaigoti, Chairman, Commission for University Education that regulates higher education, Prof Ratemo Michieka, Secretary, Kenya National Academy of Science which has the highest concentration of Kenya’s scientists, Industrialist Dr Manu Chandaria, Prof Khama Rogo who leads a major Worldbank Group health initiative in Washington DC and recent Lifetime Awardee in Medicine, and Dr Constantine Wasonga, Secretary General of the Academic Workers’ Union, UASU.
It was abundantly evident that the country hasn’t made the best use of its intelligentsia. Neither do we have the barest minimum of data about ourselves we need for proper, evidence-based planning. I am not sure, for instance, how many counties would know with precision, at finger tips the number of bags of maize consumed by her citizens per week, or the number of its professional engineers living and working in Mombasa. Even less known is the true number of Kenya’s diaspora – beyond the guesswork of 3 million that has been used for the past 10 years. And they aren’t in the census plans, despite their
import to the economy. Informal sources claim assets held by diasporas outside the country are enough to clear the KSh 6 trillion public debt!
The knowledge economy is real. It is no coincidence that tech firms – Microsoft, Alibaba, IBM, Facebook, etc have dominated the global scene the past decade, and Amazon.com today’s wealthiest brand. Yet, we have no structured repository of knowledge. One needn’t look any further than how neglected the National Archives or public libraries are. Equally worrying is when a university professor resigns to contest for MCA or appointed County Executive Member. The self-censorship and suppressed academic freedom makes matters worse.
In addressing our most basic challenges – e.g. the Big 4 Agenda, corruption or even extra-judicial disappearances, one would think academia would be at the forefront evolving practical solutions. Yet there are scholars that even mention of these words is anathema. Is it because what Prof PLO Lumumba has been singing true: that those with ideas have no power to implement, and those with power lack ideas? Aren’t the scholars themselves equally complacent?
Vision 2030 anticipated a knowledge-based economy. Yet Kenya’s ‘Knowledge Agenda’ isn’t crystallized yet. Plans to hold Nairobi’s 1st Knowledge Week later this year is commendable. Time is nigh to start considering knowledge an asset, monetarizeable. Kenya has some of the world’s best minds, and it is unfortunate that we haven’t made best use of them. You find them in places like Tesla, NASA, Boeing, among others. This is why the unfortunate claim by Michael Joseph that the late doyen Bob Collymore was ‘a white man in black skin’ cannot go uncondemned. Such are the disdain that our leaders brood. Kenya and people of colour by extension, are among the world’s finest. GPS and M-Pesa are just but a few of their remarkable innovations.
At the roundtables, I pleasantly learnt there is a Forum of Former Vice Chancellors and DVCs chaired by Prof (Emeritus) Richard Musangi. I ponder where we would be if we deployed our finest brains in the most appropriate places. What am yet to find are Forums for Kenyan Professors and Economists. In the other roundtable, I was astounded but not surprised to learn Google, Facebook, Huawei, etc, individually have more data on Kenya and Kenyans than all Kenyan governments together, including counties. These should be cause for concern.