The Computer Society of Kenya

Since 1986

mwendeDAILY NATION By NANJIRA SAMBULI

When it comes to ICT in Africa, Kenya is rightfully feted as a success story. With impressive connectivity rates, we could genuinely be talking of last-mile connectivity.

The latest quarterly sector statistics report indicates that we are looking at an Internet penetration rate of 87.2 per cent, of which 99.4 per cent is through mobile.

Furthermore, 99.4 per cent of Kenya’s population has access to 2G network services whereas 78 per cent has access to 3G services. 

Yet there is more to the high percentages than meets the eye. First, only 18.6 per cent of Kenyans subscribe to a paid broadband plan, and while 78 per cent have access to 3G coverage, we can't say for sure that it is always reliable or accessible

Then, as has been previously pointed out, there are a number of things that the CA reports do notcapture.

The quality of Internet access for many Kenyans is relegated to technical discussions, with much less media attention, despite being a critical component that should inform public discourse and agenda-shaping for Internet and ICT development.

For Kenya to truly be a leader in the "digital revolution", our policymakers and policymaking processes must take a number of factors into account, to avoid taking one step forward and three backwards. In ICT policy, socio-cultural factors are just as important as infrastructural ones.

Homing in on the varied experiences of different demographic groups on the Internet, the picture isn’t quite as rosy.

Nairobi, home of many exciting things in ICT and the Internet economy, has one of the widest gender gaps on Internet use. This emerged in a 2015 study on whether the Internet is actually empowering women, in which nine cities, including Nairobi, were studied.

'UNREALISTIC' PRICES

This gap seems to follow gender gaps in education levels, that is, education is one of the most important socio-economic drivers of the gender gap in ICT.

In a digital gender gap audit scorecard for Kenya produced by the Web Foundation, it emerged that only 20 per cent of women in Nairobi's slums were connected to the Internet, versus 57 per cent of men.

Further, one gigabyte (1GB) of prepaid data costs more than 6 per cent of average monthly income in Kenya. Women in the study said that prices are “unrealistic” and prevent them from getting online.

Not only is access wanting, but the cost of getting and staying online is also downright prohibitive, especially for women.

So, as the government and development partners urge young people to create jobs via the Internet, just how should women realise this when the odds are stacked against them on a policy level? Not to mention safety concerns: one in five Kenyan women surveyed reported having experienced online harassment.

This matters, because it indicates that for all the progress made in connecting Kenya to the Internet, a core constituency that also makes up more than half of the country’s population is missing out on the benefits accrued.

WOMEN-FRIENDLY SPACES

Considering how many conveniences in delivering services, amplifying voices and driving demand are increasingly enjoyed and accelerated online, this is a sobering finding.

Still, others might argue, the Internet is a long way off in taking centre stage in the social, political and economic life for many Kenyans anyway.

That may be true, but the fact is, we cannot afford to have yet another great tool and resource expand the gender divide that we have been working so hard to close. Further, as Nancy Hafkin rightfully notes:

“Despite the views of many government policy makers that a well thought out general policy benefits all, there is no such thing as a gender-blind or gender-neutral ICT policy. Governments also say that the fact that they already have a gender equality policy obviates the need to spell out gender issues in every sectoral policy. On the contrary, there is much evidence to show that “policy-making in technological fields often ignores the needs, requirements, and aspirations of women unless gender analysis is included…

The fact of the matter is, Kenya, like many other countries, has a window of opportunity to correct a decades-old blunder of consciously, or subconsciously, not considering gender issues in policy implementation, much less so with formulation.

For instance, the draft National ICT Policy, whose public consultation phase just closed, pays some lip service to gender considerations. Can it, however, be considered a gender-responsive ICT policy?

In the case of prospective or nascent ICT initiatives, we have the laudable effort by the Ministry of ICT and the Constituency Development Fund Committee to establish innovation hubs in the 290 constituencies of Kenya, offering free Internet.

This is a great step in addressing a key policy recommendation for advancing Internet access in developing countries, that is, setting up public access Internet facilities, though we have been hearing of government-sponsored ICT hubs across the country for the better part of the last decade with very little to show for it.

Will these hubs be user-friendly to women? Will they be safe spaces for women to get to, to work from? Will there be special considerations regarding socio-cultural challenges to time (when can women also use these spaces, considering the duties women are expected to be attending to during "work hours", especially in rural communities)?

ELITE CAPTURE

Access alone doesn’t translate to empowerment. That holds true for life offline as well as online, and must be a factor loaded in our discussions and assessments of where we stand in realising the “Silicon Savannah” vision.

As the digital gender gap audit overall scorecard by the Web Foundation notes, the good news is that

Women’s exclusion from the digital revolution is primarily due to policy failure, and policy failure can be reversed. Rapid progress is possible in all countries through simple steps like reducing the cost to connect, introducing digital literacy in schools, and expanding public access facilities.

So next time a statistic or study about Kenya’s progress in ICT and Internet adoption is paraded, assess and question if and how women, rural communities, the urban poor, young people, persons with disabilities and any other marginalised communities are explicitly factored into a policy implementation.

The uncomfortable fact is that advances and benefits in Internet and ICT are falling prey to elite capture the world over. Kenya, as noted before, can truly emerge a leader on the ICT front, but that leadership, and true success will only be realised by considering how women, and other marginalised groups are benefiting from the Internet’s transformative potential.

Share this page