KENYA: Crisis shows the importance of strong ICT policy
If the Kenyan lawmakers had debated and approved the recent ICT Bill put before parliament, some of the communications issues raised by the recent political crisis in that country would have been more easily dealt with, argues KICTANeT's Alice Wanjira.
CHAKULA: I understand Kenya's bid to host the African round of the ICANN [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] meeting has failed? Can you tell me more about the bid effort, what your expectations where, and what went wrong?
Alice Wanjira [AW]: Expectations were to host the November 2008 ICANN Africa meeting. This was a joint CCK [Communications Commission of Kenya], KENIC [Kenya Network Information Centre] and TESPOK [Telecommunications Service Providers Association of Kenya], effort. CCK and KENIC would've been the official hosts. We had support from a number of other African countries including Senegal and Uganda that had expressed a similar interest in hosting the meeting. They had dropped their bid, to support Kenya. However, due to political and civil unrest ICANN choose not to consider Kenya's bid. ICANN mentioned that they had followed developments in relation to the civil and political unrest in Kenya very closely and it was with deep regret that they had made their decision not to consider Kenya's bid. All is not lost though and we intend to put in a bid for the next round of African ICANN meetings, which will be in 2010. Further, the team work that was manifested in the run up to the bid efforts was exemplary and just went to prove that Kenyans are a force to reckon with. It also created a great opportunity for those of us involved in ICANN to create awareness and get a better understanding of ICANN's operations and policies, as well as of internet governance and policy in general, and to share that with other stakeholders. Most importantly, we had the support of our government through the ministry of information and communication and CCK.
CHAKULA: Have any other similar ICT events or initiatives been affected?
[AW]: Apart from an increase in investor uncertainty, the turmoil affected all facets of our economy mainly through the destruction of production, disruption of access to raw materials, disruption of distribution and supply channels, security concerns, displacement of labour, scarcity of fuel in some parts of Kenya, and other things. In the ICT "sector" nearly everyone was affected, from Kenya's bid to host a couple of ICT related meetings (e.g ICANN and UPU [Universal Postal Union]), to our BPO [business processing outsourcing] sector, to day-to-day telecommunications operations -- mostly the challenge of dealing with the magnitude of hate sms. The crisis has triggered a multitude of questions and issues which will most certainly benefit from us looking at them analytically with the aim of developing appropriate policy. One example is the issue of hate sms: it brings into question the effects of the ban vs possible censorship of "live" content and coverage by informal networks, such as blogs etc.
CHAKULA: It seems the electoral crisis has already hampered ICT initiatives in the country - at one point there seemed to be some doubt about investments in some of the cable projects? Is this true?
[AW]: Not true. Our investment in the east African sub marine system (TEAMs) has remained on course. Major milestones have already been archived, including the completion of a marine survey, the completion of a detailed feasibility study, environmental impact assessment, putting in place landing points in Kenya and the UAE, as well as the awarding of the US$82-million to Alcatel Lucent to build the cable. Doubts were obviously created by competing initiatives like SEACOM, among others.
CHAKULA: How has the crisis affected ICT policy development in Kenya, if at all?
[AW]: What the crisis has done is bring to the fore our lack of appropriate policies in all sectors (e.g the hate sms brought up issues of media/broadcast policies and regulation, privacy vs security issues, content issues etc.) All these were issues that were going to be dealt with by the Kenya ICT Bill, which never made it for discussion in parliament. My hope is that as a result the government and indeed most stakeholders will want to see ICT policy development speed up and most importantly to integrate the lessons we have learn from the crisis.
CHAKULA: Are you optimistic about the peace deal? What is the general mood in the country going forward?
[AW]: The mediation process, which brokered the "peace deal" should be applauded for the success it achieved in raising some of the most significant concerns. However, it is important that the peace deal goes beyond the sharing of power and urgently extends to deal with the context which precipitated the crisis. In particular: the underlying issues of corruption, weal institutions, security, electoral and constitutional failure as well as ethnicisation of politics, and rights, among others. This is necessary in order to lay the framework for finding a lasting resolution. Significant work in most of the areas of reform has already been done in various constitutional drafts and also by government commissions and task forces, so we would not be starting from scratch. It is great to be able to drive out and encounter the typical chaotic traffic jam; to debate over ICT issues. For me and for most other Kenyans I believe we needed that peace deal at all costs.