Despite being one of the youngest organizations in the region, the East African Communications Organization (EACO) has made remarkable strides towards enhancing integration within the East African region through Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).
You will agree with me that without a good communications network, East Africans cannot conduct effective cross-border business. There cannot be meaningful integration within the Community without effective connectivity across the region. I therefore wish to commend EACO and its members for continuing to champion this cause.
I wish to encourage EACO and its membership to continue spearheading and accelerating the opening up of the region by availing seamless connectivity to our people.
To date, the East African community region is home to over 168 million people, which, by all standards, is a huge market. Harmonization of ICT policies and regulatory frameworks, therefore accords the region the opportunity to create a single and bigger East African market, which will in turn enhance the allure of the region as an investment destination.
Enhanced ICT investments in the region have the potential to spur growth and investment in other sectors of the economy and thus create additional employment and business opportunities for our youth as well as additional revenue streams for our governments.
In general terms, the East African countries share more or less the same challenges in the ICT and indeed other sectors of the economy. EACO therefore presents a good forum for the region to deliberate and come up with solutions to our common problems and challenges.
In this regard, I am aware that people living at border areas within the region have for long continued experiencing the problem of forced roaming as a result of cross-border mobile network interferences. This has resulted in residents of the affected border areas paying higher roaming charges to access mobile telecommunications services.
I am also aware that this matter has remained on the agenda of EACO for a long time, but still remains largely unresolved. I therefore call on mobile network operators within the region to prioritize this matter, and to work hand in hand with their counterparts within the region to ensure this problem is solved once and for all.
I also wish to urge ICT regulators across the region, to crack the whip where necessary, with a view to ensuring that mobile operators optimize their networks to provide services within their licence parameters and the confines of national boundaries.
I am happy to note that all East African countries have, without exception, opened up their ICT markets, ushering in private sector participation in deployment of ICT services.
As a result, the uptake of ICT services particularly mobile telecommunications has grown far beyond initial Government projections. As I speak, on average, over 80% of the East African residents have access to mobile voice services, which has opened up myriad opportunities for our people and governments.
Unfortunately, criminals are increasingly misusing ICT infrastructure to perpetrate crimes, including terrorism and kidnaps. To help law enforcement agencies within the region to track down these criminals, mobile network operators must strictly adhere to the SIM card registration requirements.
If some countries or mobile operators do not enforce SIM card registration to the letter, criminal elements shall continue misusing unregistered SIM cards from neighboring countries to perpetrate criminal activities across our borders.
In light of the recent upsurge in the misuse of mobile phone devices across the region, we must work together in the fight against entry and use of counterfeit devices on our mobile networks. I say this because counterfeit devices that are denied service in one country within the region, usually find their way in the networks of neighbouring countries.
These devices, like unregistered SIM cards, are hard to track down in case of misuse for criminal purposes. EACO membership must therefore see how best to help governments deal with the menace of counterfeits. I am positive that EACO is up to the task.
The status of the ICT sector in Kenya
The sector has continued posting positive growth since liberalization in 1999. In 2017, for instance, the sector expanded by 11% compared to 9.7% in 2016. This growth was principally driven by improved performance in the telecommunication sub-sector, which rose by 12.7% in 2017.
Over the years, the local ICT sector has made a positive contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to the 2017 Economic Survey, the sector’s contribution to the GDP increased to 8.6% in 2017 from 6.1% in 2016, buoyed by expansion in the digital economy through mobile telephony, and e-commerce.
I am gratified to report that the sector is expected to remain on a growth trajectory in 2018, and beyond. This is expected to be further enhanced by the recent signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will provide a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments.
The Government of Kenya has taken bold and deliberate steps to stimulate the infrastructure development and uptake of ICTs services.
Some of the initiatives under implementation include deployment of terrestrial fibre optic connectivity to the 47-county headquarters through the National Optic Fibre Backbone Infrastructure (NOFBI). This investment is geared towards ensuring that the country leverages on the current 850,000Mbps high-speed international bandwidth capacity.
It is expected that once this project is fully implemented, the Government will be able to offer a host of online services in all parts of the country. In addition, it will enhance the provision of government services, make them more efficient and cost-effective and the government ultimately will be more accessible to its citizenry.
I urge ICT experts to ensure that the region and continent keep up the pace in implementation of global communications initiatives. Majority of countries in the region, are behind in adoption of IPV6 sand national addressing systems. We must move fast so as to enhance global competitiveness as a region.
I pledge the support of the Government of Kenya to all EACO initiatives, including support towards the ongoing drive to have EACO mainstreamed as an organ of the East African Community (EAC). You can count on us for our unwavering support towards making EACO the driver of the region’s ICT industry.
By Joe Mucheru, EGH,
Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT.