Kenya Rolls Out Digital Villages Project
Rebecca Wanjiku, IDG News Service
April 02, 2008
Tuesday kicked off an ambitious Digital Villages project
designed to connect
the whole country, from rural to urban areas, and
accelerate growth of
information communication technology (ICT).
The project is a government
and private-sector initiative, mapped out
using political districts. Every
constituency represented in
Parliament will get a minimum of eight
workstations, either PCs or
monitors hooked to PCs, grouped within a
The first Digital Villages are expected to go
online by the end of
June. The Ministry of Youth Affairs' Youth Enterprise
Fund (YEF) is
financing the project, rolling it out in 40 constituencies
moving to other areas. The experiences of the first constituencies
will inform implementation in other areas.
and the need to develop local content and
software applications will
challenge the initiative, but officials
have high hopes.
Digital Village will have a VSAT base station and will be
expected to form
the basis for e-commerce in the country," said
Bitange Ndemo, the permanent
secretary in the Ministry of Information
expects young entrepreneurs to borrow from the YEF. The
Ministry of Youth
Affairs is financing private microfinance
institutions, and prospective
businesspeople are expected to invest
at least 100,000 Kenyan shillings
(US$1,550) to set up a "digital
village" with two PCs. The ministry says it
will provide training in
entrepreneurship, and the microfinance institutions
The project will have far-reaching
effects for online activities in
agriculture, health, education and
commerce, according to Ndemo. For
example, instead of nurses and doctors
from rural areas going to the
city for education, the project can deliver
the courses online.
Remote hospitals have not been attractive to doctors
because opportunities for career development there are limited.
the online courses, the remote hospitals may be more attractive.
The major contribution to the health sector will be the ability to
deliver health services to remote areas through online consultation.
With the computer and Internet connectivity, a doctor can take a
scan it, and send it to a doctor in the referral hospital for
The plan has some critics. Joseph Kamau, a 22-year-old Nairobi
businessman, does not think the project will benefit relatives who
in a village. He argues that most people walk long distances to
and may not have the time to wait until a local doctor's
e-mail is answered.
Ndemo argues that once people get used to Digital Village technology,
they will design appropriate mechanisms to make it a success.
is the simple but horrible truth that most people in the U.S.
never think about Africans," Ndemo said. "Digital villages
international communications. The people cease to be
items that seem exotic and come from a village
are hot consumer items in
upscale fashion stores in the U.S."
The Internet will be used to sell all
sorts of items made by people
in the village to supplement farming income,
This argument was supported by David Owino from Kenya Data
(KDN), a private sector project partner, who argued that the
will spur competition and innovation between rural and urban areas
Mary Njoki, a resident of Murang'a (about 100kms from
uses a computer in her secretarial job, feels that the project
benefit mainly young people. "Does my mother have time to start
learning about computers now? No, because most of her time is spent
the farm," Njoki said.
E-commerce projects will be spearheaded by the
who will replace the current middlemen, known to exploit
Njoki said. She foresees the new generation of middlemen as being
mainly online, and business being transacted over the phone compared
current practice, where people walk long distances to communicate
The Digital Villages project is also meant to spur the
process outsourcing (BPO) industry, and will encourage young people
to target local businesses and local offices that could outsource
BPO possibilities include schools (for end-of-term
hospitals (record entry and maintenance), local municipal
(customer care), supermarkets and shops (record keeping and data
entry) and government offices (public support). Most people who come
Nairobi every morning from rural areas visit government offices
reason or another. Some of them have simple queries that
could be answered
at the click of a button.
Software development in rural areas and
maintenance of PCs used in
the Digital Villages project, however, are sure
to be a challenge.
Kenya has focused on hardware and infrastructure, but
software development and local content, according to Barrack
a Nairobi-based technology expert.
"Unless we have proper
strategies in place to govern software
development issues, then the issues
of local content might as well be
a pipe dream. We need to encourage
development of local solutions,"
Industry insiders hope
that innovative Kenyans will use local
languages to develop content and make
Internet navigation easier for
people in the country. The government is in
the process of digitizing
all records from the chaotic Ministry of Lands to
according to Ndemo.
Digitizing public information and
ways to access it easily is the
first goal of the Digital Village project.
Up to now, there has been no concerted effort to convince Kenyans to
develop and share content. Most sites visited by Kenyans are free e-
sites. This means that, although cable infrastructure is being
country will continue paying for international traffic.
project has been pegged on the much-hyped fiber-optic
cables that are
currently being built. Though the project will first
be implemented using
VSAT, fiber connections will be used when
available. The government hopes
that the cable infrastructure will
lower the cost of bandwidth and
facilitate Internet connection.
Using VSAT technology, the cost of a
Digital Villages setup would be
about 325,000 shillings (US$5,000), and
bandwidth for 128/256k bps
would be 87,750 shillings (US$ 1350) per month.
This would be a stiff
price for many businesses. With the fiber-optic
competition is expected to deliver higher quality of service
Kenya is currently expecting four cables to land
in the coastal city
of Mombasa in two years: TEAMs, a cable project between
government and the private sector; SEACOM, backed by the U.S.; EASSY,
a pan-African cable; and Flag, an initiative from India.
fiber-optic cable is expected to be finished by January of
next year, while
the others have not set a definite timeline.
Copyright © 2008 IDG News
Service. All rights reserved. IDG News
Service is a trademark of
International Data Group,