Information and communications technology is driving an entrepreneurial boom in Kenya, and it is youth at the forefront of creating new businesses.
Young entrepreneurs such as Jacob Otieno, the founder of Tablets for Schools, and Danson Muchemi, the founder of Jambopay, are some of the emerging trailblazers in this vibrant space.
But it is the concerted government and private sector push to build telecoms infrastructure and digital services that is helping to catalyse the trend.
The Communication Authority of Kenya’s (CA) latest statistics place the country’s Internet penetration at 90 per cent or 43.3 million users as at the end of June this year, compared to 37.7 million the previous year.
According to The Kenya Youth Report 2016 by Aga Khan University, the median age in Kenya is 19 years and 80 per cent of the population is below 35.
People aged 15 to 24 are striving to get a good education, but the promise of gainful employment in the formal sector remains elusive.
Yet many of Kenya’s digital natives aim to become self-sufficient by starting businesses of their own — with connectivity and digital platforms offering them efficient new ways to access information, market businesses, conduct transactions and connect with customers.
As enthusiastic users of the latest technology, they are creating their own opportunities using social platforms, cloud software and other digital tools.
The way young people find or carry out work is changing.
They are shunning newspaper classifieds in favour of online job listings and social networks.
Young entrepreneurs are using social media to promote businesses; others are deploying cloud platforms to get up-and-running with new services or offering mobile payments to customers.
This is why the government and other stakeholders are accelerating the rollout of digital services and deepening ICT infrastructure to open new horizons for youth.
Among the initiatives is the Ajira platform where youth access online jobs.
Another exciting development is Kenya’s emergence as East Africa’s tech hub capital.
Private sector infrastructure players such as Seacom are partnering with innovation hubs to nurture opportunities in the platform economy.
These hubs include iHub, 88mph, Nailab in Nairobi and SwahiliPot Hub in Mombasa.
Seacom sponsors them with adequate Internet connectivity so the hubs can help address many of the problems that young digital entrepreneurs face.
These include inadequate support structures, and a lack of mentorship and collaboration.
By addressing these issues, the hubs create employment.
The government has also launched initiatives to harness ICT for youth by providing education, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.
A good example is by harnessing the Universal Service Fund (USF).
The USF, an initiative by the government, pushes the ICT sector to be an enabler in the country.
This fund aims to ensure that all Kenyans have low-cost access to modern, high quality communication services and to provide opportunities for young entrepreneurs.
This initiative has also promoted the rollout of communications infrastructure and services in rural and underserved areas to improve public participation and increase tech know-how.
In a statement released for International Youth Day 2012, the former UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon describes youth as a transformative force, who are creative, resourceful and enthusiastic agents of change.
Whether it is in public squares or cyberspace, there is an urgent need to tap into this latent energy and creativity.
Mr Tugee is Seacom head of regional sales in East Africa. [email protected]