Who would have thought, 20 years ago, that a poor African country would become a powerhouse of global innovation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT)? Definitely not me! As student on a long road trip through Africa in 1990, I often struggled to make expensive calls home to Europe. Making an international call typically involved finding an Indian-African merchant, who was one of the few people with a phone that could connect you to other parts of the world, in theory. In practice, I often waited for at least an hour and, when I was lucky enough to get through, paid the equivalent of what today would be about 600 Shillings per minute.
Now zoom back to today and look at the abundance of mobile devices, even in the poorest parts of Africa, and incredibly low calling rates. This year Kenyans could call the US from their cell phones for as little as 3 Shillings per minute! Something extremely remarkable must have happened. In describing the transformation of the telecom industry over the last 10-15 years in Africa, especially in Kenya, the term “revolution” is not an exaggeration.
Since 2000, the Kenyan ICT sector has grown on average 20 percent each year, outperforming every other sector by a wide margin (the second best performer was hotels and restaurants which grew at 8 percent). The ICT sector has been driving growth in Kenya: without it, instead of the 3.7 percent average growth it achieved, the economy would have seen lackluster growth of 2.8 percent (barely enough to keep up with population growth).