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Science and Technology Development

To succeed, Kenya only needs to look within

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

“So how are you enjoying living in paradise?” Michael Geerts, the former German ambassador to Kenya asked me the other day.   He was posted in Nairobi during the difficult years in the end of the 1990s, and continues to stay in touch with a country he loves dearly. Many colleagues, who once worked in Kenya have bought houses in Nairobi, and plan to retire in the “city under the sun”. But not everybody shares their passion and faith in the country’s future. There are many pessimists who feel that the country is moving in the wrong direction. Kenya, they say, will never rid itself from grand corruption, and crime such as drug trafficking will continue to flourish.
 
Are they seeing the same country? Maybe both perspectives are right, because Kenya is a country of extremes.

Big data and development: “The second half of the chess board”

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Do you think Fortune 500 CEOs care about Africa? In the past, frankly, with the exception of oil and gas giants, they didn’t. But this is changing… and fast.

This week, IBM is opening its Africa innovation hub in Nairobi. To demonstrate the significance of the occasion, IBM has brought along all its senior team, led by CEO Ginni Rometty (named #1 most powerful woman in business by Forbes in 2012). Like other ICT companies, IBM wants to ride the wave of Africa’s ICT revolution. In this area, Africa has not only been catching up with the West, but is in fact overtaking it in areas such as mobile money.

Data – The next frontier of Development

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

How is the digital tide taking care of the digital divide? Do you remember the digital divide? At the start of the new millennium, there was global concern that poor countries, especially in Africa, would be twice left out: economically and also technologically. Fortunately, the digital divide never became a global challenge. In fact, it is closing faster than anyone had imagined. In some parts of the developing world there are even budding signs of possible digital overtaking.

Kenya is one of few African countries driving in the fast lane. Over the past decade, it has experienced a sweeping “digital tide”. Today, Kenya will cross the 30 million threshold of active cell phone numbers, up 29,000 from 12 years ago! Almost everyone can now afford to buy a phone, which sell for as little as Ksh 500 (or US$5) on the flourishing second hand market.

How can the mobile revolution lift up Tanzania’s poor?

Isis Gaddis's picture

Let's think together: Every week the World Bank team in Tanzania wants to stimulate your thinking by sharing data from recent official surveys in Tanzania and ask you a couple of questions. This post is also published in the Tanzanian Newspaper The Citizen every Sunday.

Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced a boom in mobile phone users over the past decade. The total number of cell phone subscriptions on the continent increased from just over 11 million in 2000 to 463 million in 2011 and is expected to grow even further. This technology not only affects day-to-day life and communication, but has the potential to boost economic development directly and indirectly.

In creating jobs, for instance, mobile phone technology has contributed towards the reduction of poverty. But more important are its indirect effects on the economy such as the increased connectivity of firms and micro-enterprises which increases their access to information and facilitates the movement of money through mobile transfers.

How Kenya became a world leader for mobile money

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

What if anyone owning a cell-phone, whether rich or poor, also had access to financial services with the ability to save and send money safely, no matter where they are located?  This is not science fiction; in fact it is already happening in Kenya, which has become the world’s market leader in mobile money.

Today, Kenya has more cell-phone subscriptions than adult citizens and more than 80 percent of those with a cell phone also use “mobile money” (or “M-PESA” which is very different from “mobile banking” as Michael Joseph–the former Safaricom CEO, and the man behind that revolution—can explain passionately!).  

Internet access is also increasing rapidly, even though many are complaining about poor service by some operators. Within the next two years, Kenya could become one of the most connected, and modern economies in the developing world, and a unique case among the world’s poorer countries, that have an average annual income of below US$ 1000 per capita (see figure).

Will oil be a blessing or a curse for Kenya? – Lessons from Indonesia and the rest of the world

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

This piece was co-authored with Günther Schulze1.

Kenya may have found oil in Turkana that could change the development trajectory for the country. In 2011, Kenya spent US$ 4.1 billion on oil imports, equivalent to approximately 100,000 barrels per day. For Kenya to become a net oil exporter, the resources in Turkana would need to be substantial and similar to those of Sudan or Chad. 

If indeed Kenya has substantial oil reserves, will they benefit the country in the long-term?

Some observers are predicting similar problems as in Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and many other resource-rich African countries where corruption has been amplified.

Others argue that this need not be the case. Countries as diverse as Botswana, Chile and Norway have shown that natural resources can be a blessing. If managed well, they can even support the fight against poverty by providing the resources needed to scale up the delivery of public services. In the last ten years, many of the world’s fastest growing economies, including in Africa, have benefitted from exporting natural resources.

So who should we believe?

Who ends up being more accountable - governments or citizens?

Stuti Khemani's picture

In our (justifiable) enthusiasm for transparency, we rarely ask whether information provision leads private citizens to help themselves, thereby relieving governments of their responsibilities. If so, we may not be quite there (yet) in finding tools that improve government accountability.

Take the case of community radio, a classic tool for information sharing for accountability in Africa. It is supposed to organize communities and (literally) give voice to the opinions and needs of the marginalized. It also carries public interest messages, communicating the importance of health, education, and democratic values. New data from Benin, a country with a vibrant community radio network, show that people in poorer and far-flung regions are able to access news and information, and share views, because of this medium.

But these data yield some surprising results.

In villages with greater access to community radio, where people are more informed about the value of services, they are more likely to invest their own, private resources in health and education. More informed households are more likely to purchase bed nets from government officials, paying for this public health good to combat malaria, even though nets are supposed to be distributed free.

Recent reforms in Sierra Leone: Beating the effects of global economic downturn

Vijay Pillai's picture

Pay phone operator in FreetownThe year 2011 ended on a high note for the reformers in Sierra Leone.  There were two significant reforms which the government saw through – reforms that had been long overdue, but which now hold the potential of unleashing new investments and economic growth in the country.  Can Sierra Leone’s use these reforms to beat the potential effects of a global economic downturn?  One hopes so.

The energy sector in Sierra Leone has long faced under-investments. Not very long ago Freetown had the dubious distinction of being the darkest capital in the world and the Bumbuna dam remained elusive.

Landlocked or Policy-Locked?

Aaditya Mattoo's picture

We are used to thinking of landlocked countries as victims of geography.  We worry that Ethiopia, Mali, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, among others, cannot benefit fully from flows of trade, tourism and knowledge.  But do these countries use policies to improve connectivity and offset the handicap of location?

A new services policy database shows a perverse pattern. Landlocked countries tend to restrict trade in key “linking” services like transport and telecommunications more than other countries. 

Zambia, for example, bravely liquidated its national airline in 1994, but it still denies “fifth freedom rights” to Ethiopia to fly the Addis Ababa-Lusaka-Johannesburg route, and to Kenya to fly the Nairobi-Lusaka-Harare route.  In fact, the restrictive policies of many African countries make a mockery of the decade- old Yamoussoukro Decision (and a subsequent COMESA agreement) to liberalize air transport.

Kenya’s telecom revolution and the impact of mobile money

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Our third “Kenya Economic Update” – Kenya at the Tipping Point? – notes Kenya’s strong economic recovery in 2010 reaching 4.9 percent of GDP. For 2011, we forecast growth of 5.3 percent.  The special Focus on the ICT Revolution and mobile money captures the economic momentum which is now spreading across Africa. Kenya now has 21 million phone subscribers, the vast majority connected by cell phones.

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