Will the Konza Techno City Redefine Kenya's BPO Industry?
Internet Penetration in Kenya
Kenya is ranked as the fourth country in Africa with the highest number of Internet users and penetration. This brings it a little after Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt in that order.
As of June 2012, up to 13 million Kenyans had access to the internet, and Facebook, which has somehow evolved as a measure of internet penetration and popularity, boosted of more than 2 million users in Kenya.
One would expect that with this high level of internet penetration, many Kenyans would be able to seize and fully utilize the many enterprise opportunities offered by the internet. But the reality is far from that! Either the Kenyans with access to the internet do not know about the many online jobs and money-making opportunities available via the internet, or most of them have well-paying jobs that keep them from exploiting online jobs and earning opportunities.
If you consider that many Kenyans with access to the internet come from middle-income social circles, then the second reasoning could have some weight. In fact, I always find myself too busy with my job to fully expand my online exploits.
The other reason which explains why Kenya is yet to gain traction with the online income-generating jobs and activities is that most users access the internet through lowly cellphones and other mobile gadgets which are not well configured for maximum online exploits. Apart from the mobile devices, many other users access the internet through internet shops (known as cybercafes) which charge astronomical prices, and operate on slower-than average internet speed. All these factors combined together make Kenya lapse way back in utilizing the many online income-generating offers available.
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Will the Konza Technopolis City Solve the Problem?
The government's solution to creating online employment for its people has been the creation of an ultramodern internet city known as the Konza Techno City.
It is expected that Konza City will boost Business Process Out-shoring (BPO) opportunities in the country, commence the Provision of Information Technology Enhanced Services (ITES) in the region and create 200,000 jobs annually. The Techno city, which is in lieu with Kenya's Vision 2030 is in fact expected to convert Kenya into a Business Processes Off-shoring destination and increase demand for the country's BPO services globally.
The question that each one of us needs to ask themselves however is how prepared are Kenyans to seize the BPO opportunities that Konza will spring up? Does the country have the requisite human resource to fill the opportunities or will we end up doing odd jobs even as foreigners seize the hi-tech jobs?
Do Kenyans have the capital needed to invest in the African Silicon Savanna or will they let or the investment opportunities go to monopolistic multinational companies? If the investors who have already proposed to invest in Konza City is anything to go by, then I am afraid, the Kenyan Silicon Savanna is just but another big economic flop in the country, as happened with the Anglo-leasing saga.
Current Status of the BPO-ITES Industry in Kenya
Just like with other online exploits from which Kenyans can earn a quick online buck, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector remains largely underutilized. The main reason behind this remains lack of clear BPO policy and a competent human resource to handle complicated BPO opportunities.
While the World BPO giants are handling more lucrative BPO services like software development, engineering services and high-end actuarial services, Kenya remains tied to low-end call center and customer care services.
Slow internet connection, lack of funding and high cost of bandwidth have also been identified as reasons why the BPO industry in the country seems to have stagnated.
Konza Techno City: Way Forward
- Need For Capital and Other Incentives to Invest in Konza
The Kenyan government has advised local Konza Techno City potential investors to form micro-finance groups that would pool their capitals together for investment in the City. Faced with the high amount of capital involved in investing in Konza, this seems to be the only option for small scale investors. The other option is that lacking a presence in the African Silicon Savanna, the countries population will be left no option than to play cheap labour providers to the multinational investors. This will clearly not move majority of the population to middle-income status, which is the key objective of the Kenya Vision 2030.
- Developing Competent Human Resource to Equip Konza City
The other hurdle that the government needs to get past is the need for manpower to equip Konza. To do this the government will have to lay down policies for offering sustainable and competent Information Technology Education to its massive population of the youth.
Already, the country's president-elect, Mr. Uhuru kenyatta, has promised that his government will offer solar-powered laptops to pupils entering the first grade of education. If this is to go by, then the country won't have much to worry in terms of personnel come 2030. Currently, though, the average annual graduation of ICT students from Kenyan universities stands at about 30,000. This is way below the 200,000 annual jobs that Konza city is supposed to create. in fact, the greatest hurdle ever since the BPO industry started growing roots in the country has been need for skilled manpower.
- Competition With BPO industries from Developed Countries
The other immediate challenge that the country will have to craft ways to deal with is competition from countries whose BPO/ITES sector is already thriving, specifically China, India and the Philippines.
To understand the type of competitors that the Kenyan BPO/ITES sector is up against, an understanding of the legal frameworks, incentives and operational procedures for these countries is necessary. For example, in India the government introduces school pupils to ICT and Science at a very tender age while in South Africa BPO investors receive funding from the government.
Competition is however not seen as a big challenge as the Kenya Vision 2030 Board believes that by the year 2014, the BPO opportunities available around the world will be too many that the three leading countries will not be able to cope with the whole bulk. The question which raises eyebrows thus remains, will Kenya have trained enough human resource to fill in the gap by that time?
- Marketing and Branding Konza City as a BPO/ITES Hub
There is need for the key stakeholders to market and brand Konza for investors. This will not only help the country and the maiden Konza City to compete favorably with the giants, but will also develop a positive image for investors and employers to understand what the Kenyan BPO industry has to offer. Vigorous PR has to be done to position the country and the city in the eyes of investors and potential customers.