Is e-governance the answer to Kenya’s pressing socio-economic problems?

Kenya pushes ahead with its e-governance plans in spite of social, economic and political setbacks.

According to the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, developing nations can expect to reap sustainability dividends through the inclusive application of digital technology and multistakeholder partnerships in their ‘well-managed digital transformation and digital government’ systems. Kenya, as is the case with many other countries in the Global South, has undertaken massive projects in an effort to digitise government services. In fact, the Kenyan President promises to onboard some 7000 services to its eCitizen platform by the end of 2023, in keeping with the National Digital Master Plan for 2022-2032.

However, it appears unlikely that all Kenyans will be able to benefit from all e-services. Of the country’s 54 million, urban areas register a 47 percent internet penetration rate and rural areas 17 percent, for an overall 33 percent rate. Moreover, these rates signal setbacks for the government’s value for money and can exacerbate existing inequalities. Kenya’s existing digital infrastructure has also been the subject of costly cyber breaches. For instance, its mobile banking platform, M-Pesa, lost some USD 40 million within a year.

Despite the myriad issues with the uptake of digital services, what stands out as most daunting to government plans are the voices of dissent, claiming that the government is using technology for privacy erosion, suppression of expression and dissent, and the manipulation of the democratic process. Naysayers claim that government should instead seek to first attend to core systemic issues such as the cost of living. 

Altogether, at the recently held e-Governance Conference in Tallinn, Estonia, the Kenyan government confirmed its commitment to a digital future, particularly with the underserved in mind and in partnership with Estonia and regional organisations such as the Digital for Development Hub (D4D) and the African Union-European Union (AU-EU).