Last week I visited a school run by an NGO called New Dawn Kenya www.newdawnkenya.com. The school is in an informal settlement in the affluent Runda residential area. The appetite for education and knowledge among the students was a thing of beauty to see. These are extremely disadvantaged young people with an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
What struck home for me was that the majority of them had never accessed information on the Internet. This issue is an emotional one for me. As a hyper-connected Kenyan I have always taken for granted access to the Internet for the last few years. Over the last few years Internet usage and penetration levels have increased phenomenally.
Kenya records 95.63 % increase in Internet use over the last 12 months
What is sad about this phenomenally encouraging story is that it seems that this growth hasn’t penetrated to the less advantaged population in Kenya. It is a state of affairs that cannot be allowed to continue for much longer if we are to achieve our vision of becoming a middle class economy country by 2030 according to Vision 2030.
According to a story in Mashable.com:-
Is Internet access and online freedom of expression a basic human right? The United Nations’ Human Rights Council unanimously backed that notion in a resolution on Thursday.
The resolution says that all people should be allowed to connect to and express themselves freely on the Internet. All 47 members of the Human Rights Council, including notoriously censorship-prone countries such as China and Cuba, signed the resolution.
UN declares access to the Internet a Human Rights
There are proponents and opponents of this new move by the UN. Lets set aside these two arguments for a moment and see where a nation’s competitive advantage in today’s hyper-connected world comes from.
According to the World Economic Forum there are 12 Pillars that measure a country’s competitiveness. These pillars encompass a number of principals which include encompass theories such as specialisation and the division of labor to neoclassical economists’ emphasis on investment in physical capital and infrastructure and, more recently, to interest in other mechanisms such as education and training, technological progress, macroeconomic stability, good governance, firm sophistication, and market efficiency, among others. These 12 Pillars then are:-
Note: These Pillars are replicated below courtesy of the World Economic Forum
The institutional environment is determined by the legal and administrative framework within which individuals, firms, and governments interact to generate wealth.
2. Second pillar: Infrastructure
A well-developed transport and communications infrastructure network is a prerequisite for country’s competitiveness and cannot be emphasised enough.
3. Third pillar: Macroeconomic environment
The stability of the macroeconomic environment is important for business and, therefore, is important for the overall competitiveness of a country.
4. Fourth pillar: Health and primary education
A healthy workforce is vital to a country’s competitiveness and wellbeing. Poor health leads to significant costs to business, as sick workers are often absent or operate at lower levels of efficiency. Investment in the provision of health services is thus critical for clear economic, as well as moral, considerations.
In addition to health, this pillar takes into account the quantity and quality of the basic education received by the population, which is increasingly important in today’s economy. Basic education increases the efficiency of each individual worker. Moreover, workers who have received little formal education can carry out only simple manual tasks and find it much more difficult to adapt to more advanced production processes and techniques. Lack of basic education can therefore become a constraint on business development, with firms finding it difficult to move up the value chain by producing more sophisticated or value-intensive products.
5. Fifth pillar: Higher education and training
Quality higher education and training is crucial for economies that want to move up the value chain beyond simple production processes and products.In particular, today’s globalizing economy requires countries to nurture pools of well-educated workers who are able to adapt rapidly to their changing environment and the evolving needs of the production system. This pillar measures secondary and tertiary enrollment rates as well as the quality of education as evaluated by the business community.
6. Sixth pillar: Goods market efficiency
Countries with efficient goods markets are well positioned to produce the right mix of products and services given their particular supply-and-demand conditions, as well as to ensure that these goods can be most effectively traded in the economy. Healthy market competition, both domestic and foreign, is important in driving market efficiency and thus business productivity by ensuring that the most efficient firms, producing goods demanded by the market, are those that thrive.
7. Seventh pillar: Labor market efficiency
The efficiency and flexibility of the labor market are critical for ensuring that workers are allocated to their most efficient use in the economy and provided with incentives to give their best effort in their jobs. Labor markets must therefore have the flexibility to shift workers from one economic activity to another rapidly and at low cost, and to allow for wage fluctuations without much social disruption.13 The importance of the latter has been dramatically highlighted by the re- cent events in Arab countries, where high youth unemployment sparked social unrest in Tunisia that spread across the region.
8. Eighth pillar: Financial market development
The recent economic crisis has highlighted the central role of a sound and well-functioning financial sector for economic activities. An efficient financial sector allocates the resources saved by a nation’s citizens, as well as those entering the economy from abroad, to their most productive uses. It channels resources to those entrepreneurial or investment projects with the highest expected rates of return rather than to the politically connected. A thorough and proper assessment of risk is therefore a key ingredient of a sound financial market.
9. Ninth pillar: Technological readiness
In today’s globalized world, technology is increasingly essential for firms to compete and prosper. The technological readiness pillar measures the agility with which an economy adopts existing technologies to enhance the productivity of its industries, with specific emphasis on its capacity to fully leverage information and communication technologies (ICT) in daily activities and production processes for increased efficiency and competitiveness. ICT has evolved into the “general purpose technology” of our time, given the critical spillovers to the other economic sectors and their role as industry wide enabling infrastructure. Therefore ICT access and usage are key enablers of countries’ overall technological readiness.
10. Tenth pillar: Market size
The size of the market affects productivity since large markets allow firms to exploit economies of scale. Traditionally, the markets available to firms have been constrained by national borders. In the era of globalization, international markets have become a substitute for domestic markets, especially for small countries. There is vast empirical evidence showing that trade openness is positively associated with growth. Even if some recent research casts doubts on the robustness of this relationship, there is a general sense that trade has a positive effect on growth, especially for countries with small domestic markets.
11. Eleventh pillar: Business sophistication
There is no doubt that sophisticated business practices are conducive to higher efficiency in the production of goods and services. Business sophistication concerns two elements that are intricately linked: the quality of a country’s overall business networks and the quality of individual firms’ operations and strategies.
12. Twelfth pillar: Innovation
The final pillar of competitiveness is technological innovation. Although substantial gains can be obtained by improving institutions, building infrastructure, reducing macroeconomic instability, or improving human capital, all these factors eventually seem to run into diminishing returns. The same is true for the efficiency of the labor, financial, and goods markets. In the long run, standards of living can be enhanced only by technological innovation. Innovation is particularly important for economies as they approach the frontiers of knowledge and the possibility of integrating and adapting exogenous technologies tends to disappear.
So based on these pillars what can we conclude? According to this report and by any other deduction there is a strong correlation between these pillars. Kenya is now at the forefront of innovations when it comes to ICT, especially in the mobile apps sub-sector. Education, the foundational one is key to ensuring that a competitive advantage in this space is maintained and enhanced. This will be what differentiates us. Access to ICT is something that can no longer be optional. How then can we as a nation keen on moving to the next level of development even entertain the notion that a part of our society has no access to the development tools necessary for productivity while the affluent part – sometimes a few hundred meters away enjoy high speed connectivity? This is a recipe for disaster that cannot be allowed to continue for much longer.
We must empower our institutions to deliver services that they were set up to deliver. KENET is one such institution. According to its website KENET :- Kenya Education Network (KENET) is a National Research and Education Network that promotes the use of ICT in Teaching, Learning and Research in Higher Education Institutions in Kenya.
KENET aims to interconnect all the Universities, Tertiary and Research Institutions in Kenya by setting up a cost effective and sustainable private network with high speed access to the global Internet. KENET also facilitates electronic communication among students and faculties in member institutions, share learning and teaching resources by collaboration in Research and Development of Educational content. How far has this been achieved? In my humble opinion whatever budget it operates on it must be quadrupled and made an integral part of Vision 2030.