Advancing Kenya's digital infrastructure: navigating challenges and embracing AI

With the support of the ILO, the Community of Practice on Digital Skills and Jobs gathered to analyze the main obstacles to overcome infrastructural challenges and to find pathways to ensure fair and inclusive access to emerging AI technologies.

News | 13 December 2023
Nairobi, KENYA (ILO News) – Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other advanced technologies are emerging in Kenya,  triggering conversations on its use and application in key economic sectors to increase productivity and expand job opportunities. There are however, some questions emerging about AI adoption, including the readiness of the workforce and business to embrace it, and the infrastructure needed to make it accessible to all. Against this backdrop, the Community of Practice on Digital Skills and Jobs (CoP), facilitated by International Labour Organization (ILO), hosted its fourth thematic discussion on Digital Infrastructure, Inclusion & Access in the Era of AI

In the last two decades frontier technologies like AI, blockchain, drones and nanotechnology have experienced global exponential growth. Using 2023 UNCTAD’s report on “Technology and Innovation” as a reference, Lucas Omollo, Manager of ICT & Smart City Solutions at Konza Technopolis, stressed that a few developing countries have the capacities needed to take advantage of these developments. “The adoption of these advanced technologies comes with a caveat: the pressing need for inclusive access and utilization”, he added.

Participants, COP Fourth Thematic Discussion

Advancing the digital infrastructure to enter the era of AI

Building the capacities to harness the potential of digital technologies and AI requires a robust digital infrastructure.

The government's proactive stance in encouraging investments in digital infrastructure was highlighted, including ambitious projects. “We are expanding fiber optic networks by 100,000 kilometers”, disclosed Loyford Murithi, Director of Infrastructure at the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology. “A number of initiatives led by the Information and Communication Technology Authority are addressing a wide range of challenges in Kenya, from securing widespread and affordable connectivity to removing accessibility barriers to digital technology for people with disabilities,” Murithi noted.

Fiona Asonga, Chief Executive Officer at Technology Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK), echoed this statement saying, “Connectivity disruptions due to poor practices between telecommunication service providers and contractors, along with cases of the vandalism (of communications infrastructure) are keeping me and my team busy”.  She emphasized the importance of safeguarding critical infrastructure and the need for policies protecting it. Asonga called for collaboration and for the engagement of all players who benefit from such infrastructure, indicating the economic damage caused by siloed-approaches.

The discussion extended further into innovative strategies and virtual infrastructure, a factor that could be vital for Kenya's digital transformation, said Kamau Maina, Head of Big Data and Costumer Value Management at Safaricom. He introduced the concept of digital-twin technology, explaining that a digital twin is a digital replica of physical objects or places, persons or processes that can help simulate real situations to facilitate experimentation, testing and decision-making in business, for example. “This type of technology is laying a foundation for transformative digital infrastructure in virtual reality”, he concluded.

Bridging divides and empowering marginalized groups using AI

Inclusion was the focus of the second part of the event, when panelists delved into AI's potential to bridge digital divides and empower marginalized groups.

“The digital divide isn't just about infrastructure; it's equally about skills”, shared Robert Muita, Consultant on Digital Skills Training, Mentorship and Job-Market Linkages. He underscored the untapped potential of frontier technologies to improve access to skills and training for marginalized groups in Kenya. For example, "Integrating AI-powered skill-building platforms to training programmes can create personalized learning experiences for these groups especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and AI development, AI-based career guidance tools could expand unbiased opportunities for women and people with disabilities”, Muita explained.

“Achieving inclusivity in AI-powered skills training, also requires collaborative models between the private sector, government, and stakeholders”, said Joseph De Durfort, Chief of Staff to CEO Mawingu, an Internet Service Provider in rural Kenya. He elaborated on the impact of collaborative efforts on developing trainings for customers and also projects to foster entrepreneurship among women in underserved areas, for example, highlighting  the positive effects this approach might have on investment and to access to affordable device access in Kenya.

Mutembei Kariuki, Co-Founder, and CEO of Fastagger, elaborated further on the importance of partnerships to apply AI to problems in emerging markets, especially in remote areas away from Nairobi, where connectivity remains a significant challenge.  “Skills development around AI must be tailored to different population groups, for example, through the inclusion of women in science, technology, engineering and math, is one concrete”, he added.  

“AI and other technologies are meant to solve real challenges faced by Kenyans”, pointed out Rachel Muthoga, Advocacy Consultant at the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). She pointed at the need for policy frameworks to respond to existing and rapidly evolving needs of digital businesses, with frameworks that understand that access, skills, and cybersecurity concerns must be addressed together.

Podcast series launch: Unlocking digital job PROSPECTS for all

The CoP session also served to announce the launch of the new ILO podcast series “Unlocking digital job PROSPECTS for all” with its first episode, which focuses on Kenya, entitled ‘Bringing digital skills and jobs for youth in rural areas and refugees in Turkana, Kenya.’

The CoP serves as a crucial platform to address emerging trends and explore technological advancements' multifaceted impacts. Wrapping up with reflections on mindset shifts and plans for future discussions, the participants renewed their commitment to actively contribute to Kenya's inclusive digital transformation journey.

The CoP is facilitated by the PROSPECTS programme in Kenya and the Opportunity Fund project on the Promotion, inclusion and protection of refugees and host communities in the gig economy , with the generous funding of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.