World Bank backs Kenya web innovators with $55m

Kenya mobile application developers at work. The World Bank has extended an $55m innovation grant to the country. PHOTO | FILE 

Kenya’s quest to become the global hub for mobile phone applications has been bolstered by a grant of $55 million from the World Bank.

The money will be used to help developers come up with simple solutions for every day use with a focus on health and education.

The World Bank said the grant would enable Kenya to enhance accountability through web-based applications and transform the economy.

"Information technology has on average contributed one percentage point to Kenya’s growth since 2000, and opened a path for achieving remarkable improvements in transparency and also in governance,” said Johannes Zutt, the World Bank country director for Kenya.

Kenya information ministry permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo said the money would help boost content development and create jobs while facilitating the government’s efforts to offer its services online.

“We shall work more to simplify data and convert it into information,” said Dr Ndemo in reference to e-governance, a programme through which public services are offered online to increase efficiency and curb corruption.

The World Bank said the grant would support Kenya’s efforts to increase Internet penetration and create an enabling environment for budding software applications developers to thrive.


“Kenya has put in place the second-fastest broadband on the continent (after Ghana), which has reduced the wholesale Internet capacity prices by over 90 per cent and increased Internet penetration from three to 37 per cent of the population in the past decade,” read part of a statement from the World Bank.

The government through the Kenya ICT Board will extend the grant to innovators who want to commercialise their ideas.

Youth groups, mainly university students and fresh graduates who have ventured into start-ups, operating from various innovation centres across Nairobi such as iHub, iLab Africa, mLab, and NaiLab are the driving force behind the applications.

There are more than 3,000 software developers who have come up with both mobile and personal computer-based software applications that are changing lives across the continent.

The applications are designed to help users solve their day-to-day problems, ranging from linking farmers with buyers for their produce, to monitoring if a patient is taking a prescribed drug, to locating a restaurant.

The World Bank is keen on software applications that can enable citizens to monitor how grants given to the government or organisations are used.

Mobile phone maker Nokia has also announced intentions to establish a regional research and development centre in Nairobi to capture the growing number of software developers who can make applications for its African market.

Other global organisations are trooping to Kenya in search of locally-made software applications which they hope to replicate in other parts of the world.

Kenya is now widely recognised as a world leader in using ICT and a global leader in IT applications. These include the home-grown mobile-money platforms like M-Pesa, which are enabling increasing numbers of Kenyans to use their phones for financial transactions, bringing quasi-financial services to the unbanked for the very first time.

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