Strathmore University hosts First High-Level Think-Tank Meeting on Sustainability for e-Governance in Kenya
Strathmore University Business School (SBS), in collaboration with TalTech University of Estonia, hosted the first High Level Think-Tank meeting on Sustainability for e-Governance in Kenya. The scope of the High-Level Think-Tank meeting was based on Estonia’s cooperation with Africa which aims at strengthening bilateral and multilateral relations based on shared values, interests and equal partnership.
The hybrid meeting – both face to face and online – took place on 10th September 2021 at Strathmore University Auditorium. It was attended by the Estonian President, H.E. Mrs. Kersti Kaljulaid; Dr. Vincent Ogutu, Vice Chancellor Designate, Strathmore University; Hon. Joe Mucheru E.G.H, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs; Kadri Humal Ayal, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Estonia in Kenya; Hon. Lady Justice Martha Karambu Koome, Chief Justice of Kenya and Prof. Bitange Ndemo, Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Faculty of Business and Management Sciences, University of Nairobi, and other key dignitaries.
99% governmental services online
Estonia has been dubbed ‘the most advanced digital society in the world,’ by Wired. The country boasts an efficient, secure and transparent ecosystem where 99% of governmental services are online. A key priority for Estonia’s engagement with African countries is to share their expertise in e-governance and e-services which has been developed over 30 years.
Dr. Vincent Ogutu, while giving his opening address, talked of the importance of e-Governance in any systems and how it can help in enhancing efficiency, increase transparency and accountability especially of educational administration. He said, “Whenever you introduce any systems of change or innovation there is going to be a training element that is needed.”
According to Dr. Ogutu, even before any systems takes place, there is need to look at how it can be adapted to the particular context. He affirmed that the partnership between Strathmore University Business School and TalTech University, which is supported by the Estonian Development Cooperation, will contribute not only to skills enhancement and capacity building, but to the research side as well. “I am pleased that the partner we are working with today is the best in the world, which will do a lot for us as an institution and as a country.”
A panel attended by H.E. Mrs. Kersti Kaljulaid, Estonian President, which focused on Sustainability for e-Governance in Kenya and was moderated by Uduak Amimo, a leading journalist in Africa, brought out the importance of training and digitisation of education systems.
Mrs. Kersti Kaljulaid said that nothing changes the world for a better place than education. She emphasized that education was an obligation of every nation towards their youth, and which every government has a mandate to provide to their citizens with the help of the best digital technologies. “That is why Taltech University and Strathmore University Business School are starting a collaboration to develop a programme in e-governance here in Kenya.”
She also stressed the importance of inclusive national policies that can allow all citizens to access services at all hours, incentivizing digital participation and the gains and benefits of e-governance, which include ease and speed of conducting transactions and reducing bureaucracy in government systems by having a single ecosystem.
Coolest digital society
Kadri Humal Ayal, Honorary Consul of the Republic of Estonia in Kenya, said that Estonia was one of the coolest digital societies in the world. The country is ranked the highest in a large number of global metrics and is now referred to as a benchmark in technology. “For us it’s a way of life that we take a lot of pride in. We take pride in what we achieved since our independence in 1991.”
Although Estonia is one of the Baltic states, and is considered Nordic, the country has achieved enormous strength by rebuilding itself from poverty to becoming one of the strongest opinion leaders in the world. Key areas which have made the country succeed is its citizen-centric approach. All systems, services and deliverables in Estonia always take into consideration the needs of the citizens and ease of accessibility.
Estonia has given importance to public-private partnerships, internet access for everybody and ensuring that all individuals own their personal data. Their three pillars for information security are Confidentiality (e-identification, ID-card, mobile-ID, smart-ID, e-residency card); Availability (X-road, a free and open-source data layer software; and Integrity (KSI blockchain). Kedi Valba, TalTech University Alumni and Regional Manager for Africa, said, “We have more than three thousand services online in Estonia at the moment. The government could not have done it alone; the public-private partnership and the inclusion of academia is very important.”
Kenya’s digital achievements
In his commentary, Hon. Joe Mucheru noted that Kenya already occupies a space in Africa similar to the position Estonia has in terms of its digital achievements. Speaking of the country’s digital journey, he said “When you are dealing with technology and someone has gone ahead of you it is much quicker to catch up. This makes it easier for Kenya to be where we want to be in five years.”
According to him, the current challenge in Kenya is trust. Giving the example of how long it has taken Kenyans to accept the Huduma number, he emphasised that the country is in a position to learn and move quickly to ensure that every citizen achieves their digital rights. Currently, Kenya has over 120 services online. “Since the constitution says that we must carry everyone with us, we have invested heavily on the access to services across the country. And we have digitized many services from education to getting vaccination certificates. The relationship between the Kenyan and Estonian government will help the country forge ahead in becoming a digital leader in the world.”
The Estonian e-Governance Academy, a non-profit think tank and consultancy organisation which has also has been training some of the Civil Servants in the various Ministries in Kenya, shared their expertise and best practices in the areas of digital transformation, e-governance, e-democracy and cyber security. Arvo Ott, Director of the e-Governance Academy, commented on the implementation of e-governance. He emphasized how trust and motivation of citizens is important. “Once we have the technology in place, we need to motivate people to start using the electronic services by offering services as cheaply as possible and ensuring privacy and data protection.”
Arvo Ott reminded the participants that avoiding the digital divide is key to ensuring universal access. This can be done through awareness creation and training. There is need for change management to be implemented by political leaders and business managers as well as the need for competencies to be developed at different levels of government through training by experienced professionals from academia.
Speaking during the session on technology and the Judiciary, Hon. Chief Justice, Martha Koome said that since she joined the judiciary almost twenty years ago, there has been talk of using technology as an enabler to ensure justice to our people. But since COVID-19 struck and their services were reduced, they were forced to transform their systems overnight and embrace technology.
“At the Judiciary, we have embraced technology and we have a few services that can be accessed online. The Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Commercial Court Milimani are now conducting their proceedings online. Other courts are also holding online video hearings and e-filing is now being embraced despite some challenges. We look forward to leveraging on the experiences of Estonia,” she said. Hon. Justice Isaac Lenaola, Supreme Court of Kenya, also emphasized that the impact of technology on the work done in the country is critical and that the country should harness its expertise in this area which will necessitate a culture change in Kenya.
In a panel discussion on ‘Best Practices in the areas of digital transformation, e-governance, e-democracy and cyber security” moderated by Aby Agina, Deputy Economy Editor, Standard Media Group, Prof. Bitange Ndemo, the Professor of Entrepreneurship at the Faculty of Business and Management Sciences, University of Nairobi said that even though the Kenyan government has made progress towards digitalization which has brought greater productivity, more needs to be done. He said that Kenya can improve its productivity further by creating more opportunities and ensuring that every citizen has access to internet. “Affordable, accessible broadband internet access is key.”
Modern technologies to solve problems
Reflecting on the Academic perspective, Dr. Joseph Sevilla, Director of @iLabAfrica, Strathmore University explained how @iLabAfrica have been working to use modern technologies to solve our local problems. He explained that for the last 10 years, @iLabAfrica has been working with counties in Kenya, which has enabled the countries’ transition to have all their tax collection online. Acknowledging Estonia’s achievement in establishing a cashless and paperless society, he said, “We have also been working on projects involving cybersecurity. Just like Estonia, we are looking at our citizens and aiming to make all their transactions online.”
Elaborating on the country’s preparedness to undertake a digital transformation journey in terms of cybersecurity, laws and frameworks, John Sergon, Research Fellow at SBS said that even though there is a lot in terms of knowledge regarding cybersecurity, at a technical level there is a lot that still needs to be done. What is missing is the policy level, the laws and regulations that will guide the transformation.
In conclusion, the discussions during the Think Tank sessions focused on the need for global normative principles, regulations, and standards for data governance and the concrete policy and programmatic needs of governments and development partners. The discussions shed light on Estonia’s experience in areas of e-governance and e-services and the importance of developing institutional and human capabilities in Kenya through training. And the potential of private-public collaborations to accelerate infrastructure development, the importance of gaining citizens’ trust, culture change and training to facilitate the adoption of digital technology, and open and inclusive data governance policies.
The cooperation between Estonia and Kenya is set to usher in a new era of digital governance in the 21st century with higher quality, cost-effective government services and citizen centric systems that will serve society at all levels and bridge the digital divide across Kenya.
This article was written by Shailja Sharma, Executive Fellow and Coach, Strathmore University Business School.
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