Cover Story: The Tech Moran leading ICT revolution
Joe Mucheru is a multi-millionaire, investor and now a CS. What plans does he have for the nation?
By Boniface Otieno Kanyamwaya
Dressed in a navy blue suit, pink stripped shirt and a matching navy blue dotted tie, a sharp looking Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru sits in his office on the 10th floor of Teleposta Towers.He is barely three months into the job but looks like he is at home in his corner office.
He took over from Dr Fred Matiang’i, who was moved to the Education Ministry in a mini-cabinet reshuffle by President Uhuru Kenyatta late last year.
According to the Office of the President the changes, which saw the number of Cabinet Secretaries increased from 19 to 20, were necessary to fulfil four key objectives — enhance efficiency of public officers through fast-tracking adoption of technology; ensure accountability of public officers; giving more power to accounting officers by reducing the size of dockets and review effectiveness of government projects such that only those with direct social economic impacts are implemented.
Before his appointment, Mucheru was Google’s Sub-Saharan Africa Ambassador& Energy Access and Investment Regional lead for Africa responsible for defining, evaluating, prioritising, advocating, and implementing energy investments, and energy access strategies where Google can have the greatest impact in Africa.
He was actually the voice of Google’s energy efforts where he acted as the regional Ambassador for Google Inc business development and high level relationship management, identifying opportunities for Google in energy access and investments, interfacing with local government, agencies, or other organisations as necessary to ensure success of Google’s energy projects.
The roles included leading, managing and coordinating regional cross functional support and implementation teams for energy access and investment efforts, which included program management, Partner Management, Technical Management as well as support functions including Legal, Marketing, Compliance, Government and Policy, Communications.
He joined Google in 2007 as head of delivery of strategy, business planning and operations. He has also worked at Wananchi Online, a company he co-founded in 1999.
For a man who has been in the ICT industry throughout his life, Mucheru understands not only how the sector has evolved but also how it has impacted on the others and the growth of the economy at large.
“The sector has made tremendous growth, and the achievements are numerous,” he says.
Indeed, the Kenyan ICT sector has made remarkable growth in the past few years. As at April 2014, the minister says, the sector contributed up to about 2.9 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product through IT-enabled services and created about 160,000 jobs.
The 2016 sector report also shows that the number of internet users in Kenya now stands at 35.5 million, with increased availability fuelling the use of online platforms for various transactions while penetration has surged to 82.6 per cent, up from 74.2 per cent the previous quarter.
The growth of the internet is attributed to the rollout of the National Optic Fibre Broadband Infrastructure (NOFBI) phase 1, the ongoing rollout of phase 2 and the increased last mile connection by private operators. This is coupled with expansive rollout of Third Generation (3G) mobile communication.
Subsequently, between October and December 2015, the number of internet/data subscription jumped by 10.6 per cent to 23.9 million subscriptions, up from 21.6 million in the previous period.
The same period also saw increased appetite for mobile data, with subscriptions increasing to 23.7 million, up from 21.5 million, representing a 10.2 per cent increase from the previous quarter.
The upsurge in mobile data/internet, according to the report, was driven by affordable internet bundles offered by service providers as a result of fair competition in the data market. Similarly, the exponential growth of e-commerce services, social networking, online mobile banking and online research on mobile devices has pushed up demand for internet/data usage.
In broadcasting, the number of Free-to-Air TV channels on the digital terrestrial platform now stands at 62, up from 55 in the previous quarter, while the number of FM radio stations increased to 139 from 137 in the last quarter.
According to the CS, the government has identified ICT as a vehicle to spur economic growth and is committed to build a knowledge-based society for a middle income country as stipulated in the Vision 2030 master plan.
He notes that for the ministry to achieve this, the government has to provide network, workstations, tools and machines that civil servants need in their day-to-day operations.
Secondly, he says the government needs to incorporate ICT in the provision of key services. “We will continue to scale on deployment of e-government services from eVisa to applying for IDs, NSSF, NHIF as well as renewal of different services.”
In the market, Mucheru says there has to be a robust and thriving sector with businesses that can predict where the country is going.
In terms of priority projects, he notes that the schools laptop project is still top of the agenda.
For instance, he says, the government is working towards implementation of the programme in 150 schools countrywide with the commencement of the Proof of Concept having started in February.
This phase seeks to allow the successful bidder to prove their capacity to implement the project to all the 22,000 schools.
The phase will last for 12 weeks and will cover 150 schools in the 47 counties.
The two successful bidders are a consortium of Moi University and JP Courto, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Positivo BGH.
Mucheru says Moi University will cover 26 counties while Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology will cover 21. The 150 schools were certified e-ready by teachers in collaboration with county education officers.
He says the e-readiness tool assessed the number of teachers trained, electricity connection and metering, device storage facilities, appropriate desks and availability of secure classrooms.
The CS says the government is also keen on the Konza City Development Project, noting that construction of the first phase has already begun.
“The first phase, constituting 21 parcels of land on 60 acres, is ready for investment. We will soon be doing the ground-breaking of the Ksh 1.2 billion mixed use facility to host Konza Technology City Development Authority offices as well as putting up the first school.”
He adds that so far, the design for utilities including waste water management, street lighting, power and internet system has been completed, with construction set to begin in the next financial year.
The project was launched by then President Mwai Kibaki in 2008 as part of the Vision 2030 blueprint but critics have questioned its viability.
Irrespective of a superb progress in the ministry, there have been a few challenges. For instance, the national broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, is groaning under a debt of Ksh. 2 billion since 2008, which has hampered efforts to compete effectively against other players in the market.
The advent of digital migration has also not helped KBC’s case as it faces competition for both content and audience with new and existing players.
“KBC need not use their content in the traditional way. They need to move into the digital age,” says Mucheru.
Secondly, apart from Safaricom Limited, there is no any other local ICT firm listed at the bourse. “Listing creates transparency and maybe not everyone wants that kind of scrutiny in the way they are managing their businesses. We need to find ways of encouraging people to build businesses for scale so that we can see them list,” he says.
He adds that local ICT firms cannot attract partnerships with major international players because of this failure to list on the stock market.
Before joining Google, Mucheru worked at Wananchi Online, a company he co-founded in 1999, as Chief Technology Officer and Chief Executive Officer.
He attended the Business Executive Programme at Stanford University Graduate School of Business in 2008. He holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics and Computer Science from City University London.
He was awarded the Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear in December 2010 by then President Kibaki.
He is also a member of the African Leadership Network, the National Prayer Breakfast and East African Business Summit.