Despite all the bad news that has recently been coming from Kenya, strikes, pre-election violence, terrorism, MRC, MPs (not a typo, regrettably), to name just a few; there has been a bright spot however.
The Economist recently described Kenya as undergoing a “quiet tech boom” that is “upwardly mobile”. This however seems to have bypassed Mombasa. Tech utilization (let alone innovation) hardly goes beyond whatsapp and facebook for many. All the known tech startup hubs in Kenya, like iHub, nailab, m:Lab and 88mph Garage are located in Nairobi. And since these are mostly private initiatives, we can’t sit and blame our central government for missing this tech wave.
One reason for this, perhaps, is that the technology sector is characterized by high-risk and volatility, and Mombasa’s businessmen are used to more secure investments like transport, retail, tourism and real estate. But as Safaricom’s mPesa experience shows, a single tech innovation which succeeds, can yield enormous ROIs (return on investment), well above what is possible in any other sector . Further to this, a look at the existing local government processes (as well as that of many private businesses), will show the degree of development that is needed, and which can be capitalized by tech companies. Adding the jobs that will be created and lives that will be improved in the city if an active technology sector is established, and the need to have a ‘technology revolution’ in Mombasa becomes clear.
But given the level of education that is prevalent in the city, which is obviously lacking, is it actually possible? Is establishing tech hubs in the city enough? Good news is, already many native Mombasa residents are successful in various tech fields in the country and abroad. Many will be willing to come back to their home town if they found good opportunities. Further to this, since Mombasa ni Kenya, its relative security and beautiful coastal nature, will sure attract many Kenyan talents from other parts of the country. But this will only happen if a business-friendly environment and good lifestyle is established in the city. This is where the local government can play its part. A clean city,with good public transport facilities, and ease and affordability of local government transactions will all help tech hub initiatives to succeed. In addition, to ensure long-term success, technology should be emphasized and integrated in all levels of education in the city. These are some ideas in this regard.
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