The Internet has witnessed a dramatic evolution since its launch in 1995, presenting a myriad of opportunities to society and to enterprises, in particular, through access to information. This evolution has also presented significant challenges, including new competition, changing customer engagement and business models, unprecedented transparency, privacy concerns, and cybersecurity threats.
Kenya’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector has witnessed a dramatic turnaround. Barely 20 years ago, in the mid-1990s, the sector was an irritant to the political system and was best discussed by geeks in hushed tones. The political system saw emerging ICTs as an affront to challenge its leaders’ power and control over information flow. Such was the environment that the first efforts to introduce the Internet in Kenya, in 1995, were met with an official rebuff through a full-page advertisement by the then Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KP&TC), a monopoly state enterprise, declaring that Internet services amounted to resale, and were therefore illegal. It was in this harsh environment that the Internet was born in Kenya. In short order, it was banned entirely in the government civil service until 1999.
In such an environment, the Internet was only for brave nongovernment organizations (NGOs), geeks, and small companies with international business interests. Indeed, none of the universities had Internet connections. Concerted advocacy changed the tide, and by 1997, the government promulgated the Telecommunication and Postal Sector Policy recognizing ICT’s contributions to development, and by 1999, passed the Kenya Information and Communication Act, a new telecom law establishing a multi-operator environment—followed shortly thereafter by official recognition of the Internet. However, the market still had to endure a monopoly international gateway through the state-owned incumbent operator for another seven years, till 2007.
The Telecommunication and Postal Sector Policy had contemplated a national teledensity (i.e., telephone lines per 100 people) of 5 % by 2015. But in fact, rapid growth realized a teledensity of fully 88 % by September 2015 (Communications Authority of Kenya 2015).
In the two decades before 2015, the sector came of age, and so did the institutions driving the Internet. Today, the Government of Kenya has now fully embraced the Internet and ICTs as drivers of socioeconomic growth and, in a very bold move, established a high-level agency to mainstream e-government as a tool for governance and for reaching out and interacting with the nation’s citizens. Working with various stakeholders, the government has even promulgated a national ICT policy that actively envisages national growth driven by ICTs.
Slowly but surely, new and revolutionary technologies and business processes have come into the market, disrupting older technologies and business processes. The policy and regulatory framework has had to give way to respond to the new environment, and finally, the early actors have had to give way to new actors. Indeed, none of the key actors from 20 years ago exist in 2015. KP&TC, for example, has given way to Telkom Kenya, which is quite different from the old monopoly, KP&TC.
The evolution is profound. At the technology level, Kenya has moved from offline store-and-forward technologies and reliance on copper for connectivity to cellular, and now, to fiber optics. Similarly, the bandwidths of 2015 would have been inconceivable two decades ago. In September 1995, Kenyan Internet users shared 32 Kbps to serve the entire country—a far cry from the 1.7 Gbps available 20 years later. From the international NGOs who introduced email, Internet service is for the masses today and is used by many in daily activities. The Kenyan government, which through KP&TC was dead set against email and Internet and banned it in government services, is now a key promoter of a digital future for Kenya.
The net effect is that the Internet is widely available and much cheaper, with applications for numerous aspects of daily life.