Kenya has come to be known as Africa’s mobile technology innovation powerhouse. The country attained this enviable title on the back of a string of successful and widely adopted mobile innovations. M-Pesa, the mobile money transfer was the innovation that set the scene for the Kenya Mobile revolution and was the first to operate on a large scale.
Since then a lot has happened in the mobile tech space in Kenya, including the launch of m-lab. The facility was launched with the aim of encouraging mobile technology innovation in the East African country and was supported by Nokia and the Kenyan Government. Since then, we have seen the likes of M-Farm, a mobile service that enables farmers to get information about the current retail price of their products.
What is of interest to me is not just the technology and skills behind the developers in Kenya, but how they maximise the available resources to innovate and deliver localised solutions that improve people’s lives on the ground as opposed to just developing a cool iPhone app that will suffer a slow death in the maze that is the iStore. That for me, is the key difference in approach between how for instance, South African developers focus on the global picture but miss the mark in their locality.
Yet with all this international acclaim and success, Kenyan developers and tech entrepreneurs have one nagging problem they need to solve, monetisation. With all the interest and investment pouring in from companies like Nokia, Samsung , Google and other stakeholders, the need to monetise and turn development houses to viable business will only increase.
Monetisation is not a uniquely Kenyan problem nor is it just an African problem. It is a universal challenge that a lot of tech start-ups all over the world are grappling with, including the likes of Twitter. Facebook is also struggling to figure out how to generate an income stream through mobile as the world shifts towards mobile web browsing.
Building apps and feature phone technology not only takes time and resources, you need to attract skills to grow the industry and that requires capital. It is my prediction that as mobile phone manufacturers like Huawei deliver on the promise of a cheaper smart phone, we will see more developers in Kenya focusing their energy on building mobile apps that will fulfill the Kenyan imperative, technology for the people. But unless the delicate balance between ICT for development and mass monetisation of the Kenyan mobile industry is achieved, we will have to wait a while longer for the next Apple or Microsoft to emerge from East Africa and indeed the whole of Africa.