Occasionally, I like completing simple crossword puzzles. A question that I have come across quite often is “An active volcano in Sicily” whose answer is “Etna”.
This has remained a mythical place to me and I have never given it any thought beyond it being an answer to a crossword puzzle.
That is until I found myself taking in the picturesque breathtaking views and the silhouette of Mt Etna in Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean sea, located in the south of Italy.
Mt Etna is Europe’s tallest and most active volcano and its most recent eruption occurred in February this year. The rich history of the town traversing through Arab, Greek, Viking, Muslim and Roman influences is evident from its culture, food, art, music and architecture.
The city has lush vegetation obviously attributed to the rich volcanic soils resulting from the nutrient-rich magna spewed by Etna.
However, I could not help but be more enthralled by the bigger mission that took me took Sicily — the 43rd G7 summit. While it is characteristic for a few African nations to address the G7 summit, Kenya’s invitation alongside Ethiopia, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia was a statement speaking to our visibility and relevance in the world particularly in matters innovation.
In his address to the summit, President Uhuru Kenyatta underscored how innovation is right at the core of Kenya’s transformation.
The rapid technological innovations in the country can be easily likened to Mt Etna’s eruptions, in that they are constantly disrupting traditional systems and processes once deemed solid.
Companies across the board are competing relentlessly on innovative solutions aimed at enhancing customer experiences.
Such is the aggressive demand for innovation that the once solid banking sector is also adopting fintech as evidenced through their recent product launches, which make it easier to offer services through mobile or online platforms.
The success story of M-Pesa in securing Kenya’s position as the global leader in mobile money transfer, and has been retold over and over again in both local and global arenas.
The success of this innovation is rooted in the fact that the innovators took time to understand the Kenyan market. Their simplistic Unstructured Supplementary Service Data approach, otherwise known as USSD code, ensures service delivery to the mwananchi based at the remotest part of the country, operating a feature phone that is probably powered by solar energy.
While the M-Pesa innovation continues to metamorphose to cater for smart devices, USSD has not been eliminated, as it is a reliable backup where Internet connectivity is lacking. This provides an all-inclusive support mechanism that the fintechs are fast learning from.
Innovation, through social media also shapes topical conversations particularly amongst the youth in the country. An army of Kenyans on Twitter (KOT) can create a loud buzz and influence conversations that sometimes find their way in the mainstream media locally and internationally, as we saw during President Barack Obama’s visit to the country with the hashtag “someonetellCNN”.
Kenya also has a key role in steering the pursuit for a single digital economy through the Smart Africa initiative. With a current membership of 21 African countries and counting, the Smart Africa initiative can be augmented as the innovation platform that will inch Africa closer to the dream of harnessing the over 1 billion market.
Once this happens, companies will be able to innovate and sustain themselves through large-scale penetration. The successes currently witnessed by companies such as Alibaba and Wechat that appeal predominantly to the Chinese market can be achieved.
There is no reason why Kenya cannot be at the epicenter of all this. Just as the mighty Mt Etna sizzles silently beneath before emitting its boisterous magma, so should Kenya continuously exude its might and stir up the docile energy that lies in Africa, and shape global conversations on innovation. The writer is the Cabinet Secretary, Information, Communication and Technology.