Connected Kenya Summit: Does this annual event enhance Kenya’s tech sector?

It’s that time of the year again, when all top government, private sector, media, academia and regulatory personalities in the ICT sector troop to Mombasa for the annual ICT Conference dubbed the “Connected Kenya Summit”.

This year’s event will be held in Diani, Mombasa, from 14th to 17th April, 2014 under the theme “Breaking the Barriers to ICT Project Implementation”.  This summit has been held consistently since 2009, and five years down the line, analysts are struggling to pin-point where exactly the value-add arising from this summit is.

Critics feel the summit is simply an opportunity for government technocrats to earn generous per-diems at fully paid-for luxury resorts, while simultaneously enjoying attention and lobbying from big-moneyed corporates wishing to strike that huge, once-in-a-lifetime ICT tender from the government.

However, the organizers, the ICT Authority of Kenya, argue the Connected Kenya Summit is the only ICT calendar event aimed at establishing a platform for collaboration, capacity building and knowledge-sharing between the government and the general ICT sector.

They add that this year’s event is focused on how to link together and hasten the implementation of government IT projects,  particularly within the new constitutional dispensation of county governments.

Further, they argue that previous summits have given birth to several initiatives that include the amalgamation of Government ICT agencies to form the ICT Authority, the review of the National ICT Master Plan, the development of the National Broadband Strategy, the National Cyber-Security Strategy and the introduction of the ICT Summit series in the counties.

HARDLINE POSITIONS

However, critics still wonder if these initiatives, good and necessary as they are, could not have been achieved without spending four days at a luxury resort.  More specifically, they feel that the event is exclusive and restricted to those who can afford the flight, luxury resort accommodation and meals for four days.

According to the organizers, provisions have always been made for remote participation through online tools that allow participants to follow proceedings and interact online without traveling down to the coast. Online input from remote participants, they say, has always had the same weight as contributions from the floor.

Furthermore, they argue, face-to-face meetings among the top ICT leadership have always served to break the ice between government officials and non-state actors – particularly during informal evening functions. Many hardline positions between government and the private sector have been known to soften during such encounters, which, the ICT Authority feels is already by itself a very good outcome.

Given the county focus of our new Constitution, there are calls in favour of hosting future Connected Kenya ICT Summits successively across each of the forty-seven counties.  That way, the top national ICT leadership will come face-to-face with the meager ICT realities on the ground.

This will in turn allow them to re-calibrate the often abstract, high-level ideals discussed in misleadingly digitally-endowed, air-conditioned luxury settings.

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