Minutes of the 2nd meeting of local innovators, business and government held on Monday, 25th January and the Ministry of InfoCom

This was a follow up meeting to one that took place in December 2009 where Ministry of Information and Communication (MOIC) and the Trade Affairs Department of the Embassy of Sweden were exploring strategies for greater cooperation in the ICT sector.The meeting listened to and critiqued presentations from Kenyan software developers and on this basis discussed some areas of interest for bilateral cooperation.

From the discussions of the meeting, several resolutions were made:
1.    As an immediate step, MOIC would initiate discussions with the Ministry of Industrial Development and other concerned departments with a view to finding a solution to the difficulty associated with patenting software in Kenya.

2.    A team of five was appointed to draft a concept paper encompassing areas of interest for cooperation.


1. Bitange Ndemo MOIC
2. Anders Ridenfalk Embassy of Sweden
3. Paul Kukubo Kenya ICT Board
4. Caroline Juma KCR Ltd
5. Agosta Liko PesaPal
6. Esther Wanjau MOIC/ IPv6 Task Force
7. Josphat Martin Skunkwork Ke/Doctor Online
8. Luca Neghesti Tristar Holdings
9. David Mugo Tristar Holdings
10. Wesley Kirinya Leti Games
11. David Kiania Ericsson Kenya
12. Erik Hersman Ushahidi
13. Kavore Kariuki K Group Consultants
14. Ken Kasina Ushahidi
15. Mbugua Njihia Symbiotic
16. David Svarer Digital Age Institute
17. Grace Bomu Mutung’u ICT Consumers
18. Alex Gakuru Convener


1.    Follow up of Skunkwork presentations.
2.     Possibilities and Objectives for a broader business driven co-operation between Kenya and Sweden.
3.    Visit to Sweden (when going to Denmark)

There were presentations from techpreneurs as follows: Ushahidi; Nilipe; (Government)IPv6; SMS Driven Portal/Data Mining.

a)    Ushahidi
Erik and Ken of Ushahidi presented on Ushahidi which is a Free and Open Source Software crisis information software that has been developed by volunteers from Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and United States of America. It was started in Kenya during the post election period as a tool for people in crisis areas to send SMS which would then be mapped to their geographical locations and then made available to aid organsations.

Initially, Ushahidi team developed the software and then made it available to others to download. It has as such been used for different purposes including a crime monitoring site “hatari.co.ke”. Other instances of Ushahidi include its use by AlJazeera in Gaza as well as in India, Afghanistan and Mexico to monitor elections.

In January after an earthquake hit Haiti, the Ushahidi team deployed the software in Haiti. From network providers Digicel and Comcell, they were given the short code 4667 through which anyone could send a message to the system. From the presentation, it could be seen that there had been over 10,000 hits on the site since then.

Ushahidi has over 270 volunteers who carry out the roles of software development, translation and geo-mapping. Hence the information on the site is real time.

Follow up Questions
1.    What are Ushahidi’s future Plans?
In response to this question, a video about an innovation hub that is in the process of being set up was shown. Located opposite Uchumi Hyper on Ngong Road, the hub will be an open space with a few meeting rooms to host upcoming companies. They shall be provided with good Internet and other support to enable them break through in the market. The hub would be opened on March 3rd 2010.

2.    How does Ushahidi get funding?
Ushahidi is funded by private foundations as well as public organizations such as Hivos of Netherlands.

3.    How do they track users, since Ushahidi is free?

Users have a choice to activate the software. Many have done so and are using Ushahidi for other uses such as drug and deforestation monitoring.

4.    How to they verify the messages sent?
The system has inbuilt verification measures. For instance in the Haiti case, after receiving a message in local language, it is translated into English and then the data is affirmed. Another way to verify is when a message about an incident is received more than once from different sources and also through listening to other networks of information as word travels fast. Mostly though there is also a lot of trust placed on the users sending messages. The system shows whether or not a message has been verified.

b. Nilipe, a payment Solution
David Mugo of Tristar presented on Nilipe, a payment solution that integrates mobile money transfer. Nilipe was born out the problem with existing mobile money payment systems where in order for one to confirm receipt of money, one has to have the number of the sender of the money. Nilipe is therefore along the same model as say, Paypal, only that the company does not keep any money on behalf of the client.

Nilipe is installed on the handset, which sends information to the server. The merchants have an interface so that as money is transferred, they get notifications from the network, enabling the seller to know whether the transaction was a pass or a fail.

Follow Up Questions
1.    Does the buyer have to be on the same network as the seller?
There has been a problem with the networks as they do not give applications like Nilipe access to their mobile money systems. However, at the merchant side, Nilipe can support multiple mobile money transfer systems, enabling a buyer to pick the convenient one.

2.    How does the company make money from Nilipe?
Nilipe sells the license to the merchant. They make money through license fees.

3.    Does one send money to a personal number or a business number? How then does Nilipe validate so as to avoid originated SMS?
Either of the two can work.  To overcome the problem of originating SMS, where say for example a person from even outside Kenya can send the merchant an SMS similar to the MPesa transaction one, Nilipe uses message centre numbers to verify. Additionally, networks do not use the normal alphanumeric identity numbers to send confirmation messages and this has been useful in verification.

4.    What are the advantages of Nilipe?
Nilipe does not keep money yet it makes money transfer more convenient. In addition, Nilipe does not charge per transaction fees unlike most others and it is not network centric. At the moment, the system is able to support seven networks in three countries and was in talks with an eighth.

5.    How many people have downloaded the trial versions?
Trial period would start later in the week

6.    What is the response from merchants? Is there a possibility to connect Nilipe with banks?
Nilipe would like to connect with banking networks and indeed that was the future vision. However, there were many barriers to entry into that market because for instance if Nilipe started handling money it would be subject to the banking law and would need to pay for expensive licenses. Merchants who had been approached were excited about the solution, so were fellow developers at skunkworks and other fora.

7.    Other  Comments
Innovators were called upon to take the issue of trials more seriously as any potential investor would need proof of concept which could most firmly be satisfied by carrying out robust trials.  In addition, techies were encouraged to team up with business people when doing presentations in order to present not only the technical but business viability of their innovations.
The issue of protection of intellectual property in Kenya was raised, with developers complaining that it was expensive and a long process to get a patent for software. It also emerged that the problem may be due to a substantive error where developers tried to patent software and not a method, as only a method is patentable. After deliberation, MOIC undertook to initiate discussion with the Ministry of Industrialization and other concerned ministries in order to find a solution to the same.

c. IPv6
Esther Wanjau, the Chair of the Kenya IPv6 Task Force, made a presentation explaining the background, mandate and composition of the Task Force.  Recognizing that the IPv4 addresses were being depleted, the Government took measures to ensure a smooth transition to IPv6 by 2012.   The Task Force, consisting of partners from various public, private, academic and civil society organizations was mandated to develop strategies for eventual deployment of IPv6.

The Task Force was focusing on awareness creation and capacity building. To this end, equipment has been acquired and the next step would be training on IPv6.

Follow up Comments
There was a need to deploy IPv6 as fast as possible without necessarily training the users on the technical aspects as this was not very important to most. However, the human development aspects such as having home equipment with IP addresses could be made known to users, once the technology had been rolled out.
d) Data Mining SMS Solution
Martin Maina, who earlier developed doctorsonline, an application for doctors, presented on a new product- a data mining SMS portal.  Unlike previous applications where the server lies at the network, the backend for this system were provided for different corporates, all using the same short-code.  The data was managed by advertisers.  A simulation of data from NSSF and NHIF was explained.

Follow Up Comments
What is the incentive for Kenyan developers to diversify from mobile to desktop applications?
While there were views that it is the medium that dictates the spread of technology, there was also emerging information on the increasing penetration of computers and other terminals in the Kenyan space. For instance, the Government was enabling provision of laptops through the stimulus packages and by next year, 3 million of these would have reached homes. In addition, digital TV, which had already been launched, was a next generation technology with networking capacity.

Developers were therefore challenged to collaborate in order to make use of the opportunity presented by the expanded digital space in the country.

The discussion attempted to find areas of interest and mutual benefits for bilateral cooperation.  There was the question on whether the cooperation should be extended to other partners and how the same could be done.
After open discussion, the following areas of interest were   identified:

a)    Capacity Building/Training of Local Content Providers
It was noted that Sweden had renowned schools for film/animation developers from which Kenyans could learn. An example was also given of the Royal Technical College (KTH) that had a programme to encourage use of ICT in developing countries which Kenya could benefit from if pursued.

Opportunities of transferring and sharing knowledge on content development so that Kenyans could learn the same locally were discussed.  The following were pointed out as possible avenues for building capacity for content generation: taking Kenyans to study in Sweden, student exchange programmes, giving International trainers/teachers space to teach in Kenya.

b)     Business Partnerships

In recognition of the fact that there were many skilled Kenyan developers on the one hand and opportunities for work in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries on the other hand, another area of collaboration could be business partnerships. Such partnerships would not only boost trade but also enhance capacity development as the more Kenyans have software development jobs, the more the opportunities for on the job training for young people.

c)    Barcamps and Fora for  Software Developers to meet
The importance of providing fora for networking of professionals from Kenya and Europe was highlighted. It was noted that this was an activity that could be incorporated into the implementation plan of the cooperation. In such fora issues such as security, which was a growing threat to the software development profession could be discussed.

While discussing areas of interest, challenges such as language barrier; brain drain and building trust were pointed out as issues that could affect the overall aim of the partnerships.  However, KCR who had vast experience in Scandinavian countries assured all that English was a widely spoken language in all the countries. Brain drain could be countered by building business relations with the developed countries so as to enhance the job opportunities in Kenya for trained developers. The issue of trust could only be cured by having high integrity.

The meeting resolved that in order to encompass all areas of interest, a concept note would be developed in the next two weeks. The note would also inform the planned visit to Sweden and other countries. The following were appointed to draft the concept note:
1.    Paul Kukubo – overall coordinator
2.    Agosta Liko
3.    David Svarer
4.    Carol Juma
5.    Alex Gakuru

After due consideration, it was decided that the objectives, areas of interest and tour to Sweden, Denmark and possibly other Scandinavian countries would be drawn in the concept note (See Agenda 2 above).


1.    In light of the discussion, K Group Consultants informed the meeting that they were developing a fund based on a model tried out in the US. The fund would create a bridge between innovators with local investors by providing opportunities for investors to present their ideas to investors for funding.  To date they had already brought on board two local investors and the fund would be launched soon.

2.    Digital Age Institute announced that they were organizing a Software Career Day on Saturday 13th February at Alliance Francaise. This would be an event bringing together software developers and inviting potential and graduates in this career to network.  All were invited.

3.    In conclusion, MOIC thanked all for participating in the discussion and stated that it is such fora that inform policy making. For instance, the Ministry would take up the issue on patenting after the information that had come out about the process of obtaining a patent for software. The Ministry was also in the process of revising the ICT Policy as well as its Strategic Plan.

Noting the genesis of the meeting which started with an informal consultation, the partnership had now been taken to a level of bilateral discussions with a potential for multilateral partnerships. All these were opportunities for enhancing development, especially rural development, where people were fast embracing ICTs.MOIC invited all present to give their ideas for an upcoming conference on ICTs which was being planned. Security and the law governing ICTs were suggested as some of the areas for discussion.

The date of the next meeting would be communicated by email.
There being no other business, the meeting ended at 5.15 pm.

An Africa based entrepreneur in the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources currently controlled striving to build services that have real-world value for my beloved continent and beyond while having fun along the way.

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