The last two weeks have seen a very intense debate on social media (Twitter and Facebook) around the role of government in creating a more enabling environment for local IT firms. The debate first started on Konza, the proposed technopolis that will cost an estimated Sh800 billion. Condensed thoughts from the Konza discussion were…
Wrong side up?
The first is that we might be getting the approach wrong and building an ecosystem the wrong side up. This can be aptly summed up by – “If you want to build a great soccer team, invest in great players, not a massive stadium”. The argument here is that we already have what it takes in-terms of infrastructure to take IT related services to the next level and the real need lies in empowering techpreneurs to create and scale innovative services – growth capital that will see them increase “exportable value”. There is also the concern of capital flight when inviting the global players in, who will create jobs but ultimately the revenue is repatriated.
Many pieces to a puzzle
The second is that there are both macro and micro economic elements that must be taken into consideration when planning for the growth of an economy and the government-techie priorities may not be aligned. However in the larger scheme of things, the technopolis will have a spillover effect of attracting investors beyond those in construction, transport and energy and the onus is on the techpreneur to be ready to ride this wave of capital and exposure. Of note is that the funding is being sourced from outside markets and is not coming from government.
The more recent discussion on Twitter centered on the governments direct role in creating an enabling environment for local IT companies to flourish and even grow beyond our borders. The issues raised are both timely and relevant; and this has resulted in the creation of a forum where stakeholders will meet and “lay it bare”.
Some of the thoughts and questions are:
Government says we lack local capacity, yet the contracted international firms simply set up shop and poach from the very same companies that “lack the capacity”, all the while the costs for training that the local companies foot “go to waste”. High attrition rates, high costs of talent development mean growth stagnates.
It’s not about infrastructure and partnerships but more about creating local IP that has exportable value. The contracting of international companies does two things, the first is revenue repatriation and the second is it leaves us as net consumers of technology.
If the government could setup a finance institution to support agriculture, why not do the same for tech? Someone fed into this and said agriculture has supporting structures and policy and is a main revenue earner for the country and ICT doesn’t have these enablers and doesn’t bring in that much anyway. My counter…isn’t that why the government should think strongly about this? If we grow our local IP and create…exportable value think of the comparative ROI, which would buffer us from agriculture reliant revenue generation. Yes…if Mpesa was Kenyan created and IP owned by a local firm that then deployed it across Africa… finish the thought
Where is government with its tax incentives and programs to spur innovation and growth?
If the government doesn’t award local IT firms with contracts, why entertain the idea that some other government or company will want to? The likes of IBM became who they are by servicing local and built the kind of clout that opens doors in other markets.
IT feeds into all sectors of the economy…enough said
Where are the techpreneurs when government is formulating policy that touches on technology? The e-government secretariat looks like its bogged down with a lot of academic and policy type discussions. How is the progress even output to the would be implementers?
Smaller type capital deals that firms need to grow seem nonexistent. Funding gaps of between USD 50,000 and 500,000 open firms up to vulture capital with some firms barely breaking free from the stifling conditions and stumbling blocks presented by such deals. Can government bridge this gap?
How does one plug into government procurement to ensure they are in the radar when it comes to opportunity notification? If this info public?
More thoughts as they are distilled from the social media timelines………