When it comes to the biggest emerging tech hubs of the world, Kenya, and Nairobi in particular, is definitely on the list. Known as the Silicon Savannah, Nairobi has grown into an important global player in the technology industry over the last few years.
At Ubuntu Life, the technological advances in Kenya are broadening our reach and changing the way we’re able to connect with our global community. Starting in July, we’re thrilled to be launching e-commerce operations in Kenya, primarily as a response to the tech boom in Nairobi and throughout East Africa.
So we thought it was fitting that we explore the technological evolution of Kenya, and share more about how our beautiful home came to be on the cutting edge of the global tech movement. To kick off this three-part series, here’s a look at where things started for tech in Kenya that led to the country’s rise as an IT hub.
Mobile Money and M-PESA
Starting in 2007, the Kenyan telecom powerhouse Safaricom launched M-PESA, a mobile money service that the Kenyan market eagerly embraced. Before M-PESA, the country lacked a mobile money transfer solution, even though Kenya had an abundant mobile phone user base.
It only took a couple of years for M-PESA to start winning international awards for its groundbreaking technology, and even empowered Kenyans without bank accounts to quickly become financially connected to the digital economy. Today, M-PESA is still the nationally preferred mobile money transfer and payments service in Kenya.
A Globally Recognized App
Later in 2007, the turbulent political landscape of Kenya inspired the launch of Ushahidi, one of the first globally recognized apps out of Africa. Ushahidi, which translates to “witness” in Swahili, helped citizens digitally and publicly track in real time outbreaks of violence in Kenya related to the volatile presidential election of that year.
Even after stability returned to Kenya, Ushahidi’s software became globally recognized as a digital mapping and demographic tracking tool. The pioneering company is still transforming the worlds of crowdsourcing and activist mapping today.
A Tech Incubator Model for Africa
Shortly after the success of M-PESA and Ushahidi, tech leaders in Nairobi and throughout Kenya devised a plan to launch an incubator model, known as an innovation hub or “iHub”, in Nairobi. The result is the iHub innovation center.
To date, hundreds of companies have formed out of iHub, which is home to tens of thousands of members who work with the incubator space each day to continue the advancement of Kenya’s global tech industry and realize their entrepreneurial dreams.
The Kenyan Government’s Commitment to Fostering Innovation through Policy
Recognizing the rapid growth happening in Kenya through the evolution of the country’s tech industry, the Kenyan government stepped up in the late 2000s to create policy aimed at securing the country’s place as a global technology hub. This came after the completion in 2010 of the TEAMs undersea fiber optic cable in Mombasa, which greatly increased broadband in East Africa and solidified Kenya’s technological leadership on the global stage.
Primarily the brainchild of Kenya’s then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications, Bitange Ndemo, the TEAMs project helped spur Ndemo’s creation of a 2006 master plan to develop Kenya’s Information Communication Technology (OCT) infrastructure to shape the country into a technology hub. Since then, the Kenyan government’s commitment to ICT policy has remained strong, with the country forming a fully staffed ICT Authority in 2013 and continuing to invest in technological innovation and the growth of the industry each year.