This blog was written by A4AI’s Project Manager and Researcher Evelyn Namara.
A thriving, reliable, and secure digital infrastructure is one of the critical pillars of economic development in most emerging economies. However, most developing countries continue to lack thriving infrastructure development that supports anchor institutions such as schools, health centres, and universities. Where infrastructure is present, it is often unreliable, insecure, or simply costly.
Kenya has among the most extensive information and communications technology infrastructures and one of the continent’s highest levels of broadband uptake. Yet, the country still has a significant digital divide, especially in rural areas. In February 2022, Datareportal reported that 29% of Kenya’s population lives in urban centres while 71% reside in rural areas. The same report noted that there were 23.35 million internet users in Kenya, with the internet penetration standing at 42.0% at the start of 2022, clearly demonstrating the digital divide gap. The 2019 census report showed that rural internet access stood at 13.7% compared to urban Internet access, which stood at 42.5% – more than twice the access in rural areas.
According to the Communications Authority of Kenya’s March 2021 statistical report, total data and internet subscriptions stood at 43.7 million. Of these, the vast majority (43.03 million) are mobile data subscriptions, of which only 25.76 million are mobile broadband (3G/4G) – the remainder is Edge connections at low speed.
Despite there being fibre connections in all the 47 county headquarters, the last mile links within the rural areas of the sub-counties have been low. Due to the sparsely distributed low-income population, the average revenue per user (ARPU) is low relative to the high cost of deployment, resulting in a low return on investment (ROI) that discourages investors.
What does this mean for the three least connected counties of Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa, which have an average population and internet usage rates are 830,000 people and 1.5%, respectively?
A4AI, in collaboration with the Government of Kenya (GoK) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Kenya, led a project to analyze the challenges and propose new opportunities to drive scalable investment solutions to expand connectivity to these three counties to secure, reliable, and affordable inexpensive internet.
For these three counties, the highest incidents of poverty and low literacy rates coupled with the lack of access and affordability have kept users offline. Additionally, where infrastructure does exist, it is frequently destroyed with no compensation from the government.
Our research showed that Garissa, Wajir, and Mandera have the lowest 4G coverage in the country and limited fibre backbone reach. Furthermore, 60% of all anchor institutions in these three countries are outside the fibre backbone coverage area.
Furthermore, out of the approximately 2300 anchor institutions in these three counties, 95% of these institutions are still unconnected to the internet.
Based on these findings, our estimates showed that to connect Garissa, Wajir, and Mandera, an estimated $22 million in capital investment is required, with the mixed-technology scenario seeming to be the most cost-effective route.
Additionally, policy and regulatory reforms are equally urgent to ensure that the three counties are efficiently connected. A4AI and its key stakeholders identified six pillars of policy action that would be instrumental in providing Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa with reliable internet. These core pillars include:
- Strengthening policy and regulatory capacity;
- Infrastructure development and deployment;
- Spectrum management;
- Cyber security, personal data protection & privacy;
- Digital skills and capacity building;
- and issues directly impacting providers.
To guide the counties through implementation, A4AI suggested short and long-term policy recommendations for connecting the anchor institutions in the affected counties based on the six policy pillars identified. With the estimated $22 million in capital investment needed to connect the unconnected in Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa, active engagement and participation of different stakeholders are required to make implementation a success.
A4AI looks forward to continuing working with the Government of Kenya, partners like USAID, and other various stakeholders to ensure that the people of Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa can have affordable and meaningful connectivity.