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Bridging the Digital Divide in Kenya Calls for Inclusive Digital Development

In today’s interconnected world, where technology touches almost every aspect of our daily lives, a digital divide still exists. However, this unfortunate reality persists and demands urgent attention for the holistic development of societies and economies. 

While technology shapes the routines of many, particularly the 29% of Kenyans residing in urban areas, the majority of Kenyans living in rural areas who make up 71% of the population still lack access to internet connectivity and digital devices, underscoring a profound digital disparity.

According to data from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), several factors contribute to this gap, including inadequate infrastructural development in underserved areas, high costs of data and internet services, and low digital literacy rates. 

For instance, rural areas, home to agricultural and pastoral communities, often lack basic infrastructural necessities like electricity, hindering communication and connectivity even for those with basic feature phones.

Efforts to bridge this infrastructural gap are underway, with the government’s last-mile connectivity program reaching its fourth phase this year.

This initiative aims to provide affordable internet connections to households in rural and peri-urban areas, thus expanding internet infrastructure to more communities.

From a technology-centric standpoint, the lack of connectivity is often rooted in the absence of both physical and digital infrastructure.

In regions lacking proper infrastructure, many individuals are unable to access digital services and content. This in turn impedes their engagement in the information society and acts as a barrier to overall development.

To address this, we need to expand digital infrastructure and ensure everyone has internet access. With this in mind, the big question is how we do this effectively.

The Kenyan Government’s National Digital Master Plan 2022-2032 emphasises transitioning to a digital economy through pillars such as digital infrastructure, government services, skills development, and innovation.

This blueprint aims to connect schools, health centres, government offices, and millions of households in underserved regions to the internet, enhancing digital access.

In tandem with the government efforts, Airtel is continuously expanding its network footprint across the country. The rapid network expansion is aimed at enhancing the coverage and capacity of the Airtel network.

Further, the network expansion and infrastructure buildup form a basis for the vast digital and technological use cases powered by connectivity. Today Airtel boasts over 3700 network sites and aims to bolster this number to over 4300 sites before the end of the year.

Acknowledging the inadequate reach of fiber technology to rural areas, which impedes digital connectivity, Airtel through its ‘Internet Mashinani’ campaign aims to cater to the internet connectivity needs of the rural areas’ population.

‘Internet Mashinani’ offers subsidized 4G smart box routers and MiFi to the rural population to ensure their businesses thrive and that they could also enjoy the benefits of internet connectivity affordably and conveniently.

As digital penetration deepens, rural businesses are poised to thrive, fostering economic growth at both local and national levels. Airtel’s contribution to education through initiatives like internet connectivity to schools in partnership with UNICEF, further emphasises the potential for technology to bridge educational gaps and empower learners in underserved regions.

Addressing the digital divide requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses not only infrastructural development but also community engagement and awareness-building initiatives.

In addition to expanding digital infrastructure and providing affordable internet access, there is a crucial need to address the lack of awareness and motivation among potential users, particularly in rural areas.

This is because many individuals may not fully grasp the value of technology in their day-to-day lives.

In conclusion, the government, the private sector, non-profit organisations, and other related stakeholders must work together to ensure equal access to digital technologies and opportunities.

Hence, by fostering partnerships, leveraging innovative solutions, and prioritising digital inclusion, we can collectively build a connected and equitable future where the benefits of the digital age are accessible to all, ultimately bridging the digital divide and creating a more inclusive digital society. 

 By Ashish Malhotra, Airtel Kenya MD

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