From Matatus to Mobile Phones; Kenya’s Growing Tech Success

Throughout the semester we have discussed multiple application of ICTs that aid the the development of nations around the world. While many of these are practical and goal based, I stumbled across and fun an innovatice applicaction of information communication technologies that boosts the economy of the given nation, connects customs of the country to the world and is a catalyst for fun.images-3

The African nation of Kenya has been at the forefront of ICT development for a long time, with incredibly high rates of mobile phone use relative to the rest of Africa. A newer start-up had been in the video game world. As mentioned in the Eocnomist’s Article Upwardly Mobile, Kenya has taken one of their craziest ways and turned it into enterntainment. In the capital city minibuses called matatus fill the streets moving with homicidal turns, twists, starts and stops. Signals are seldomly used, and brakes are used sparingly. With all the excitment they have to offer, Planat Rackus, a Nairobi based start-up, released “Ma3Racer”, a mobile phone game where each user steers a matatu down the street, with the quite unrealistic goal of avoiding pedestrians. Within a month of the games release, .25 million people in 169 countries around the world had downloaded the game.

This game brings the exciting street life of Nairobi to the world, but also demonstrates the growing trend of starts-ups popping up in the past few years. These companies are part of a quiet tech boom in Kenya happening alongside the coffee and safari industries the nation is known for. In 2010, Kenya’s tech related exports reached $360 million, and Nairobi is now known as the “Silicon Savannah”. However it still hold one crucially differential factors from its silican counterparts. Almost all of the tech firms have desinged their programs from mobile phones rather than computers. Why, well for ever 100 kenyans, 74 have cell phone, and nearly 99% of internet subscriptions in Kenya are on mobile phones


As a result of the nation’s tech success, investors ore flooding in. Ranging from small firms like Nailib and 88mph Ngong Road, to Kenya’s largest bank, Equity Bank, opening an “innovation centre” the city has become a melting pot for innovation and growth, focusing most of the investment funds on on mobile technology. GSMA, a global association of mobile operators, is about to open an Africa office, also on Ngong Road.


The tech investment is spurring an increase in Aid, inspriring NGO’s to focus on devleopment of the tech economy alongside agricultural and humanitarian assistance. This growth focuses on solutions to many local problems, but also holds a valuable spot in the global stage, with braggign rights to platforms like M-PESA and Ushahidi. Head of Google in Kenya, Joe Mucheru, says “We need to solve the nitty-gritty first and then we can invent new things”. This is where we say programs like M-Farm, a service that gives farmers access to markt prices via text, and allows them to group and sell products. This helps Kenya, and can be exported to other poor coutnries.

Over all the movement towards mobile phone application development in Kenya will allow the nation to continue to grow in all sectors of the economy, regardless of there geographic position or underdeveloped past.



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