Kenya Builds Digital Villages And Lays the Foundation for a Brighter Future

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May 04, 2010

May 2010 Issue

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Digital Villages
Under the ambitious program that is mainly targeted at enhancing and harnessing the power of the digital age, the Kenyan government, through the Ministry of Youth, is working in collaboration with software giant Microsoft Corp. to set up digital villages in all of Kenya's eight provinces. As the program expands, it is expected to trickle down further to the remote village outposts through the Constituency Development Program that the Kenyan government has successfully implemented to devolve funds from the central government to the grass-roots projects. Through the digital villages, Kenyan youth in the rural areas will benefit from free ICT training.

Through a public-private initiative, the Kenyan government has already pumped millions of dollars toward the development of ICT skills in Kenya. This was initiated by the laying of a fiber-optic cable in the country; this cable is currently being laid across major urban centers and divisional headquarters, which are closer to the rural communities. The government has consequently set up incentives for the private sector to lay the fiber-optic cable and provide broadband internet connectivity via WiMax so as to reach even the most remote parts of the country, especially in the marginalized northern and northeastern parts of the country.

Local telecommunications provider Kenya Data Networks (KDN) is currently developing the Digital Village Constituency Cluster at an estimated cost of Kenya Shillings (Kes.) 210 million (U.S. $2.8 million). This is aimed at establishing a digital village in every constituency in Kenya. There are 210 constituencies in the country, with each being allocated Kes. 1 million (U.S. $13,000) for the development of a digital village.

"Each cluster will consist of at least eight digital units within a radius of 15km in rural Kenya, serving commercial, educational, and developmental purposes," says Kai Wulff, the KDN CEO.
According to KDN COO David Owino, the digital villages are also aimed at enhancing development through elearning as well as employment creation. KDN uses a special mast that is hoisted high above the villages to broadcast the internet frequencies at a radius of 60 km. A digital village takes various forms, from a converted 20- or 40-foot cargo container to an office block where technology is made available to residents who do not have access to electricity or broadband internet connection. Apart from the rural communities of Kenya, the program is also being spread to the sprawling slums close to the major towns and cities in Kenya.

While the laying of the fiber-optic cable might take longer before it reaches the remote parts of the country, owing to huge capital investments, the government will be setting up very small aperture terminal (VSAT) base stations in these regions that will be powered by wind and solar power to run the computers and printers. Local telecommunications providers such as Safaricom, Zain, and Telkom Kenya have chipped in with relatively cheaper and faster internet connection solutions that use GSM, CDMA, and WiMax technologies. This is in concert with the rural electrification program that the government has initiated over the past 3 years that is attempting to light up more than 10 million households in the next 10 years at an estimated cost of Kes. 4 billion (U.S. $53 million).

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