A KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY FOR KENYA - LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE ..

Many of us Kenyans are yet to come to terms with our increasing addiction to online social networking (mostly facebook for now). It is even more interesting to see how many more local web pages within such social sites are popping up. More relevant events (online or otherwise), groups, blogs and community forums are being set up by the day for the most typical Kenyan contexts. Perhaps this is a little of what the Kenya ICT Board seems to be evangelizing - local content. With phenomena like Google Maps, FaceBook and a growing catalog of Kenyan blogs, we can certainly associate with the information age more closely than five years ago.

Gone are the times when local content was limited to struggling web portals run by internet service providers (ISPs) - the likes of Kenyaweb, and African online, etc. Let us leave the fate of the traditional ISPs in the advent of Mobile phone operators, Undersea cables and the National Optical Fiber Backbone Infrastructure (NOFBI)for another day. The story should get juicier when we considering our diversification strategies of our competing mobile networks into broadband data services.

Of course it would be incomplete not to mention the domination of Nation Media and The East African standard's news websites on Google searches for Kenyan content. Those were the only places to consider for the then strange concept of online advertisement. They still pretty much remain the first considerations for the more traditional, 'wanna be IT savvy' PR/Marketing manager using the so called 'web banners'. Times seem to have changed and there is no need guessing who is now subcontracting Google for their more effective Google Ads business model - the media houses themselves.

Consider me alarmist but I am astonished at the thought of the impending dominance of Google in Kenya's information (media) industry. The smallest subset of Googles products eg. Base, Check Out, Maps, Adsence, Blogspot/Blogger feels like its yet another western imperialism strategy on of our economy. In case the point is not clear yet, consider the increasing impact of Google Search, YouTube, Gmail on our information consumption patterns. If there is no worry about Google, then consider the thought that Facebook is now a mainstream means of communication for many young Kenyans. The implied possibilities in terms of advertisement revenues for these young American multinationals are huge.

Of course these new players area already claiming a share of the our conventional media firm's revenue streams. More disturbing though is the scary thought of who is getting to own the intellectual property rights on the stuff that the three million or so internet users in Kenya are feeding onto Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter, Wikimapia, etc.

Do not get me wrong - all is not lost with all these effects of globalization. A few ideas worth consideration to ride the seemingly unstoppable wave include :-
  1. Spruce up our CVs and seek out for 'plum jobs' arising from the likes of Google setting camp in the country. Of course this is in pursuit of the beautiful dream of owning a piece of the multinational through some Employee Share Ownership Plan (ESOP).
  2. Design the ultimate 'killer-software' around our peculiar habits that will whet Google's appetite for a buy-out of 'local knowledge'.
  3. Preposition our local firms for joint ventures and partnerships in symbiotic relationships with the mighty multinationals - financial muscle vs local knowledge and consumer (mis)understanding.
  4. The other idea in your mind right now - please share!