We have had to thing more that 50 times before deciding to write this post. In February, we broke the news that Safaricom was to announce the much talked about Innovation Board. The board’s main mission has been to bridge the gap between Safaricom and the average innovator, creative, and content creator.

Safaricom apparently believes that putting into play such a board will give it much edge over competitors.

First things first. Safaricom has not issued a press release on who the board members. Safaricom CEO Board Collymore just highlighted the issue of the board during the graduating of the first students of Safaricom Academy. What we have had is a bunch of individuals who have been tipped to sit in the board bragging about their nominations and maybe licking their lips before the eating party while serving the board.

We have had more than 4 blog posts so far. But who are the individuals who might be the members of the Board? According to themselves, they are

  • Erik Hershman – iHub, Ushahidi, AfriGadget and other stuff. An America and claims to be white African but never held a Citizenship of any African Nation
  • Mbugua Njihia – CEO Symbiotic (Software Development Firm)
  • Al Kags – Poet, Speaker, Talker, Formerly with Kenya ICT Board and many other things
  • Rehema Parmena – IP Lawyer at Rehema Parmena and Company Advocates based in Hurlingham
  • Bob Collymore – Safaricom CEO and a British Citizen.
  • Betty Mwangi-Thuo (I dont know why ladies always have to minus a name) – Head of Safaricom New Products and Classmmate of ICT Board CEO (Paul Kukubo) as per her own confession.
  • Joseph Sevilla – Former Dean of Strathmore IT Department, a Spaniard and is very well connected with government officials who needs to silence critics and get some boot lickers.
  • Paul Mugambi – Also from Safaricom new products division.
  • Fred Waithaka – Safaricom Legal Department.

Now that is what is being said by this blogger and this blogger that is going to be the composition of the board. Does Safaricom really need an Innovation Board? For what reason and what did they want to do that they didn’t find easy to do without the bloggers? Why must 30% of the board members be non-Kenyans? And when you have it that to be in a Safaricom Board you must have come from Braeside, Brookside or Safaricom Side School then that’s what?

You cannot be in the in an innovation board because just you created a place which was meant to have more Kenyan developers, creatives (not loudmouths) and content generators nurtured but you have ended up with a situation where at any given time, you have 70 of residents as lonely wazungus who are suppose to be researching on African tech, civil society and media scene but are busy drinking lots of coffee and beer at iHub instead of the not so well connected Kenyans given a chance to be guided.

These are what Safaricom needs to do for it to be pro innovation. BTW apart from M-Pesa which I seriously believe was a fluke, what has Safaricom created? You know when you do a wrong, it is only your dark side which comes to your  critics mind. So remind me of the bright side of Safaricom before I suffer total memory loss. Again for Safaricom to be seen to be pro innovation, these are what it MUST do;

  1. Safaricom must open the “innovative” product M-Pesa’s API to the local developer. This will go to prove to the average Kenyan techie how serious the company is about doing business with them. You can’t claim to be my friend while you don’t even see me worth sharing an idea with you.
  2. Safaricom must allow for uncapped internet in their 3G network. Most of the today companies and startups are created with researched ideas from the great marketplace and field which is the net. As long as you have an idea that every person entering Gikomba has to be charged a gate fee, you don’t look progressive to me. Do you know that even if today you go as a visitor to Safaricom, you will not get a Wi-Fi and use your laptop or Wi-Fi enabled Smartphone effectively? You must be innovative in thought to be innovative in action and even have a board whose innovative thought can only be out of this world.
  3. Safariom just like I have said with the Kenyan government, must detach from the meentality that every Kenyan innovator must have heard of iHub. We are being stagnant in thought when we have our minds squatting around iHub. We have more than enough big towns in Kenya. There are many weaknesses of the iHub and many strengths. We cannot, as a government and corporate, now revolve around a belief that iHub is the start and the end of innovation in Kenya. That’s foolish to say the least. Think of a student who went to Ronald Ngala Primary School in Mombasa then to Tudor Day High School then to Mombasa Polytechnic and has great technique.

You know that the majority of great innovators and even technicians didn’t go to University. Like William Ruto used to say, Universities train managers. But managers needs the technical people they need to manage. University graduates with bachelors and those pursuing masters lost their innovative mind with the many research assignment. They can effectively mentor but innovate. Not all but most. And our University courses simply went dry in ideas. They are more on how to make millions instead on how to create millions.

This so called Innovation Board, looks to me like a Nazi’s Secret Police ( Gestapo). A good number (3 to be exact) of the members of the proposed board used to be the harshest critic of Safaricom. They had to be silenced. And After silencing the majority of the outsiders, you had to have another 50% come from Safaricom. Now that is how a totalitarian regime is built. And do you remember that Safaricom CEO just disallowed any official of the company brandishing the title “Chief” apart from himself? Now that caps it all.

What I believe Safaricom is doing is just to test waters. That is why it is having this controlled leak over the board. And Safaricom even removed the details about the innovation board from its website.

After writing saying all the above, I think that the first target might be Tech Mtaa.

  • raidarmax

    While I do not necessarily agree with your every argument, I think you have highlighted a few facts that are key. Safaricom is a business, not an NGO so having an innovation board is not necessarily a plus to the tech community, its a plus to them. They will grow their business with your ideas like they are famously rumored and not necessarily gain you.

    Someone needs to start anyway, so they have started and its a fact that their choice is a little questionable. Its like buying critics. What i could say is that the guys who have been critics and pushers to safaricom like @MbuguaNjihia should remain on the same foot and make sure he represents the voice of others.

    I will also challenge developers to approach other networks.

    • Rashida

      I think I agree to @raidarmax. Its a very good article (except for the spelling errors) and the issues are real. I see it a little differently though from the blogpost on the issue the people chosen by the board. (a) Safaricom is a business and they have ultimate choice of who they have on the board, (b) I like the composition – Erik Hersman & Al Kags credentials are cool in the industry – remember they are the ones that spoke loudest to Safaricom when they started the innovation thing… Its a good thing in my view that they took critics like MbuguaNjihia and the IP lawyer from RPLAW, because I want to believe that they will represent the community in a sober manner. That said, we now have to watch how they proceed.

      I think it would be a really good thing for us developers to start to speak to the Safaricom competition and make sure they too work with developers. No one else is even interacting in any real way with developers and the community… but the question is who will bell the cat? Our community’s nature is that we shoot down or discredit those who do something but we do nothing ourselves – I am one of those people… how do we move?

  • there is no one in that whole list that can write a single line of decent code. The list is full of non-starters who have done nutsing for the Telecomms industry – this #teammafisi fails in a million ways
    1. none of those guys have come up with a profitable e-business that we can look at and learn from
    2. the absence of actual innovators who are on record in getting working stuff on the ground (there are many)
    3. the message from safaricom that it does not trade with the small fish and that for a innovator to negotiate with industry brokers you must have a) a job, b) a fat-ass account c) have zero tech skills d) operate from the iHub e) have existing financial backing from the West

    Safaricom got where it is now by not stiffling innovation and what it needs to do now is to open the M-PESA API and watch Kenyans do wonders with it. This way Safaricom can make money honestly and stay ahead of technology.

  • While suggesting that the Safaricom innovation board is akin to the gestapo is quite a harsh statement, you do raise legitimate questions on innovation in Kenya. Unfortunately from late 2009 ‘innovation’ has been the buzz word for anything tech, but this catchphrase is so restricted in scope and primarily relates to mobile/web/CMS/crowd-sourcing and of-course apps. It is a truism that Kenya is playing catch up with luminaries like Silicon valley in the tech sector. However, I greatly doubt Nairobi will mimic or come anywhere near the Valley. Reality check- the progress of a nation’s tech industry closely mirrors the progress of other sectors e.g. infrastructure, education,health etc. It would be preposterous to imagine Kenya can leap frog into tech utopia by just cashing in on the ‘innovation meme’ while neglecting other critical sectors which are essential in nurturing innovation. From following tech trends, I surmise that Safaricom is quite keen in penetrating the content market, for this purpose I believe the board is constituted to figure out how best Safaricom can explore and exploit the mobile app market and ‘entice’ developers to build apps which can be hosted on a proprietary platform which resembles something to the Apple app store. Indeed Safaricom is going all out to ensure that they do have dominance in the app market as their turnover in voice/text and eventually data has taken a big hit from other telco rivals. I do concur with you that opening the M-PESA API is long overdue. But what makes you think that developers need to solely rely on Safaricom’s ‘goodwill’ to open the API. Why not come up with an alternative API which is compatible with MPESA and by extension other mobile payment interfaces? Isn’t this the purpose of innovating, being audacious and trending on uncharted waters as to devise a solution to a problem? As for 3G that’s a no-brainer, high speed reliable Internet connectivity is sum qua non for a thriving tech sector, but to expect Safaricom to give uncapped broadband is a pipe dream. I would instead advocate for more free high speed public metropolitan WI-FI hotspots in the city as in the case of Hong Kong, San Francisco and soon Kigali Rwanda which seeks to become East Africa’s Wi-Fi hotspot. Indeed measures to innovate should not just emanate from the Ihub or the Kenya ICT board but should start with an individual. Hot startups and tech giants e.g. Google,Facebook, Apple and numerous others were ideas pondered in ‘garages’ and university student halls and they did not rely on any fancy institutions or corporates to stimulate their rise. Why can’t Kenyan individuals and techies do the same?

    • Josephmuriuki25

      Cool,PaulM. You served him right! he’s just another whining Kenyan.

  • @Solomon Mwangi in our opinion you say that none of these guys has come up with a profitable e-business,where would you place Ushahidi. Erick has done a lot for the Kenyan tech community and if anybody deserves to be on the board it is him.
    Robert you claim that the iHub is full of wazungus drinking beer,take another trip there and observe.

    • Kirui, I would rather the lazy coffee and beer drinking supposed to be researchers leave iHub for the Kenyan tech mind who cant afford space elsewhere. That is what I said.

      • Rashida

        Robert, you should spend time at the iHub.

      • We have many Kenyan tech mind at the ihub continuously working on some product. The wazungus u talking about attend events at the ihub but don’t really stay there. Just visit the ihub when there is no event and u will get a clearer picture. Your article is on point except for the part about the ihub.

        • Simon Ndunda

          I-Hub is not accessible to the average Kenya Developer, their membership is every 6 months and not all those apply get, and the 70% allegation is very close to the truth. personally am developer running a small software firm and i just got bored with that place after i could not get membership and neither could i connect with the people there. luckily am doing just okay without i-hub

  • kri1987s

    i see no prob wit safcom, MJ went, so will his innovation, and in comes a social mass reply board to justify why a closed system is the holy grail.

  • Adolphuslwova

    Good stuff you have been reporting on your blog now this some real blogging at last … but always read through before posting …typos kibao

    • You will always get those. Thanks anyway and you should have highlighted the errors.

  • Alai, I think you have a few misconceptions about the iHub, maybe you should visit the place and get views from the ‘non-white’ users. IMO, I think it has been a turning point

  • Jaffarmoha26

    Apart from the typos, this post raises very legitimate issues. Of course, if you are the “new kenyan tech guy” [i.e you hang out at iHub, your idea of innovation is linked to Safaricom/Mobile/Apps, or re-inventing the wheel to suit the “local market” ]then you will find the post quite harsh. It may be early to say this but innovation in the kenyan tech space will not be the by-product of Safcom or any board. Such a venture is so narrow that by itself it does not qualify as a womb for innovation. The tragedy with the visible tech community is an adolescent preoccupation with non-issues, we are all interested in attending the right meetings, being famous, copy-paste blogging but nothing innovative.

    Who.where are these kenyans who have innovated something, please tell me. We do not understand innovation and obviously we are looking for it in the wrong places.

  • Josephmuriuki25

    Served him right! just another whining Kenyan.

  • Josephmuriuki25

    Served him right! just another whining Kenyan.

  • Danodundo

    if these people bought silence from there critic by getting them to the board then Robert you might be next but it will be a real sad story if you will sit in this Nazi Secret Police(Gestapo) because most of us guys are vunerable.

  • Roberta Alai

    What nonsense. You what have you created?

  • PRAXX007

    i am a simple Kenyan i read one of your articles TUSHEREKEE INNOVATION PAMOJA another read, HONEST BUSINESS IS GOOD BUSINESS FOR INSTANCE i shared and submitted ideas to your company only to discover later on  that my ideas were copied,misused and implemented and to make the matters worst i was never paid at all, fraud in broad daylight i mean. HOW DO YOU EXPECT INNOVATORS AND TECHNOLOGISTS TO COME UP WITH OR UNLEASH THEIR IDEAS IF AT FIRST YOU DO NOT PAY THEM AND REFUSE TO SHARE THE PROFITS.A MUST READ-  “they will grow their business with your ideas like they are famously rumored and not necessarily gain you” i like this phrase COMMENTED BELOW BY RAIDARMAX.

  • Patmiru


  • patrick

     if it is fraud what about compensation?

  • Anthony

    Keep on the good work. I know it costs you much
    but thanks for letting us know the other side of the coin!

  • Cynikal Kenyan

    Alai. you are right. Safaricom is partly owned by Vodafone( a large telcos co in the Uk) and recently Michael Joseph was appointed as a director for one of their deprtments, mobile money. (forgive me for my vague details). East Africa and more broadly Africa is the next biggest thing in the world as it opens a whole new untapped market for major corporations in the East and West. however, most corporations do not and try to understand the African market due to its uniqueness. Most who are likely to have a deeper understanding of the needs of the African market and how to approach it and tailor suit products for the market would have to come from within i.e.young educated Africans. Safaricom and other corporations are subversively trying to figure out and grasp a better understanding of the market through this ways. that is why i agree with you Alai. Information is the most vital investment. Information on us (Africans) and our habits, spending trends, needs, etc. area goldmine for corporations. While it may seem like a gesture of assistance from THEM, they are only out to profit  themselves. The markets in the West have been exhausted. Co.’s face a huddle in staying afloat in the industry. The solution for them is to tap into raw markets, such as ours. Africa, need to protect itself and open its eyes.