I know that some will take this message in the wrong manner but the few wise ones would take it well. Googlers are in Kenya after rocking Kampala last week. They are not even in Kenya, they are in Nairobi. Whenever these people reach a place like Nairobi, they think they have the message they need to hear from Kenya. Engagement is limited because either Google fear being asked real questions or they would love to give the usual panelist to earn their keep.
What I believe is that the euphoria of internet revolution is simply like a Turkana herdsman celebrating seeing a vehicle for the first time. We have not even scratched the surface of internet and mobile revolution in Kenya. We have 3 sub-marine cables but the effect has neither been felt beyond the affluent parts of Nairobi nor in any other part of Kenya. Just move to Kisumu, Mombasa, Eldoret, Thika, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kakamega or Machakos and try looking for an internet connection. It is still crazily expensive to a real serious mind.
And the euphoria on tech in Kenya is simply like a gathering of starving Kenyans clapping and celebrating at getting Facebook which is like being fed on unbalanced diet. Facebook access and acceptance does not mean anything. In fact social media has tried to cure the addiction to porn which was the most common before. But now exit porn and enters broken families and homes.
Anyway, I believe that Google can preach the net penetration and local content through a different strategy. The first strategy I believe is the cost of access. The moment when we will have real affordable broadband in atleast 5 towns in Kenya, we would have entered the digital nirvana. As long as everyone is looking at Nairobi as the real place where broadband exists, we would never make it anywhere in being the best.
Secondly, this mobile revolution is a pipe dream. We have such dumb phones which have nothing more than a basic browser as phones which we think we can do great business with. As long as the prices of mobile phone stay beyond Ksh 5,000, the real benefit of mobile web will not be realised. IDEOS is a phone which has many failings also like the battery life and the cost. Though it is Ksh 8,000, we cannot celebrate the 80,000 clients who have taken up the phone. Out of 20 million mobile phone users and we have only 80,000 having IDEOS and then we had Safaricom declare it the most popular smartphone in Kenya. Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S2 phone and say they target to sell 60,000 in the market and the price is from 62,000 to 70,000. I really doubt if Samsung will hit even 20,000 in sales.
Google has another problem which I tried to alert Nelson Mattos to address but he seems not ready to do it because like I said, Googlers are on holiday. Support must be localised. Google must not sound arrogant and disconnected from the businesses it pretends that it wants to support. Google bots roam the net and have blocked blogs of many Kenyans including the famous Kenyan Jobs and others until we had to write to Joe Mucheru asking what is wrong. Joe has not been good at giving the correct position sometimes saying one thing while the Google Nairobi office does a different thing. It has been some kind of doublespeak and whenever you write to Adsense support, the standard response has been “Google can disable an Adsense account for any reason it deems fit”. That is why I asked, can Google disable my account because I am black, tall or FAT? What is “any reason”? We remember the case of the guy who sued Google and won. It happened because of the arrogance from Google personnel in addressing real issues.
Many of the Google mobile and web evangelists believe that to have an innovation from Kenya, you must babysit the innovators. You will never easily get the next Google or Facebook from Kenya through competitions where cronyism reigns supreme. The way Google has marketed the Android Developer Challenge means that the same clique around iHub are the main participants. You will never have to babysit anyone to create an app accepted by the mass. Now Google rewards apps developers for creating cool apps and they just remain thus, cool apps. None of the award winning apps have been widely accepted. Google need to start looking for apps and innovation for the mass market.
Google needs to go to universities and middle-level colleges upcountry to market such ideas. These colleges and universities lack even the most primitive internet connections. They still have to fork our extra amounts to access cyber cafes and broadband. I was in Masinde Muliro university some time in June and the students there had not heard much of even a program like these top Google innovators and get some info on how they came to be real innovators.. If they have not heard about Wezesha, how will they even know about ADC? Maybe you need to check
Again when you have the tech events, you have the same panel year in year out. I greatly respect the ladies and gents who have made it in tech either through really being unique or just having known the right people. Their time is up though. They are like the Michukis of this world. They will not give us new idea because when you listen to them, they sound like stuck LP. They keep repeating themselves and they really bores you unless you have narrowed your mind very much that you don’t research anymore.
So my view is that we need to address real issues why Kenyans are not consuming local content. The content will come but now we must make internet access as cheap as possible and we should try very much to remove the feature phones and replace them with smartphones. The likes of Nokia 2330 are just feature phones and they still dominate the mobile web traffic according to Opera. Opera’s stats cannot be fully trusted because the browser is not common on Android devices as it is on Nokia.
Google should have entered and agreement with operators like Safaricom, Airtel, Orange and Yu to have operator billing on the Android apps on the market place. It is happening with Safaricom’s mother company, Vodafone, in Europe and so it can happen in Kenya. Failure of Google to address that kind of shows us how much they still don’t take the local developers that seriously even though they claim otherwise.
I have other thoughts but it is late.