CABINET SECRETARY ICT, INNOVATION AND YOUTH AFFAIRS
In 2015, Joseph Mucheru (mostly known as Joe Mucheru) was tapped from his job as the senior-most executive in sub-Saharan Africa at tech giant Google, where he was the Head of East Africa Google Office and the Regional Leader for Google sub-Saharan Africa based in Nairobi, to join HE President Uhuru Kenyatta’s cabinet. The Cabinet Secretary for ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs took charge of the ministry at a defining moment in Kenya’s ICT sector’s history.
The fusion of technology and finance, which birthed innovations such as Safaricom’s M-PESA in 2007, had reached a tipping point. M-PESA was no longer the only game in town and more mobile money products, including numerous savings and lending apps, were going live. Increased smartphone availability and the emergence of the ‘app economy’ had also disrupted many sectors, including media, advertising, and retail.
Likewise, the digital migration process was drawing to a close, signaling the beginning of a new era of digital transformation marked by high-speed internet availability to most Kenyans. Unlike analogue broadcasting, digital broadcasting accommodates more channels while using significantly less spectrum bandwidth. Digital migration freed up spectrum in the 800 MHZ and 700 MHz bands, allowing for network operators to roll out broadband 4G and long-term evolution (LTE) services that have since become synonymous with the high-speed internet that distinguishes Kenya as the region’s dominant tech hub.
Results speak for themselves
Managing growth and transformation in a fast-paced environment like ICT is arguably one of the most onerous tasks any leader can encounter in their career. However, CS Mucheru has gracefully and subtly managed this challenge, accelerating Kenya’s digital transformation at a blistering pace.
Seven years into office, the results speak for themselves: the value of mobile commerce transactions grew from Sh1.75 trillion in 2017 to Sh6.95 trillion in 2019, internet subscribers per 100 inhabitants grew from 55.2 in 2015 to 83.3 in 2019, and average daily online visitors to media websites grew from 1.5 million visitors in 2015 to 2.9 million in 2019 according to Economic Survey 2020.
Creating an enabling environment for industry players to operate, and regulating innovation without killing it, is the magic sauce behind CS Mucheru’s success recipe. During his tenure, the government has worked more collaboratively with the private sector in driving Kenya’s digital transformation. This has created multiple benefits, including the successful roll out of the e-citizen portal that has revolutionized how Kenyans access government services. The e-citizen portal, which is integrated with leading digital payment services, has allowed Kenyans to get services much faster while rooting out corruption and inefficiencies associated with manual systems.
The CS has also partnered with the private sector to oversee the successful roll out of the National Optic Fibre Backbone Infrastructure, which aims to enhance universal access to affordable ICT services countrywide, including to the far-flung parts of Kenya.
The ICT Ministry also spearheaded the successful rollout of the Digital Literacy Program (DLP), which aims to integrate digital technology into the learning environment by equipping teachers and learners with mobile gadgets and e-learning software. In many ways, this program set the stage for the widescale launch of e-learning programs in many schools following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Conducive legal and regulatory environment
A key highlight of CS Mucheru’s tenure has been his commitment to developing the right legal and regulatory environment for the ICT sector to thrive safely and without interferences. Two key pieces of legislation that have been passed under his watch, include the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act of 2018and the Kenya Data Protection Act of 2019.
Cybercrime routinely ranks as one of the highest risks for public and private organizations in today’s digital world. Data from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), the ICT industry regulator, indicates that cybercrime has been increasing at alarming rate in recent years. In 2016, around 7.7 million cases, including malware, web application attacks, and impersonation, were detected. This figure increased to 23.8 million in 2017, 51.9 million in 2018 and a staggering 110 million in 2019, underlining the timeliness of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act of 2018.
Likewise, the Data Protection Act is another timely piece of legislation in view of the raging global debate about the use of personal data by tech giants such as Google and Facebook to sell targeted advertising and the implications this has on users’ privacy. The Data Protection Act 2019 governs the use, processing, and archiving of personal data and establishes the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner—an office currently held by Immaculate Kassait. This law puts Kenya at par with other modern jurisdictions such as the U.K., and the European Union, which have passed similar laws to promote accountability in the digital economy.
CS Mucheru has also stepped-up efforts to get more Kenyan youth into e-working, an industry already thriving, going by the emergence of careers such as social media influencing which were unimaginable some five years or so ago. He has also tasked the CA to develop ways of lowering the cost of smartphones, which will ensure more Kenyans participate in the digital economy.
Budget estimates for the Financial Year 2021/22, which kicks off on July 1, indicate that CS Mucheru’s focus over the next year will primarily be on Konza City – the Vision 2030 flagship project aimed at transforming a 5000 acre piece of land 70 kilometers from Nairobi into a world-class IT hub. Sh17.8 billion—77% of the Sh23 billion allocated to the ICT Ministry—has been earmarked for Konza City. The funds are expected to go towards infrastructure development and will bring the project a step closer to completion.
Successful private sector career
CS Mucheru’s success in public service mirrors similar feats in the private sector. He was Google’s first sub-Saharan Africa employee and was key to setting up of Google’s presence in Africa from 2007. Before joining Google, he worked at Wananchi Online, a company he co-founded in 1999, where he held various senior roles at the company including Chief Technology Officer and Chief Executive Officer.
During his time at Wananchi Online, he concurrently served as Chairman of the Telecommunications Service Provider Association of Kenya (TESPOK) – an association of Kenya’s Communications Service Providers and Operators.
Between 2013 and 2014, CS Mucheru also served as a Director for UAP Investments, a subsidiary of insurance giant UAP Holdings Plc. Over the same period, he also served as a Director for Bitpesa, one of the pioneering firms in the bitcoin and cryptocurrency space in Africa.
He is currently the Chairman of the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) a specialized agency of the African Union (AU). He also serves as a Global Board Member of UNICEF – Generation Unlimited (Gen U).
An alumnus of Lenana School class of 1988 (joining in 1983), CS Mucheru was an avid hockey player who served as Captain of the team and won the distinct honour of being crowned “Sportsman of the Year.”
He was also the school DJ. He enrolled for his undergraduate studies for a Joint Honours Economics and Computer Science Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree at City University, London, and graduated in 1993. In 2008, he obtained his executive education from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
He was awarded The Moran of the Order of the Burning Spear (MBS) in December 2010 by the President of the Republic of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, for his outstanding contributions towards technology. In 2017, CS Joe Mucheru was awarded The Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya (EGH) by President Uhuru Kenyatta in recognition of outstanding and distinguished services rendered to the nation in various capacities and responsibilities.
CS Joe Mucheru is a member of the Africa Leadership Network (ALN) and The National Prayer Breakfast (NPB), a Director of GiveDirectly since 2015 and has been an Advisory Board Member at the M-PESA Foundation Academy.