By Morris Macharia Musyoka
The rise of digitalization and digital economies is shaping a dynamic digital landscape across Africa. Software engineers play a pivotal role in this transformation, driving economies through the design, development, testing, and maintenance of software applications that impact various facets of life, such as agriculture, healthcare, education and even banking. It’s on the same ambition that the World Bank’s Digital Economy for Africa Initiative aims to ensure digital enablement for every individual, business, and government in Africa by 2030, aligning with the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa.
However, as governments increasingly shift towards digital service delivery and participation in initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), cybersecurity becomes a critical concern. Focusing on Kenya, with a current internet penetration of 32.7 percent and a projected significant increase in internet users by 2028, the country must address cybersecurity issues. The success of Mpesa, Safaricom’s mobile money service, with an impressive 2,600 transactions per second, underscores Kenya’s prominence in the digital world.
This digital transformation extends beyond the telecommunication and financial sector to the public sector, where the Kenyan government has digitized a substantial portion of its services through the e-citizen platform, offering 14,000 services. Even educational institutions, traditionally resistant to technological integration, have embraced digital tools, emphasizing their importance during events like the COVID-19 pandemic.
The widespread use of mobile internet has facilitated online shopping, with categories like fashion and electronics dominating the space. Social media has become a dominant mode of communication, and even dating apps, once considered Western, are gaining acceptance in the country.
Behind these positive trends, however, looms a significant threat – cybersecurity attacks.
In 2023, Kenya experienced 860 million cyberattacks, ranking among the top three most targeted countries in Africa, according to the Communication Authority (CA) of Kenya. In January of that year, CA identified sectors such as financial services, healthcare, education, energy, utilities, and government agencies were particularly targeted. In July same year, over 5,000 government services through e-citizen were paralyzed due to a cyber-attack by hackers identifying themselves as “Anonymous Sudan,” fortunately without any reported data loss, according to the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Information, Communications & the Digital Economy, Eliud Owalo.
Addressing challenges in the IT sector, especially cybersecurity, necessitates a robust response. This involves not only implementing but also revising, monitoring, and evaluating cybersecurity policies, frameworks, and regulations. It requires a focus on developing cybersecurity skills and fostering collaboration between the private sector and government.
Kenya, being a leader in internet usage in Africa, must enhance its cybersecurity capabilities. This includes promoting in-country developed cybersecurity experts through skills audits in collaboration with the government and private sector. Establishing a cybersecurity professional certification/accreditation framework under the National Information, Communication, and Technology policy is a viable option to regulate the space.
Collaboration between the private sector and government is crucial, not only in training and capacity building but also in benchmarking and resourcing institutions for a secure cyberspace.
The shortage of experienced IT experts, particularly in cybersecurity, exposes both the government and the private sector to significant risks, including data loss, illegal data mining, and resource depletion. This emphasizes the need for curriculum re-evaluation to meet the evolving needs of the IT landscape.
As Kenya continues its role as a digital leader in Africa, recognizing the interconnectedness of software engineering and cybersecurity is crucial. The success story in digital transformation should be accompanied by a parallel commitment to fortify the nation’s cyber defences. Through collaborative efforts, policy enhancements, skills development, and an updated educational curriculum, Kenya can navigate the dynamic digital era with resilience and security.
Morris Macharia Musyoka is software engineer and techpreneur