Category Archives: egovernment

Guide to Kigali

A guest post by Niti Bhan
Getting There is not difficult  as there are Kenya Airways flights and also Rwandair flights. Our experience with Kenya Airways was not the best however. Our flight (via Bujumbura, Burundi) was on time and comfortable but the luggage for ALL, but three, passengers was never loaded in Nairobi, (or so they told us). Though, we were traveling under the “Priority” luggage tag due to colleague’s KLM frequent flyer card, the luggage arrived the following day, with the locks broken on the suitcases and the contents ransacked. 
In terms of  Visa and eGovernment, this aspect was very impressive, even before we left for Rwanda  We applied for visas online in the morning and though the response to the submission said it would take three (3) days for the visa, we received our PDF visa documents the very same day by email  (to be printed out and carried on the flight).  The payment for this cost US$ 30 at the airport and there is a little process of approaching the immigration counter before one is sent to pay at a cashier and then return  for a stamp.

The duty free at the airport is ridiculously cheap – with cigarettes cartons US$1 cheaper than in Nairobi and the Scottish single malt, Glenmorangie, cost just US$28 as compared to $40-50 for the same bottle in Singapore, Europe and the USA!

Getting around : The first thing to note in comparison to Nairobi is there is little traffic except for rush hour in morning and evening. The roads are wide, even, and clean and it was a pleasure to drive even during evening hours.

Kigali is a small town and reminds me of Bangalore in the late 1980s before the big boom – it has pleasant weather, mountainous vistas, hillsides with homes and a slower pace filled with mopeds – such as TVS 50 and ubiquitous  “motos” = boda bodas. All drivers have helmets, with spare for riders and they are marked with numbers and names. Taxis were less commonly seen.

Where to stay:
We stayed at the Hotel Chez Lando – close enough to the airport yet it felt central to the town. We paid US$ 60 per single room which were neat, clean and comfortable. Only soap is offered in the bathrooms though and such amenities were limited. On the other hand, guests have Wi-Fi internet  access (via password) throughout this garden style hotel.

There is breakfast included in the rooms, as well as a bar and restaurant . The hotel also has pleasant walkways with the heady scent of night blooming jasmine when walking through to the guest rooms.

Note: There was a theft in my room and the front desk was reluctant to act upon it in any way. We hear that police tend to say “It must be Kenyans” if thefts occur, and this had also happened to our colleague who had her house burgled by 4 armed men who took everything of value. Rwandans will claim Kigali is safer than Nairobi, but I leave that to your judgment.

Communications: Our Safaricom connection worked but even though Airtel advertising has seen around Kigali  the prepaid Airtel one did not, – & they say that it will be arriving soon.

The top two service operators here are MTN (see everywhere, discreetly) and Tigo. We also saw  internet cafes and  one assumes most businesses and hotels have broadband as that was widely advertised through RwandaTel. Is Rwanda working towards internet access (and thus provision of eGovernment services) for all? Yes, that I would agree with based on what I heard (though MTN money from the city to rural recipients, is not yet convenient for due to shortage of agents) and saw (our visa response rates)

Dining We ate at the Hotel Chez Lando that was reasonable with beer in an open air environment, food tends towards a European menu rather than more local offerings that seem available in Kenya;  one of the many Chinese restaurants  had good food, fast service and was affordable and there was also KhanaKhazana – a premium Indian restaurant  whose food (speaking as an Indian from India) was superb, some of the best I’ve eaten and the restaurant was packed with expats from all over the world.  The service was better, in my personal estimation, than in Kenya, although our Kenyan
colleagues feel the Rwandans to be slow. There is tradeoff made there for waiters here are empathetic, courteous, and willing to help you choose and navigate the menu.

Beer: Mutzig is the highly recommended local beer and its better than a Heineken and maybe (dare I say) than  Tusker! It comes in two sizes, extra large and regular and is the preferred beer over the more plebian Primus (considered the Budweiser of Rwanda). 

Our hotel’s bar was packed with non resident diners (the front half is separated by a garden gate from the residential half) and had TV sets, a pool table and casual open air seating. On the other hand, with all its non smoking rules, and Rwanda is said to be stricter about smoking than Kenya.  However, this was not felt as a major constraint by our smoking colleague.

Shopping & Sightseeing: Not much of this happened due to our packed
work schedule but a  must-see in Rwanda is the Genocide Museum in Butare. The reverberations of this nations’ events of 1994  can still be sensed across the country (we went deep south close to the Burundi border as part of our
work, passing the Ethnographic Museum) and influences the country’s patterns of behaviour. April is the national month of mourning and the country, effectively shuts down.

Rwanda cannot be understood without understanding this national event, and even our group (on a commercial trip) could not avoid the bullet holes in our local office, or the scars – both mental and physical – as some of our colleagues, narrated their stories of survival.

Business opportunities: MTN Money has been there for three years but rural agents are not as common as the local Bank Populaire de Rwanda – which has more rural outlets than MTN Money agents per local interviews on cash flow,  although for the city dwellers, it is more convenient. There is opportunity here, as the government moves towards eGovernment and providing internet access for all, for a wide variety of services and applications on the mobile platform.

One also did not see much activity such as jua kali metalworks, fabricators etc. and the rural market’s household goods shop had only china made offerings and no local ware such as in Kenya. Only one tailor was seen on the 110 KM trip to upcountry locale. Biashara is not as obvious nor as common, and one has heard is much more regulated by local councils and regions. In Kigali, Indians were seen doing business as were the Chinese.

Biggest Surprise: Rural Rwanda barely noticed us mzungus and we did not feel we were foreigners like we had in other rural regions e.g.  in Kenya. Only in a rural market, was our Kenyan colleague teased for having a mzungu with her. Our second biggest surprise, (coming from Kenya,) was the minimal wall paintings seen  across rural Rwanda and how structured and regimented the buildings were – similar construction, similar colours and mostly natural earth walls in comparison to the bright series of walls  (with cheap corporate advertising) one sees in Kenya.

Overall, a peaceful, small, well managed nation was the impression left although one could see prisoners in their bright orange suits at work in the city as well in the rice fields in the rural areas. Prisoners do not escape when working the fields because, if they do, their families homestead will be confiscated in return by the government.

Summary: The sense was that Kagame would indeed reach his 2020 vision of becoming the Singapore of Africa, but I add the caveat of the obvious and unnecessary thefts from the hotel room as a caution.

Financial Revenge of the Mainstream

Have you ever navigated a bank or financial site, and tried to complete a transaction or upload a file, but found an inexplicable error? Even after re-checking all the fields, character formats, cell alignments, password & field lengths, it still does not work.  It might even be a matter of uploading a simple text file into the system and with all the proper steps followed, or even cutting & pasting from the bank’s sample file, it still won’t upload or allow you to move to the  level? 
The answer to this could be that you’re using a Mac computer or a Firefox  or other browser – and if you try the same process using a PC and/or Internet Explorer browser,  you might find that the problem is fixed, if there ever was one. 

Sometimes the site admins are aware of these quirks, and advise users to try and complete transactions using PC’s or by running Internet Explorer, while others may not be aware – even as platforms other than Windows and Internet Explorer are now just as common. Anyway, always have a PC nearby or run down to the secure cyber cafe instead of trying over and over,  and wasting a few needless and frustrating hours.

E-Government Moment: Part I

Parliamentary Transcripts: This week the, the National Council for Law Reporting – [NCLR, a state corporation charged with publishing the law and judicial opinions of the High court and Court of appeal) in partnership with Google Kenya launched digital versions of the Kenya Parliamentary debates – or Hansards dating back to 1960. These are the official records of debates in Parliament and enables historians, scholars, researchers, students, and citizens to read up on mundane debates and historic moments – such as January 15 2008, when parliament was re-constituted for the election of a speaker and the swearing-in of new members, with a lot of unprecedented procedural side-shows.

The publication of the Hansards on Google books radically changes the ease with which information on parliament is obtained. The Business Daily has an article on the challenges of obtaining Hansards previously. “Until Thursday, they were only available to the public in hard copy at a fee after a visit to Parliament’s library. One also needed to have prior knowledge of the year and month in which that issue was discussed and the edition of the Hansard in which it was recorded.”

Now about 2,000 editions of the Hansard comprising 134,000 pages have been converted into 8.5 GB of data on Google books and is indexed and searchable, while still in magazine style & original font of the current Hansards for easy accurate browsing & navigation.

Government Bible: Also, two months ago, (in April 2011), the same partnership resulted in the publication on Google Books of over 100 years of the Kenya gazette. This is the ‘bible’ of the Government with gems of information such as government appointments, issuance of land title deeds, proposed land use updates, mergers, anti-corruption reports, notices of intent to acquire private land, inheritance of estates of deceased persons, bankruptcy orders, winding up & de-registration of societies and companies, applications mining, broadcasting, aviation, communication licenses etc. The collection has indexed over 190,000 pages of Gazettes from 1899 to 2011.

Summary: While concerns have been raised about the ability of foreign bodies like the World Bank and Google to get access to data, the end product is world-class and unprecedented on the continent. In addition the cost for each of these to the taxpayer has been marginal – at about Kshs. 2 million ($25,000). There are no restrictions on the use of the content on Google books which can be linked and shared with a single click and will be available on an API for more adaptations.

Prepaid Electricity in Kenya

Kenya Power & Lighting Company (KPLC), the national distributor of electricity is converting customers in many parts of the country from post-use billing and payment to a (prepaid) pre-usage payment.

One KPLC challenge for many years has been revenue collection, but that has changed since signed they signed up banks and supermarkets like Uchumi (some at a cost of ~ Kshs 50 per bill paid) and other outlets where customers can pay.


Payment: You can buy electricity tokens from some KPLC offices, but it is easier to pay by mobile money Safaricom’s ‘M-Pesa’ or ‘Airtel Money’ zap. You load money into M-Pesa, send it to KPLC, and in about an hour you get a 20 21-digit number that you punch into the meter for an immediate update of electricity credits.

Prepaid electricity unit installation.

Orientation: None at all! One day you come home and find workmen in the corridor doing a lot of re-wiring (at first I thought the landlord was installing fibre to the block, but it turned out to be KPLC’s sub-contractors) and the next day, you come home and find the watchman with a booklet for you to read and study on the pre-pay system! The booklet has been quite useful, but it omitted a process where you have to call KPLC to link your old meter and new meter numbers – in order to activate the new meter.

Cost: None to the customer, and the brochures say the cost of usage should be the same, and so far I’m on par at about Kshs 500 ($6) per week.

The meter also has some commands that you can use to check out your usage at any given time (a fluctuating 80W) and usage since installation – 100Kwh in three weeks. What I miss (for tracking inflation is a breakdown of usage, fuel surcharges and other taxes that form anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of every bill, and

  • [edit] cost of collection which may vary from Airtel to Safaricom) i.e it cost Kshs 20 to pay by M-Pesa
  • In order to pay by M-Pesa, you have to know your meter number. (so save it in your phone)
  • The cost of electricity has gone up by ~45% in a month i.e in mid-April a ‘unit’ of electricity cost Kshs 9.8 and in mid-May, it’s Kshs 14.2.

Shared Technology Opportunities in Kenya Government

One of the platforms that the Kenya ICT Board is spearheading a shared services platform/master plan for the Government.

They have studied the concept in the US, Australia and at large computer companies. They also appointed a consultant firm, Accenture, to carry out an assessment, and this week Accenture released a report this week on shared services (back-office functions) use at various government levels.

The findings were rather harsh and included:

  •  GoK is not well-positioned to support Vision 2030 through its platform, and for all the talk, IT spending is not a priority in government.
  • Low level of staff, low ability to execute projects.
  • Lack of standard process automation across government arms, few processes are automated – still heavy manual work, and use of outdated technology.
  • Kenya spends 70% of IT funds on hardware (which can go out of date quite fast), with very little spent on people and software. This is below world standard which Accenture defined as near – 20% spent on hardware, 40% people, 19% software, and 20% outsourcing.
  • Most IT projects are developed with silos within the different ministries or local authorities even within ministries and even if the current 80 large ongoing tech projects were completed, this would not lead to share services, e.g. because databases cannot talk to each other

Nevertheless, Accenture had bright spots & recommendations:

  • The low-level little process automation presents a lot of opportunity for the private sector to work with GoK in shared services.
  • Best practices can be driven by a single entity.
  • The shared service goals can be achieved not by increasing current IT expenditure, but by refocusing it on items like automation and standardization.
  • By developing IT career paths, the Government can have access to the better people in IT.
  • Accenture mapped out some current government process like obtaining a birth certificate and getting a passport – to the deal target scenario using shared services approach.
  • The cloud can be used to leapfrog other governments – i.e. enable citizens to use mobile phone and access services without visiting a government office.
  • There are other opportunities for the private sector to develop end user services, applications, architecture, and capabilities.

Other Comments

  • Information & Communications PS Bitange Ndemo said they had set out to fulfil a Presidential target to digitize four processes by this June 2011 – and mentioned the judiciary, land ministry and state law office (also Google Books has digitally archived the Government Bible – with 100 years of the Kenya Gazette now online)
  • Office of the President Administrative Secretary Sam Mwale it is government policy to share services and asked that more services be translated to Kiswahili which is understood by the majority of Kenyans. He also said that for shared services to work, it was important to demonstrate to government staff that the services work, that they are in charge and they have not lost their jobs.
  • Catherine Gitau, the Director of E-Government, said government departments will have to share infrastructure, services, and must also share data (Article 35 of the new Kenya Constitution notes that the state shall publish and publicize any important information affecting the nation, and every citizen has the right to information held by the state)