Dalberg on Kenya’s Digital Economy

Dalberg has released a report titled Kenya’s Digital Economy: A People’s perspective. It finds that, in terms of digital transformation, Kenya is a lower-middle/income country that shows some characteristics of a higher middle-income economy.

The survey is based on in-depth responses from 2,456 people in Kenya’s 47 counties. It was done in 2020 to assess their perceptions on the state of the supporting ecosystems, digital infrastructure, enabling resources, applications and services.

The report differentiates between the uptake of “basic” digital services (sending money, buying airtime/data) and “advanced” digital services (e-commerce, paying for goods and services – health, education, agriculture, supporting livelihoods). It notes that some challenges to the next step of Kenya digital economy including exclusion and digital safety (fraud/harassment, cybercrime when using devices).

A stunning finding is that there is a low demand for advanced digital services, beyond mobile money, digital communication and social media. This is because non-users and 30% of current basic digital users do not find digital products or applications that are relevant.

Some of the sectors it touches on:

  • Agriculture: Kenya is one of the most advanced agri-tech markets with approximately 30% of agri-tech startups in Sub-Saharan Africa operating here and with 18% having their headquarters in the country But the awareness of landowners of digital services is low. 45% of those surveyed are not aware, while just 13% use digital services for their livelihoods – mainly to communicate with customers, suppliers and vendors while 10% use it for inputs and 15% for knowledge sharing. Half of those who do, use it as a result of assistance from field agents who are strong support factors for rural digital economies. Also half of adult female farmers face challenges in affording devices and accessing the internet which makes them hard to reach with interventions.
  • Health: There is low use of digital health services with only 15% of respondents aware, and of those, 35% use it mainly to consult health workers and pay for medicine with mobile money. The challenges cited are high costs and mistrust of doctors they can’t see while a quarter are concerned about sharing health information online.
  • Ecommerce is urban: 23% use e-commerce in urban areas compared to 9% in rural ones, and in Nairobi and the central region, uptake (24%) is twice as popular as in other counties in the rest of the country where it ranges between 1-12%.

On Financial Access:

  • Mobile Money has (+) and (-) aspects. The usage of mobile money is near-universal with 95% of lower-income and 93% of rural people using it as Kenyans have good user experiences with it, unlike some other countries. And while there have been concerns about fraud, 80% have trust in mobile money, but also 53% cite high costs as a reason not to use mobile money, more so with lower-income Kenyans.
  • Easy Credit: The report cautions that government should watch for debt traps from increase ease of digital credit in the country. Half of the respondents have had to sell assets, borrow more or reduce food & education expenditure to repay a loan – and this increases the chance of financial exclusion. Also, basic digital users lost an average of Kshs 1,470 to fraud while advanced users lost twice as much (Kshs 2,996) over the past three years. This is a risk that can grow as more unexposed people turn to advanced services and may face devastating losses that they cannot absorb.
  • Social safety nets: People with government stipends or pensions are more likely to use e-government services (such as eCitizen, iTax NHIF) than other Kenyans in general.
  • Entrepreneurs use it little: Among self-employed and business owners half use digital services and mainly for basic reasons like communicating with customers and vendors. Only 15-18% use it for advanced reasons like keeping business records, tracking stock, paying taxes, selling services and buying supplies through e-commerce platforms.

The report by Dalberg, done with support from the Omidyar Network, along with its data sets, can be downloaded here.

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