Deaths arising from coronavirus infections are
soaring every day as the pandemic spreads to every corner of the planet.
Economies are at a standstill, with key sectors under serious
existential threats of extinction. It is feared the virus will bankrupt more
people than it kills, as it brings down a number of economies.
What to do? With most nations under either a full or partial
lockdown to help contain the virus, governments are calling on people to
embrace technology to keep key sectors in operation as monitoring of the
In Kenya, Covid-19 is reminding workers that the digital economy
is one that best absorbs the shocks of any disease that discourages physical
contact and social grouping.
Schools have been closed, court processes halted, tourism
paralysed, cash payments reduced, and religious services disrupted as companies
now allow employees to work from home.
“Now is the time to rely on the digital economy for
solutions that keep life moving during a time like this. We are lucky to have
started our digital transformation journey earlier,” says Timothy Oriedo,
founder of data firm Predictive Analytics Lab.
Absa Bank Kenya’s chief data officer Hartnell Ndungi says that
many sectors did not foresee the current situation, and not all companies will
afford to facilitate employees to work from home.
“It is a challenge to power every employee with a laptop
and unlimited Internet, especially for SMEs. The probable solution is to
classify tasks into critical and non-critical, the later can work remotely.
Most companies will have to scale down production and that will affect
profits,” he told Digital Business.
While it is hard for data analysts to predict exactly when the
disease will disappear, especially in Africa, practising e-learning,
telemedicine, videoconferencing, shopping via e-commerce, using digital
payments, live-streaming religious services, using robotics in manufacturing
and working remotely are some of the remedies in a period of economic lockdown.
Unfortunately, African countries are lagging behind on this aspect of
operations. However a section of firms and institutions have embraced
technology and will fare far better than those who have been slow to adopt the
“There are so many e-learning platforms for students
available in the country, and for free. I personally use edtech solutions such
as Google Groups, Open edX and Canvas,” says Prof Bitange Ndemo of the
University of Nairobi’s School of Business.
Such platforms allow students to benefit from instructor-led
degree and masters programmes, all by the power of Artificial Intelligence
Boniface Mutunga, a master’s student at Kenyatta University,
however, says the comfort that comes with e-learning requires personal
discipline and commitment, and Kenya now needs to adopt Virtual Reality gears.
“You need a quiet area to watch live lectures and you need
to be punctual. Now that we have a 4G Plus network, I feel it is the right moment
for Kenyan universities to start adopting VR gears for these online
sessions,” he says.
However, such solutions are not ubiquitous, as they only apply
to advanced levels of study, since O-Levels, which teach vernacular languages
are left to wait for a cure of the virus.
“Most public primary and preparatory schools in the country
are not prepared for e-learning as the facilities don’t exist. This is only
happening in developed countries. In Kenya we only have a few private primary
schools that have had e-learning programmes for some time. But it will work for
universities,” says Mr Ndungi.
But with advances in AI, according to Dr Lillian Wanzare, a
computer science lecturer at Maseno University, there is a future possibility
of teaching vernacular languages remotely.
“Using Natural Language Processing (NLP), it is a matter of
time and local languages get taught to O-level pupils without any teacher’s
presence,” she says.
Kenya’s courtroom, which is overdependent on human interaction,
is being maimed by the directive on social distancing especially litigation.
The traditional filing of court documents, physical court pleadings, lawyer
presence and the entire offline nature of work calls for urgent solutions for
magistrates, judges, lawyers and their clients.
Since Monday, the wheels of justice have been moving very slowly
because court proceedings that attract gatherings have been abolished, but
administration of justice, according to founder of Lawyers Hub, Linda Bonyo,
can be done remotely.
The Judiciary has issued a memo on filing of cases within the
commercial wing. The Law Society of Kenya encouraged members to serve court
documents via e-mail while using Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
“Lawyers are now embracing technology tools such as
Calendly to schedule client meetings, Zoom for group calls and Signal as a
secure messaging service. To manage our work, we use Patafile and Wakili CMS
which are cloud-based,” she says.
E-commerce is benefiting the most from the current situation as
people move fast to stock their houses with food and household goods.
Though Kenya has not advanced to the level of drone and robot
deliveries, online purchases will certainly spike as the battle against
coronavirus gets tougher.
“E-commerce is witnessing an upsurge. Even people who are
not tech-savvy now see the benefit of online commerce where you purchase and
pay for what you want, and then it is delivered to your house,” notes Mr
Digital transformation, he says, can now be told from many
aspects, including religion, now that church and mosque gatherings have been
“Churches like the Consolata Shrine in Westlands, Nairobi
has been live-streaming services for a while. Now is a period where worshippers
must get prepared to consume the Holy Scriptures together from home, via
YouTube or Facebook,” he says.
During this period, the search for online jobs and businesses on
search engines has snowballed, as Kenyans look for ways to make more money now
that some of their income sources have been erased.
“Those looking for secondary cash sources can get into
online forex trade, where real-time monitoring of prices can earn you
money,” says Sila Obegi, chief executive of Meta Capital.
He adds that Kenya’s semi cashless system will be key in
fighting the virus, noting that mobile transactions via pay bill numbers which
became a norm years ago, are the way to go, but that leaves gaps for paper
money to be exchanged.
“The cashless loop is only complete if you have Internet
banking. You are able to send money from your bank to your mobile money wallet
and back. But this is a challenge for rural dwellers who only own the wallet.
“When you send them money, they have to withdraw to use it.
There are no many sellers accepting digital payments in such areas. I can only
say Kenya is 60 percent cashless right now,” he expounds.
Peer-to-peer payment platforms have gained popularity during
this period, but are Kenyans ready to pay via cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin,
Ether, Ripple or Litecoin?
“Because digital currencies are prone to price volatility
and come with the risk of being scammed, we have a long way to go. They are
also complex to explain to 70 percent of Kenyans who live in rural zones,”
says Mr Obegi.
Maureen Achieng, a developer in low and no code software platforms,
says that videoconferencing that supports many users is the next frontier in
finding solutions to global conferences that have all been cancelled due to
“I am working on a mobile and Web-based videoconferencing
solution that will enable at least 1,000 people to congregate from any part of
the world and discuss global issues,” she says.
Even before the spread of the coronavirus, the Fourth Industrial
Revolution was already unfolding, and the current situation can only accelerate
“We are treating Covid-19 as a catalyst to digital
transformation. It helps all of us understand the future,” Mr Ndungi