An Afternoon with Dr. Bitange Ndemo at Moringa School

By

Ruot Thabac Duany

Every Thursday afternoon, Moringa School normally invites a guest speaker to come and deliver a talk to the resident cohort. Our guest speaker this week was Dr. Bitange Ndemo, the immediate former permanent secretary (PS) of Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communication. As usual, we were informed about our guest speaker a week in advance but were also informed that the speaker requested that we read his article on cyber security in the Business daily. As a result, I concluded that Mr. Ndemo was coming to talk to us mainly about cyber security.

I must confess that I was going to be a little disappointed if Mr. Ndemo’s talk was going to be limited to a technical aspect of the IT industry. Our cohort has had mostly these kinds of purely technical speakers before and they were nice and insightful but served a different purpose. Dr. Ndemo just seemed different in my mind and fit into a different category that had to do with the bigger picture. As the former PS of the Ministry of Information and Communication, he had the bigger picture and that much has always been evident in his extensive writings. Dr. Ndemo’s cyber security article in the Business daily was exactly a week before the Angani crash. I will come back to the Angani crash and elaborate a little more on the cyber security issue later in the article.

When our guest speaker finally came and started talking, I knew that I was not going to be disappointed and I was certain my colleagues felt the same. He did not need to personally introduce himself and I don’t remember him doing just that. He eased into the classroom and spoke about the big picture using stories and analogies that were mostly mundane. He presented complex ideas and concepts, in entrepreneurship and IT, without sounding particularly smart. Needless to say, his audience related and connected to him immediately.

When Mr. Ndemo finally gave us the opportunity to ask questions, I posed a question that I have always had in mind about the lack of success in the IT outsourcing industry in Kenya. Mr. Ndemo attributed this to a lack of discipline and a resultant inability to adhere to deadlines here in Kenya. He elaborated that entities that outsource their services are themselves under pressure and expect prompt results and have no room for delays.

Mr. Ndemo’s answer got my curiosity, not least because I never factored the lack of discipline into my ever-present preconceived notions on the matter. I was also keenly aware that Mr. Ndemo is well placed to know about these things. I now have no doubt that Mr. Ndemo witnessed first hand some bungled IT outsourcing contracts due to unwarranted delays and unbecoming behavior. However, I still feel that there is more to this than meets the eye.

I am convinced that the skill level, the skill mismatch, and the sheer numbers of skilled IT people had at least something to do with this matter. Were all those calling themselves full stack developers really what they proclaimed to be? It is moments like these that exonerate my decision to attend an IT boot camp in this stage in my career in government. I have been to the trenches and can see things that I would not understand from a distance. The gap for me is in both the quality and numbers of the local pool of programmers/developers. Moringa School’s founders identified this gap as have others across the African continent. Moringa School was founded to fulfill this gap, especially in terms of the quality of developers and the relevant skills for the industry.

Be that as it may, one major gap persists and this has to do with the numbers that can be produced by entities such as Moringa School. This now ties back to the reasons behind the relative success of the financial services industry’s outsourcing in Kenya. In his answer to my question, Dr. Ndemo attributed the success of the financial services industry where IT has failed to the ready availability of underemployed Finance graduates . Although I never heard any Kenyan talk about it, the local banking or even the whole financial services sector generally is quite innovative. I am also equally convinced that If you scale up schools such as Moringa to each produce hundreds of developers a year, you would soon have a pool of skills that would ultimately result in a breakthrough that is akin to that of the financial services industry. In other words, given a similar situation to that of the financial services sector, the IT industry would no doubt replicate the success. That kind of intervention can only be done with a deliberate government intervention. If you still have your doubts, I urge you to kindly make a Google search on the unemployment rate for skilled programmers/developers Worldwide.

If we put the target beneficiaries ahead of all else, it shouldn’t really matter if this army of locally trained developers find gainful employment here or abroad. This is a specific and attainable scenario for a country like Kenya. That is just what I think. Regarding this matter, only a scientific gap analysis can decipher the real factor (s) behind the lack of success in the IT outsourcing industry.

Finally and getting back to the cyber security issue, I could not help but wonder when I first heard about the Angani crash whether the article on cyber security and the Angani crash were somehow related? I quickly realized that they couldn’t be related as Mr. Ndemo’s article was published a whole week before the crash. I certainly could just be thinking too much as the need for cyber security is an outstanding issue whether the Angani crashed or not. My entrenched habit of trying to decipher the aim behind any endeavor kicked in and I posed a question to the guest speaker about the goal of the assigned cyber security reading. With this, Mr. Ndemo emphasized the importance of cyber security as the African continent has joined the rest of the World as far as the collection and aggregation of massive amounts of data on all users by both commercial and public entities. With that kind of insight into things, I am sure that I will not be alone when I ask Mr. Ndemo questions about other insights when he comes back to Moringa School for a second time in two weeks.

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