Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A small step for Government but a leap for Kenya

Today a story broken by the Daily Nation had the sensational headline "CCK Sparks Row with Fresh Bid to Spy on Internet Users". The story has triggered a very lively debate both in conventional broadcast as well as online media. While many feel threatened about the alleged invasion of their privacy, some of the more clued up are welcoming this development. The 'row' alluded to by the author the DN article seems to be attributed to some telecoms service providers reactions towards letters received from the CCK requiring them to cooperate in the installation of internet traffic monitoring equipment which the article refers to as "Network Early Warning System (NEWS)". Apparently CCK has clearly stated that the system will support the country's ability to detect and facilitate response to possible cyber threats.

Kenya as a country has had her fair share of threats, both online or in the form of cyber-threats as well as in real life. The most significant of these was the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi which took place on August 8th 1998 (a day before my wedding!) and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. The bombing, which took place simultaneously with a similar attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was attributed to Al-Qaeda, the fundamentalist terrorist group associated with Osama bin Laden. The 1998 incident cast a spotlight on Kenya's low level of preparedness to deal with major disasters and also raised a lot of questions about our ability as a country to gather intelligence and act on it.

A grenade blast which killed two and and led to the near capture of one of the most wanted Al-Qaeda terrorists at a cybercafe in Mombasa in 2003 in an operation carried out jointly between Kenyan and CIA operatives was a result of close coordination between security agencies as well as the use of "high tech gear, low tech human intelligence and courage". Part of the high tech gear involved in this operation allowed the security officers to track and monitor "patterns" of online communication that allowed them to close in on the terrorists. In this incident and a few other similar ones it has always been reported that the "Kenyan authorities used information provided by" [foreign nation], why can't we have our own capability to gather such information? Especially when it seems that the terrorists use online technologies for much of their planning.

It is therefore my opinion that the move by Kenya to improve her ability to detect and facilitate response to cyber-threats is a small step for the Government but a huge leap for the country. This exercise, coupled with the impending setup of the Kenya Computer Incident Response Team Coordination Centre (KE-CIRT/CC) with support from the ITU will go a long way towards enhancing the Government's obligation to protect her citizens.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Intense Twitter Debate on Tech Business Brings Kenya's Top Minds Face-to-Face at NaiLab on Friday 9th

The last 24 hours has seen an interesting twitter debate, if you missed it then you need to follow @pkukubo (Paul Kukubo), @blongwe (Brian Longwe), @kenyanpundit, @mikemachariaSST (Mike Macharia Seven Seas) and David Ndungu @davidndugu.

On request from @agostal and @kenyanpundit and accepted by all, its time to move from behind the keypads and have a debate that can accommodate more than 140 characters The Request: A forum that will allow you to express yourself, is government being fair in awarding Multi National Companies tenders yet claiming to develop local tech business, do we have local capacity to handle some of these
contracts?, are local tech companies being recruitment centers for the MNCs? Should private business depend on government contracts for growth? Are the same local companies giving smaller Startups and SME's similar opportunities... hard talk? maybe, the debate will be moderated by some of Kenyans best.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Of Gateways and Gatekeepers: The History of Internet Exchange Points in Kenya and Rwanda

An excerpt from "At the Crossroads: ICT Policy Making in East AFrica" © International Development Research Centre 2005, First Published 2005, ISBN 9966-25-439-0

Note: This piece chronicles the role I played in setting up KIXP between 2000 and 2002


The Internet in Africa has been growing steadily over the past several years and is beginning to play a significant role in Africa's development, creating employment, providing opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as acting as an enabler in the digital delivery of government services, education, radio, and healthcare among others. The new possibilities provided by Internet technologies present African countries with an opportunity to leapfrog phases of development and make use of the most recent innovations to establish a strong information society and increase the distribution of wealth among the populace, thereby addressing the poverty that has plagued the continent to date.

Fighting for What’s Right: The Kenya Internet Exchange Point

By Brian Longwe
Excerpt from "African CSOs Speak on the World Summit on the Information Society"
© Economic Commission for Africa November 2005

"Wait and see, we will shut you down!" These ominous words came from a senior Telkom Kenya manager to the Chairman of the Telecommunications Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK) regarding the Kenya Internet Exchange Point (KIXP). TESPOK had just launched KIXP amidst much acclaim and fanfare, but the events that followed clearly showed that some people were far from happy with this positive development in Kenya's Internet growth.

The warning was carried out and within hours. Telkom had disconnected all ISPs links into KIXP on the basis of a hastily made decision by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) that KIXP was operating illegally. These events, which took place in November 2000, marked the beginning of what will probably be remembered as the biggest regulatory battle in Kenya's history and a key defining moment for Kenya's Internet industry.