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East Africa must harness a digital financial services ecosystem

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By PATRICK ADENGO
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The East African Community ecosystem for digital financial services has shown exponential growth over the years, with active users and active agents increasing 60-fold since 2005.

Similarly, the volume and values of transactions have shown a positive upward trajectory that appears to be on track to exceed the per capita levels of traditional mobile money since earlier forecast.

These positive trends are the result of sustained efforts on the part of the private sector, donors and government alike.

Seeking to build on this success, governments should prioritise the creation of a resilient, inclusive and innovative digital financial services ecosystem that bolsters social development, a robust economy and an enabling ecosystem that supports a thriving private sector.

Some governments have called for implementation of foundational infrastructure required in a digital economy. As an incentive for change, the importance of digitisation and examples of transformative policy initiatives, have been outlined.

Here are some highlights/notable points:

The need for a Digital Address:
The poor addressing systems in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, are improving; however, more needs to be done.

A country cannot transform without a proper addressing system, which even has negative effects on tax and revenue collection.

Without a proper addressing system, countries cannot participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution — e.g. online shopping, online-learning, online-delivery or ride-sharing apps will not work effectively.

The need for a Digital ID:
India is an example of a country paving the way for other developing countries to roll out Digital IDs using new technologies such as retinal and facial recognition, smart chips, and cloud computing.
Citizens can pay utility bills, order government services and improve business activities using the Digital IDs.

The need for Digitisation of Land Registration:
This is an important process as it will help the mortgage market and potentially help release hundreds of billions of shillings to finance regional development.

Interoperability of Payments:
Interoperability of payments is needed to modernise emerging economies and enable transactions at any financial service point and mobile network operator or payment service provider irrespective of the service provider used.

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Kenya has already taken significant steps towards building a more inclusive digital financial services ecosystem — notably through the implementation of mobile money interoperability.

However, it is suggested that Kenya’s available market infrastructure will not be sufficient to fully unlock the promise of a digital ecosystem and to maximise the impact of digital financial services on financial inclusion as well as on the broader economy.

Building a digital economy characterised by high usage and a wealth of compelling use cases — in which a variety of actors provide a wide range of financial and non-financial services.

(These are digital currencies, digital savings, digital credit, digital insurance, digital retail payments, benefit transfers, digital taxes payments, digital fees payments; digital solar, digital water, digital health or digital education or agriculture, etc).

This has to be done via digital financial services and will require governments and businesses alike to invest in new technologies, build shared infrastructure and develop innovative partnership models.

Although some of the required financial investments to build out this ecosystem are now being made, they are typically fragmented and may fail to build the type of comprehensive whole that a digital economy requires.

A key area where the emerging market would benefit from support is in the development of so-called Connected Digital Market Solutions.

Technology today allows individual components of the financial services ecosystem to be open and connected to each other in a way that was not possible before, with the potential to create solutions that are greater than the sum of the individual parts.

These Connected Digital Market Solutions can efficiently and effectively connect individuals, businesses and governments, and allow each stakeholder to focus on their core competency.

One prominent example of a connected digital market solution is the India Stack. However, such solutions need not be as ambitious or comprehensive as the approach taken in India.

In some countries, steps toward building connected digital market solutions begin with a specific use case, such as the digitisation of Government-to-Person payments.

This is the case in Bangladesh and Zambia, where governments are piloting new infrastructure linking financial accounts with national IDs and allowing for Government-to-Person payments to be routed to an individual’s account with any provider.

While the initial use case may be limited to one type of payment, providers could eventually leverage this new infrastructure to enable a range of more convenient and affordable financial products and services.

Patrick Adengo is the managing director, Stalworth Consulting Group, Uganda.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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