IBM research lab to spur innovation in Kenya


Image: IBM business consultant Shadrack Kioko captures data on road conditions and traffic congestion in Nairobi. By IBM
IBM business consultant Shadrack Kioko captures data on road conditions and traffic congestion in Nairobi

By Semaj Itosno, Nairobi, Kenya

The Kenyan Government on Monday opened the first IBM research lab in Africa.

It is projected that the lab will not only drive innovation but help market Kenya as a leading modern services economy.

The research agenda will be defined by IBM and Kenya government and will have a strong emphasis on solving home-based and African problems.

The research facility is expected to be operational this September and will have its base in Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi.

Africa will host the 12th laboratory in the world-wide IBM network of labs, joining existing labs in Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, India, Ireland, Israel, Switzerland and the United States, as IBM continues to expand its research operations in key growth markets.

The lab, a collaboration between Kenya and IBM East Africa, will see the partners each contribute USD10 million dollars (Ksh830 million), over a period of five years.

Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Communications through the Kenya ICT board will implement the project, which will see Kenyans also gain in knowledge diffusion.

Speaking on the partnership, PS, Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr Bitange Ndemo said: "In today’s world, innovation is the main lever for a competitive national economy, is a source of employment, and has the potential to improve lives. The IBM research lab, will not only rubber stamp Kenya as Africa’s leader in ICT, but will help the country to transform into a knowledge based economy.”  

Dr. Ndemo was speaking at a press briefing held at Kenya ICT Board offices, attended by Paul Kukubo, CEO, Kenya ICT Board, Robert Morris, Vice President, Services Research IBM, Michael Browne, IBM Research, Director of Technical Strategy, Kumar Bhaskaran and Program Director Technology & Strategy at IBM Research, Shanghai, China.

Others were Mugo Kibati, Director General Vision 2030, Josphat Karanja, Head of Infrastructure, Kenya Education Network (KENET), Takreem El-Tohamy, IBM General Manager, Middle East and Africa and Tony Mwai, Country General Manager for IBM East Africa.

Earlier Monday, President Mwai Kibaki and IBM Global Chief Executive Officer, Ginni Rometty signed a memorandum of understanding to officially flag-off the setting up of the lab.  

“Kenya vision is to become the top ICT hub in the continent.  IBM’s commitment to undertake the proposed research agenda will contribute greatly to our national priorities as part of Kenya’s Vision 2030 agenda,” said President Kibaki. “We look forward to delivering world-class research and innovation through the partnership and playing an important role as an IT leader on the African continent.”

President Kibaki said the project will greatly benefit the momentum already established in cutting-edge mobile money technology, contribute to the creation of high-value jobs, and bring significant prestige for Kenya.

“IBM continues to expand its operations in key growth markets and we plan to lead the way by bringing Africa into our global network of IBM Research laboratories,” said Dr. John E. Kelly III, IBM senior vice president and director of IBM Research. “We will work closely with leading African scientists and engineers from academia, government and industry to address some of their most pressing challenges and greatest opportunities.”

The research lab is timely coming on the heels of Konza Techno City Conference in which the country rallied to attract investors into the silicon park that will drive Kenya towards achieving middle-income status.

Under the partnership, Kenya will provide the necessary environment, the physical space, facilitate the lab setting up, while IBM will provide senior specialists, intellectual property and will operate the Lab as part of its world-class network of global research labs. Both partners are also expected to oversee governance structures at the facility jointly.

“The Kenya ICT Board has various projects that will compliment the work of the IBM lab. These are in software certification, open data, enterprise incubation and support for public sector digitisation,” said Paul Kukubo, the CEO of Kenya ICT Board. “We see IBM as a great partner in advancing the agenda the board’s transformation of Kenya,” he added. 

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