Digitisation is the future

Artificial Intelligence

AI offers a unique blend of scientific precision and sensory enrichment.

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The year was 2021. I had just been ejected from Jubilee as Senate Chief Whip after writing the infamous letter to the President. I was now firmly in Tanga Tanga, a faction allied to then-Deputy President William Ruto. Dr Ruto ultimately won the election and is now the President.

The Tanga Tanga Juja by-election candidate, George Koimburi, was facing government machinery supporting Jubilee. How could we measure our candidate’s popularity? Due to Covid-19, physical movement was restricted; hence conventional research to gauge public opinion was impossible.

We instructed young computer science graduates to make a USSD-based automated polling system. The sample size was very large—almost 80 per cent of the registered voters. The responses were anonymous, boosting believability. Compared to conventional physical polling, the tool was very cheap.

Apart from paying the software developers, we only paid SMS costs. We, therefore, conducted evidence-based Juja campaigns targeting efforts in places where the tool showed flagging support. Ultimately, the results matched the automated polling results almost 100 per cent. The tool would be tested again in the Kiambaa by-election and the same outcome was achieved. Automation was validated.

Upon my winning the Murang’a gubernatorial contest, we hired software engineers and commenced an automation county government agenda. We first automated revenue collection. Hospital fees, markets, cess, parking, single business permits and liquor licences, amongst others.

Revenue increased by 30 per cent in the first financial year; it might double this year.

The county began automating services to boost efficiency, make government easier for the citizens and enable evidence-based decision-making. Its vehicles were fitted with tracking devices, halving fuel costs, notwithstanding rising pump prices. With weekly driver behaviour reports, accidents are reduced.

The county has since rolled out an automation agenda for its 157 health facilities. So far, it has completed 14, including its eight big hospitals. The patient journey is paperless. The county can know the number of patients at a facility at any given time. It can tell disease patterns and the availability of drugs. Hospital revenue has jumped.

Other automated services include a maternal support programme. Mothers are registered into a portal and given cash incentives to attend prenatal clinics and deliver in hospitals. It also helps to uncover the number of teenage pregnancies. However, this programme has been stopped for auditing.

The county is automating the Facilities Improvement Fund, a new healthcare regime. Introduced by new laws passed by Parliament where a hospital’s money will be spent at source, the system will enable the county team at the headquarters to monitor financial activities like procurement at various hospitals.

But there are challenges. First, some departments did not automate. Mango and Bursary programmes are still manual. Secondly, patients have complained about spending more hours in the queue. Registration takes time. Now, community health promoters will undertake household pre-registration.

Thirdly, system downtimes require constant troubleshooting and support from external stakeholders like Safaricom (network provider) and the Ministry of Health in Nairobi. Fourth, automation is expensive. Hiring good software engineers, purchase of hardware and network provision costs a lot.

There is also the problem of change management. The public needs to understand the advantages of automation lest they resist. The gadgets must be secured.

Lastly, the county automation agenda is still in the infancy stage. The data so far is not enough to support artificial intelligence (AI) but it’s a good building block. With no human interaction, corruption will be eliminated. And government services will be faster and more efficient. Whereas one may decry the loss of jobs, ultimately, better jobs will be created. The machines require servicing and maintenance.

Definitely, that’s the future. Those that do not take advantage of this advancing technology will be swept away. But this also requires a very well-educated workforce, particularly in computer science and related studies. The country needs to invest heavily in maths and science education, the key building blocks that underpin these occupations.

Mr Kang’ata is the Governor of Murang’a County. [email protected].