Against the backdrop of a rapidly growing tech startup culture in East Africa (see “Kenya’s Startup Boom”), major corporate interest in African innovation continues to grow. Already companies including Google, Microsoft, Nokia, HP, Accenture, Samsung, and Huawei have offices in Nairobi; now IBM is establishing a research lab in the city, its 12th worldwide.
Among other things, IBM says it hopes to help modernize government services through IT, starting with new tools for reducing traffic congestion and improving the management of water supplies in the region’s cities.
Kenya particularly holds vast potential to deliver new services, such as health care and education, through mobile phones. More than 26 million of the nation’s 41 million people at least have simple feature phones.
And the population is sophisticated in its use of those phones: more than 18 million use them for everyday banking and other transactions through M-Pesa, a banking service run by the country’s dominant wireless provider, Safaricom. IBM explained the lab’s function in more detail here.