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Kenya: Technology-related economic opportunities far outweighs job losses, argues columnist

"Don’t blame technology for job losses"

Organisations are retrenching and we are fallaciously blaming technology. Although Kenya is nowhere near the top on the intensity of technology use, use of technology has given Kenya a good image. Technology has enabled greater productivity and contributed to economic development. However, it is not the cause of job losses in Kenya today. The experience from countries that have fully automated is such that unemployment in such a situation is temporary. Technology disrupts and shifts jobs around rather than eliminates them. If there is any technology-engineered unemployment, economists often say that job losses are offset by other compensating factors. These include impact of new investment, the effect of the new technology (operations and maintenance), extent of disruption by the new technology, and the impact of greater efficiency.

The first factor is explained by increment in investments. Until the local banks put up additional investment in Information, Communication Technologies (ICTs) that enabled branchless banking, payment to customers especially through cheques used to take more than three weeks. The resultant efficiencies led to higher bank profits hence the motivation to expand and create more jobs. The second factor can be explained by the way the technology is deployed and used. For example, when Mobile money technology was introduced, the fears were that Post Offices would lay off workers. Instead, the new technology became a net creator of employments through agencies in order to operationalise the technology...

It is too early to associate emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence to job losses. What is certain is that we must continuously improve our skills in order to be relevant in future work. We must seek to be agents of economic growth and for that to happen, we must improve on productivity. Technology as I have explained above drives productivity. It makes operations efficient by lowering the cost of inputs and increasing the value of outputs.