Microsoft Denies Threatening to Withdraw Funding

Microsoft East Africa has dismissed allegations that it threatened to withdraw funding to Kenya if the government did not vote "yes" on OOXML.

Louis Otieno, Microsoft general manager in East and Southern Africa denied the allegations, saying that Microsoft EA acted appropriately.

"We've acted appropriately in all instances. And we are grateful that the National Body members engaged in this process collaboratively and constructively," Otieno said.

However, the denial was a contradiction to comments by Bitange Ndemo, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication, who said that Microsoft may have made comments regarding funding, though not directly or in writing.

"They may have said something to that effect though not directly and not in writing. Microsoft cannot threaten us. In any case, our policy is very clear, we encourage people to use open-source software and those who want to use proprietary software are at liberty to do so" Ndemo said.

There was heated debate in Kenya's technology sector before the decision to abstain. The decision was made by a 12-member committee. Some experts felt that the committee was comprised of a majority of Microsoft partners.

"As just one of the companies supporting the ECMA Office Open XML standards process, Microsoft has worked hard alongside many other participants to ensure that the activities conducted were consistent with the rules of national bodies and those of ISO/IEC," Otieno added.

Ndemo noted that Microsoft could not pose such threats to withdraw support to government initiatives because "whatever they fund is insignificant."

Technology experts who were active in the discussions on OOXML were furious that Microsoft wanted Kenya to vote "yes" yet the committee had decided that Kenya should abstain from voting.

Dorcas Muthoni, a software expert who has been following the OOXML debate in Kenya agreed with Ndemo that Microsoft contribution is insignificant to warrant demands for a "yes" vote.

"Microsoft is funding programs that they no longer support, the software subsidy to local educational institutions does not lower costs as expected," said Muthoni.

Muthoni argued that the government should work closely with local technology experts to design solutions to local technology challenges instead of depending on partners who threaten to withdraw support.

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