Inside the life of Selina Onyando, an African lawyer and tech policy analyst

On episode 98 of the Techpoint Africa Podcast, the reporters for Techpoint Africa discussed the recent news that Kenyan legislators secretly passed a draft bill in the parliament to regulate the country's tech practitioners. At the 99th episode, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), which is Nigeria's technology regulator, presented something very similar: a Code of Practice for Online Platforms.

Typically, circumstances of this nature elicit responses from various stakeholders, particularly in the law technology space, where policy experts attempt to make sense of these bills before speaking with lawmakers and citizens. These are the tasks that Selina Onyando, a Kenyan lawyer and tech policy analyst, completes on a regular basis.

"Most of the time, in the work that I do, I notice that there is frequently a disconnect between ecosystems, is that correct? It is one thing for policymakers to want to do, but it is something entirely different for tech practitioners to want to do. Technology professionals are frequently excluded from the legislative process when new laws are drafted.

Selina has an array of legal credentials, including a law degree, a postgraduate diploma in law, and most recently, she graduated from the CopyrightX program at Harvard Law School. She is also working to improve her skills in her other areas of interest.

" Education is a never-ending adventure for someone like me. I was pretty young when I first picked up a book. In point of fact, beginning at the age of 12, I began receiving books as birthday presents. These books covered virtually every subject imaginable. I believe that for my twelve year old birthday, I received a book about dinosaurs, which I found to be very interesting. And then for my thirteenth birthday, I was given Robinson Crusoe, which was a book that I ended up loving.


Selina is pleased with the steady progress she has made and believes that the variety of skills she now possesses helps her develop mental, physical, and emotional resilience.

" I have a strong interest in creative endeavors. I like to take pictures when I have some spare time. When I was younger, I was active in swimming and played a lot of football in elementary school, middle school, and high school. I don't want to toot my own horn, but I performed quite admirably."

When Selina was nine years old, she was already taking pictures of people and places, so she picked up photography at an early age, just like she did with football. This is a collection of her various works of art. Her childhood experiences, as well as the influence of her parents, played a role in shaping her decision to pursue a career in law.

I always knew that I wanted to be someone who influences others and brings about positive change. The pursuit of justice is ingrained in me as a result of the values that were instilled in me by both my family and the friends I've had throughout my life.

" My parents have been a significant factor in shaping who I am today. Some of the things that I hold most dearly and try to incorporate into my work are the lessons that they have taught me and that they have passed on to me. Things pertaining to equality, which are extremely important guiding principles in the process of formulating laws and policies.

It's one quote I always live by, and I've really started to take it seriously this first half of the year, which is progress over perfection. That is the philosophy that drives her. It is preferable to carry it out than to not carry it out at all.

A finding of guilt for legal technology

lady justice 2 1024x682 0 1046Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

When deciding which sector of the economy to enter after earning her law degree, Selina found herself unexpectedly drawn to the technological sector. And you're right—one of her interests played a significant role in guiding her decision.

" Towards the end of 2018, I was doing a lot of photography work in addition to finishing up my law degree, as the end of my law degree was rapidly approaching. When I was in Egypt, I met one of my friends there, and he took me to a place he was working at, which turned out to be an accelerator in Nairobi, and the people there were in desperate need of a photographer. It was late on Friday night when he called me to tell me that they needed a photographer for Saturday morning.

She did what was expected of her and jumped at the chance to demonstrate her abilities.

I was there on Saturday morning for the event that was being held there, which was a hackathon. I had no prior experience with hackathons and was unaware of their format and operation. But I was there for two days to document the process of building shelter technological solutions, and I found the whole thing to be very intriguing.

Selina's values and those of the accelerator were compatible from the very beginning, and the fact that she was able to document the organization's procedures during her subsequent six-month stay there is evidence that the two are a good match.

She describes it as a "eye-opener" due to the fact that it gave her access to a vast network of people working in technology, the opportunity to participate in additional hackathons and other popular tech events, and the chance to become familiar with the law tech space, particularly with lawyers who are building tech solutions. However, that was just the beginning of it.

" And I finally found myself participating in a hackathon by accident. However, the most interesting aspect was that it was a hackathon focused on legal technology. Therefore, I reasoned that this would be an excellent opportunity for me because it would enable me to put both my creative and design thinking skills to use, in addition to my legal expertise.

At this point, Selina was confident that she had found her place. In September of 2019, she decided to pursue a new opportunity in law tech, which was most likely something she had been planning for since she was an undergraduate student.

" To tell you the truth, I haven't always been drawn to the more traditional forms of the law; I've always believed that the world is moving at a rapid pace. It was more than what we would learn in school, and it was more than what people would do in the standard setting. At the university, I was more interested in taking classes that not a lot of other people were taking.

"I work with a team of very talented professionals to support the law in the technology ecosystem. This is accomplished by improving the capacity of policymakers, engaging in the policy-making process, improving the capacity of the public to challenge laws that are not beneficial, and supporting ecosystem players to disseminate laws and policies on a larger scale to ensure that the public can more effectively engage."

In addition, Selina discusses how the experiences she gained while traveling during her undergraduate studies helped her comprehend the procedures involved in the formulation of policies as well as the singular characteristics of various climates.

Selina, who was born in Nairobi and raised there, is currently working as a tech policy analyst, and she believes that everything she has learned is applicable to her job. She acknowledges that the environment and schools she grew up in have inspired her to think beyond what is currently attainable. When going through a document, she claims to be able to spot even the smallest details that are most likely to be overlooked by other people. However, she did not always possess this so-called "superpower."

The act of reviewing and analyzing policy can be extremely overwhelming, and this is how Selina initially felt about it. She was able to take responsibility for her actions and grow as a result of being part of a team that encouraged her. Undoubtedly, her openness to receiving assistance was an important factor in her development.

A comprehension of the policies and regulations governing technology

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To begin, Selina offers an explanation of the various forms that law technology can take, including advisory, litigation, policy, and the construction of products for use in legal contexts, and she argues in favor of her strong conviction for policy.

I'd argue that the policy space is the most foundational space because you can't be a technology practitioner and exist in a vacuum. It is necessary to have guidelines in the form of rules and regulations to direct your activities. Away from you as a technology practitioner, technology is now coming to a lot of the things that we do on a daily basis. Because of this, we need to have checks and balances that regulate how this technology is used in order to avoid abusing the rights of individuals. The process of drafting laws and policies that encourage the formation and operation of technology-based businesses within a nation is an example of what the policy landscape looks like.

Before formulating laws and regulations, policymakers should, ideally, consult with various technology stakeholders to gain an understanding of what the technology entails. In addition, these stakeholders need to review the policies that have been drafted and provide feedback on how well they will work in practice.

Since laws are sometimes imported from other places that have different legal landscapes, Selina specializes in reviewing policy drafts to find loopholes and researching what is suitable for particular societies at a given time.

She concurs with the notion that African regulators rarely interact with players in the tech industry in ways that could be considered ideal.

"When it comes down to it, the most important question for me is, 'Do those in charge of policymaking understand what the issue is?' After they have gained an understanding of the issue, you will need to inquire as to whether or not the proposed solution is appropriate. Because of this, participation in ecosystems is of critical significance.

Other aspects of life besides law and policy

Selina Onyando smilingSelina Onyando: Lawyer, Tech policy analyst

Reading, doing research, and staying current on the latest developments in the technological world are all regular parts of Selina's day. She optimizes her day by consistently consulting her calendar, using Slack for both personal and professional reasons, utilizing Zoom video conferencing tools, and calling and texting on her mobile phone.

After she has her morning coffee and breakfast, she checks her calendar to see what appointments she has and then moves on to the rest of her day. After that, she participates in team meetings before moving on to other responsibilities. Whenever Selina is evaluating a proposed amendment to a law, she first reads the amendment and then devises a strategy to communicate relevant information to the relevant stakeholders. She attends other meetings and delegate tasks to various groups of employees. The lunch break for Selina lasts twenty minutes, and in the evenings she goes for walks.

Her membership on a team that encourages her personal growth is undoubtedly her greatest accomplishment.

" The Central bank of Kenya Amendment Bill 2021 was one of the draft laws that I worked on, and it was the one for which I was really able to see the impact come full circle. That was the law in Kenya that regulated the lending of digital currency. When I first saw that law, I had never before interacted with the digital lending space on the regulatory side to the same extent as I did then. I was aware of the difficulties that were present in the sector, but I had no prior exposure to the regulatory framework. And it piqued my interest.

" I started reading about it more and more, and that eventually led to me working closely with people in the space and seeing it through until we had the Digital Credit Providers Regulations 2022. My greatest accomplishment would have to be that I was able to work on that problem all the way through and actually witness Parliament considering those suggestions. Additionally, because it had a significant impact on many of the issues surrounding financial regulation in developing economies, which is one of the areas of law and technology that I find particularly fascinating at the moment.

Selina is aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between her work and personal life, and as a result, she strives to take full control of her weekends.

I enjoy my time with myself on the weekends more than I let on, but I also like to spend time with my family. Going out, hanging out with friends, and watching football are all activities that I enjoy doing.

Despite the fact that she has a lot on her plate right now, she has no intention of giving up photography. In spite of the fact that she is taking a short break, she is actively participating in communities and short courses that will assist her in improving her skills and better packaging her artwork. In the year 2021, she participated in the 59th Venice Biennale, where she displayed her artwork, she also joined a community of African women photographers, and she attended a class taught by Canon on the art of storytelling.

Because Selina is afraid that she is not making a significant enough contribution, she makes an effort to contribute and volunteer whenever she has the chance. This fear drives her to accomplish as much as she can as quickly as she can. And she is very enthusiastic about the years to come.

The next five years will provide me with the opportunity to expand my networks across the region and meet different people across the continent who are doing what I'm doing as well as different things that will have an impact on my work. I also want to help other people build their professional networks.