Kenya’s controversial “ICT Practitioners Bill” is closer to becoming law

Home / Africa / Nigeria / Kenya’s controversial “ICT Practitioners Bill” is c...

Published: 2022-06-10
Picture of members of the Kenyan parliament in session.

On April 16, 2013, during the start of Kenya's 11th Parliament in the nation's capital city of Nairobi, the judges of Kenya's Supreme Court filed into the chamber. RTXYNP5 REUTERS/Noor Khamis (KENYA - Tags: POLITICS) picture credit

The contentious 2020 plan that wants to regulate "anyone who employs technologies to acquire, process, store, or transfer information for a fee" was approved by Kenya's 12th parliament on Wednesday.

The all-encompassing and nebulous "ICT Practitioners Bill" was initially proposed in 2016 by the majority leader, Aden Duale, and received support from the Kenyan MP, Godfrey Osotsi. The bill mandated that a council register and license individuals who fit the loosely defined category of "ICT practitioners." Individuals who wished to get registered with the council in 2016 were required to have a degree from an accredited university in addition to having at least three years of experience in a relevant field, and they would also be required to pay an annual license fee. The individuals who did not comply would be subject to jail time as well as penalties, according to the idea.

 2 102

It goes without saying that the proposal was met with opposition from the country's tech community. Reportedly, it was withdrawn after Joseph Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary in Kenya's Ministry of Information and Computer Technology, rejected it. Mucheru stated that the proposals in the bill would affect innovative talent and alienate local youth from lucrative online jobs, educational opportunities, and investment opportunities. Mucheru had stated at the time that, "If implemented, the ICT Protection Bill 2016 will cause duplication in regulation and impede individual talents from realizing their potential," on the bill's potential effects.

This occurred in the year 2016

Godfrey Osotsi, a member of parliament who had been nominated to represent workers, submitted the measure in 2018 with an amendment that merely eased the eligibility condition for ICT experts. This occurred two years after the first bill had been introduced. An ICT Practitioners Council is being considered as a potential replacement for the formerly mandated requirement of holding a degree from an accredited academic institution.

In 2018, the bill was similarly defeated in the Senate.

A second time, the law was submitted in November 2020, two years after its initial introduction, with only cosmetic adjustments. These amendments abolished degree requirements, jail sentences, and fines for anyone who fail to register.

Almost two years later, on this Wednesday, at a quiet session of parliament, and with only one day left until the 12th parliament officially wrapped up its work for the term, the law was quietly passed and is now awaiting the assent of the president.

Who is advocating for the passage of this bill?

The measure has been met with fury from several players in Kenya's technology community; yet, a large number of tech professionals have expressed their support for the bill. In 2016, Kamotho Njenga, the Secretary-General of the Information and Communications Technology Association of Kenya (ICTAK), issued a statement in support of the bill. "Once enacted," read a portion of the statement, "the various provisions enlisted will go a long way not only to elevate the standards of ICT practice in Kenya but also to avail a blueprint that will help counter multiple challenges that accompany emerging technologies. This will go a long way not only to elevate the standards of ICT practice in Kenya but also to elevate the standards of ICT practice in Africa. As the nation moves toward an information and communications technology (ICT)-driven economy, the measure, which establishes a registration structure, injects professionalism and fosters a culture of accountability within the business.

Paul Macharia, who works as a consultant in the field of health informatics, is in favor of the plan. "Having worked in the field of information and communications technology for more than 15 years, I am aware that we required a regulatory body as soon as possible," he stated his opinion. According to him, the measure will maintain standards of competence, permit governments to retain a register of all the experts that fulfill these requirements, and deal with the professionals that fall short of these norms.

The reasons put out by Macharia and the ICTAK are both considered to be common ones by those who support the measure. However, Kenya already has a Computer Misuse Act and a Cyber Crimes Act, which are both comprehensive laws that control the use of technology in Kenya. Because Kenya already has these laws, it is unclear how or why another law is necessary to ban the so-called quacks from practicing medicine. Aside from this, the bill does not reveal how the council would award accreditation for ICT professionals and does not offer the criteria that would be utilized to determine whether or not an individual have good moral standing.

This "quack" classification has its own set of challenges. The field of information technology is widely recognized as one of the most exciting and rapidly expanding in the world. In contrast to other fields, such as civil engineering or medical health, a software developer is not required to hold a certification in order to create software. Unlicensed programmers are responsible for the creation and maintenance of a significant number of today's most popular technological products. There is not a single nation that operates anything similar to the national ICT licensing program that this law proposes.

Macharia, though, maintains that Kenya is capable of taking the initiative. “Sure! "It's fantastic that Kenya is the pioneer in this field," he commented in a remark on LinkedIn. "We have the potential to set the pace and the benchmark for how ICT professionals perform their jobs."

A blemish on the record of Silicon Savannah.

 3 102

A dispersed coalition of tech stakeholders and experts who have been opposing the measure ever since it was first introduced in 2016 are of the opposing opinion.

This writer had access to a copy of the group's counterstatement to the ICTAK's declaration from 2016, in which the group stated that "Registering of practitioners does not inevitably lead to professionalism and responsibility." ICTAK has not cited any direct evidence to support their claim that registering practitioners has an effect on the overall quality of services delivered to clients by members of regulated professions.

The next portion of the statement reads as follows: "Nearly every ICT job is carried out inside the boundaries of "contracts" that outline the duties of parties involved, so assuring accountability." What principles would this bill bring to the accountability of those who work in information and communications technology that go beyond the bounds of the contracts that we sign every day as we carry out our responsibilities?

The government of Kenya asserts that its Long Term Development Blueprint, Vision 2030, will transform the country into a globally competitive and prosperous nation by encouraging "local ICT software development" and making information and communications technology software more affordable and accessible. The young ecosystem of its technology could suffer gravely from the practice of gatekeeping.

Additionally, members of the group coordinated the creation of a petition, which at the time received more than 14,000 signatures, resulting in the measure being withdrawn not once but twice. However, the bill's almost ludicrous and steady two-year gap-march looks to have won out—at least in parliament.

Stakeholders now have the fear that if the law receives the presidential assent, it could legitimize behavior that has been termed as rent-seeking.

Sheena Raikundalia, Director of the UK-Kenya Tech Hub, told TechCabal, "The reason why I think the law is damaging is that innovation is about thinking outside the box. It's not about your degree or paper certifications." People that learn on their own are some of the most talented techies I know. Because technological advancement occurs at such a rapid rate, by the time you have completed your education, the information you have learned will be obsolete. This is going in the wrong direction."

Kenya is one of the Big Four technological heavyweights in Africa and has been often referred to as Africa's Silicon Savannah. Microsoft and Google both opened new offices in Nairobi within the past month, and Visa, the global card payment association, announced that it had opened an innovation hub—one of only six in the entire world. Additionally, Amazon announced plans to open an Amazon Web Services (AWS) local zone within the country. All of these things are significant testaments to the tech reputation of the East African country, which also ranks fourth on the list of African countries with the most competent software engineers, trailing only Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt.

The government of Kenya claims that its Long Term Development Blueprint, Vision 2030, will transform the country into a globally competitive and prosperous nation by encouraging "local ICT software development" and making information and communication technology software more affordable and accessible. However, in a tech talent market that is heating up, ill-thought-out regulation that appears, for all intents and purposes, to be pure gatekeeping can have major detrimental impacts on a country's embryonic innovation sector. At the moment, Kenya is preoccupied with its forthcoming national elections, and there have been rising allegations of hate speech and misleading information being spread over social media. Those are the kinds of things that ought to be regulated, but determining who is competent enough to make mobile apps is not one of them.