A Tech Policy ‘Starter Pack’ for African Innovators and Techpreneurs

I know…policy is a put off for many. It’s that space for the old men and government types that we love to hate.

Bears repeating, however, that failing to engage – worse, ignoring- the unfolding ICT policy space is myopic for all ye techpreneurs. I bet you it will only come back to bite you in the derrière.

Think of it this way. You’re building this tech platform/company/solution that will do wonders if/when it takes off. You’ve got a solid proof of concept, and spend your days and nights dreaming of its taking off or achieving unicorn status.

But, there are hurdles. Crazy ones. [Insert them here].

As the tech innovation hype across these developing markets starts to wane- and the very real challenges of scalability and sustainability increasingly nudge the builders and investors alike – I see a couple of paths being taken.

  1. Several entrepreneurs opt to double down on their hustle, and challenge the odds stacked against them, by pivoting or sticking to their identified course, fingers crossed for a breakthrough. The market will sort itself, basically.
  2. Others have taken to articulating these challenges, by writing/speaking about them in various fora, venting the frustrations in the hope that they’re addressed by someone. Often, that ‘someone’ is unidentified, or not well defined.

That someone, and the processes behind the ever-mounting stack of challenges and hurdles is that policy maker you may or may not know. The one currently consuming some report written by some consultants somewhere in London about how they should prioritise government interventions for tech innovation and entrepreneurship. S/he [i.e. the (un)known policy makers) have the crucial keys to improve or completely mess up the market you hope to tap into, especially if your target consumer base is from these parts.

Any way you slice it, policy engagement is unavoidable. As I’ve argued before, many of the frustrations and challenges emerging from the entrepreneurship space are policy issues; bad policy at that.

Yet I understand the challenge and frustrations; why, for many, it’s better or easier to just focus on the hustle.

Policy is murky, long winded, and frankly, quite frustrating. However, I am the first to acknowledge that it’s not up to entrepreneurs and innovators alone to navigate that space, and it’s rather unfortunate to see the push back to the very people building, to also step into the policy formulation/reform game. In an ideal world, the tech policies in respective countries should be a path of minimal resistance; sadly, it is anything but in most cases.

That is why I have been keen on how support functions for our promising tech innovation ecosystems can step in. It is why I have been involved with two processes I will now list here, as an attempt to capture some of the perspectives that tech innovators, entrepreneurs, innovation hubs and others have articulated in varied ways.

In both processes, I was involved in conducting the research. I don’t think the outcomes here capture all the issues and opportunities, but I hope they are a start. In how we have presented and packaged them, the aim is to showcase these insights in formats that policy makers can appreciate, and hopefully read.

None of these are particularly representative, rather, they are indicative, and with additional input and contextualisation, can be taken up for policy engagement in various countries (or so we hope).

Behold, the proposed tech policy starter pack. Comments, additions most welcome (including in the comments section below).

I would also love to hear thoughts and ideas on how tech entrepreneurs and innovators envision support for engaging in the policy/regulatory shaping spaces, both national and international. That’s my jam, fam, so hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter: @NiNanjira! 

Here goes:

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A Few Things You Should Know about Kenya’s Cyber Policy Landscape

The term policy very likely puts off a lot of folks. It probably evokes images of old men in suits and spectacles droning on about something or other. I, on the other hand, am fascinated by (public) policy. The most basic definition of policy is “a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, party, business, or individual.” Policies help in shaping laws and regulations that govern various actors in a jurisdiction.

In an increasingly interconnected world, there is an emerging realm of cyber policy that is exciting as it is challenging. Safety, security, privacy, autonomy, freedom of expression are some of the aspects that now need to be rethought in the context of the cyber space. If you currently conduct any activity online, it definitely matters how the space is regulated, and what plans are in place to uphold your fundamental rights, as well as technological innovations that you leverage for work or leisure.

So what is the government of Kenya envisioning as protections and measures to underpin fundamental rights and freedoms online for its citizens? Which actors are involved? What laws are in place, and which ones are needed?

Equally, which non-state actors are in the forefront of these deliberations? Who is articulating citizens’ concerns in shaping our cyber policies?

A few things you should know:

i)  laws, regulations and policies pertaining to cybersecurity in Kenya largely approach it from the perspective of curbing cybercrime, and to a much lesser extent safeguarding the rights of citizens as they translate to an increasingly interconnected and inescapable digital realm.

Some of the laws in place include the Kenya Information Communications Act (KICA), Chapter 411A and the the Computer and Cybercrimes Bill (2016).

ii)  there exists a Computer Incident Response Team Coordination Centre (KE-CIRT/CC), whose role is to facilitate coordination and collaboration in response to cybersecurity incidents. This is to whom you can report a vulnerability or cyber-related incident that harms you or others.

iii) Our constitution, in Article 31, guarantees the right to privacy, including the right to not have information relating to one’s family or private affairs unnecessarily revealed, and to not have the privacy of one’s communications infringed.


a crucial piece of legislation to enforce is yet to be adopted. The Data Protection Bill, 2013 was formulated to give effect to this constitutional provision. It articulates requirements for electronic personal information collection, storage, protection/security, access, disclosure, and misuse.

iv)  Cyber policy needs thinkers, lawyers, geeks…(trying very hard not to use the hackneyed term ‘capacity’, but there you have it). Unchartered territories, where issues like sovereignty, Internet jurisdiction, protection of freedoms online and offline, national security all make for very interesting questions with no easy answers. Kenya is a lighthouse country in the region, and her people are sharp thinkers and doers who should explore this space a bit more!

For other insights, check out the report here.

Alternatively, you can listen to this podcast summary of the report.

This report was commissioned by Global Partners Digital, in a series designed to help civil society actors navigate the cyber policy landscape in four countries: Chile, India, Indonesia, and Kenya. It was co-authored by Tyrus Kamau and Juliet Maina

Challenges and Opportunities for Advancing Internet Access in Developing Countries while upholding Net Neutrality


Net neutrality deliberations go hand in hand with discussions of upholding and preserving the openness of the Internet, widely perceived as a precondition to the realisation of the Internet’s potential. This is particularly relevant with access to the Internet being increasingly accepted as a basic right. Rules and regulations to uphold net neutrality exist within various jurisdictions, and in both developed and developing markets. With mobile data plans as a primary mode of Internet access in developing markets, the practice of zero-rating – where mobile network operators enable customers to download and upload online content without incurring data usage charges, or having their usage counted against data usage limit – is closely interlinked with net neutrality deliberations. The overarching question is whether zero-rating defies the principle of net neutrality, by favouring some content over other content. The challenge for policy makers and regulators in developing countries, as addressed in this paper, is knowing which regulatory frameworks will be needed to expand Internet access to underserved communities, without compromising the fundamental principles of a free and open Internet.

Access to affordable Internet is increasingly a development priority, and even considered a basic right. There are huge economic and social benefits to be reaped from Internet access, as evidenced by gross domestic product contributions, as well as projections. However, a majority of the world’s population, most of who are in developing nations, remain unconnected. A crucial policy debate on how to avail Internet access, while upholding and preserving the openness of the Internet, also known as net neutrality, is emerging as state actors, private sector players and civil society alike operate in this space. The practice of zero-rating – where mobile network operators enable customers to download and upload online content without incurring data use charges, or having their usage counted against data usage limit – is one of the most popular approaches to getting the unconnected online. This follows the fact that the mobile phone is the primary device through which the ‘next billion’ Internet users are expected to get online.  The overarching question is whether zero-rating defies the principle of net neutrality, by favouring some content over other content. The challenge for policy makers and regulators in developing countries, as addressed in this paper, is knowing which regulatory frameworks will be needed to expand Internet access to underserved communities, without compromising the fundamental principles of a free and open Internet.

Read the rest of the report here.


The Version of Record of this manuscript has been published and is available in the Journal of Cyber Policy, published 08 May 2016, http://www.tandfonline.com, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23738871.2016.1165715


Cyber Security and Cyber Resilience in East Africa

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of co-authoring a so-titled paper with Dr. Iginio Gagliardone, for the The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). It was a useful exercise in analysing the efforts to enhance cybersecurity in the region, with an initial focus on Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. Below is the paper’s executive summary, and the paper can be read or downloaded here.


This study analyses continuities and discontinuities of collective efforts toward enhanced cyber security in Eastern Africa, with a particular focus on Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Focusing on the challenges that have followed the contours of East Africa’s distinctive digital cultures, it challenges the view that cyber-security and cyber-resilience are simply technical problems that can be solved by reducing the gap with more technically advanced nations. On the contrary it shows how cyber-security is a inherently political challenge and that, in the absence of adequate checks and balances, the increasing securitization of domestic and international politics may require costly trade-offs with individual and collective freedoms.

Three concepts are suggested – emulation, extraversion, and enculturation – that can serve to better capture how Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia have respectively answered emerging cyber-threats. These concepts, rather than adding to the already abundant jargon in this area, are simply meant to encourage analysts to pay greater attention to how in each national context the technical, social and political interact in unique ways and produce distinctive outcomes. In Kenya public and private actors have sought to live up to international standards, keeping up with the country’s reputation as a regional ICT powerhouse, but it is unclear how such an ambitious agenda will find concrete applications. Ethiopia displays higher risks that the need to guarantee better cyber-security can further legitimize repressive measures in the new media sector. Finally in Somalia, in the absence of a functioning state, hybrid solutions have been found that connect traditional practices and new technologies to offer some level of certainty to individuals using services that are vital for the life in the region, such as local and international payments over mobile phones.

Social Media and Journalism: A Changing Media Landscape in Kenya

In 2014, I had the pleasure of contributing to a fascinating production titled Exploring Kenya’s Media Policy Landscape: 1963-2013. Commissioned by the Media Policy Research Centre, I was tasked with exploring the impact of social media on journalism in Kenya. I assessed some conceptual frameworks on social media, social media’s effects on communication – the rise of citizen journalism, examples of social media users challenging traditional media (#someonetell…), as well as a critique of online citizen journalism. I also investigated social media adoption trends by mainstream (traditional) media, benchmarking the local against international media. The challenges and opportunities of social media for mainstream media, as well as social media’s implications for media policy (e.g. whether bloggers are journalists) round up the chapter contribution.

The working papers collection was officially launched on 27 February 2015.

Below is the executive summary of the working paper, and a link to the publication download (page 66- 90). I welcome feedback and additional thoughts on other factors to consider. (It was also very interesting and saddening to note the dearth of analysis on this subject matter during my literature review).

The [social media and journalism] chapter explores the impact of social media on journalism, with examples and analysis anchored in the Kenyan context. It begins with an overview of social media, the tools and practices shaping it, and dives deeper into the social media landscape in Kenya. Social media structure and adoption is increasingly challenging ‘traditional’ channels and agents of information dissemination in the country. Journalists and mainstream media are no longer the sole or primary source of breaking news. Citizens are now more connected with each other through platforms that enable conversation, co-creation and in some instances organizing towards collective action. Through social media, and citizen journalism, there has been an amplification of voices, groups and communities that would not otherwise attract mainstream media attention. Several examples of how social media users have challenged both local and international traditional media’s reportage on national issues are highlighted. Social media use, however, is hinged on opting in, which is a factor of access and affordability of Internet and (mobile) devices. The limitations notwithstanding, social media continues to be adopted by Kenyan media, informing various practices such as setting up of blog sections on the media’s online portals, use of social media to stir conversation around news content, introduction of social media editors, and social media policy guidelines for journalists. The role of journalism remains significant, to sift through vast volumes of data and information generated, and make sense of it through application of journalistic skills. Though social media hasn’t yet completely disrupted journalism and traditional media in Kenya, its significance and ubiquity continues to rise and challenge the latter’s practices. How social media impact straditional media’s monetization streams as well as media policies is also discussed. The chapter concludes with the recommendation that more research and studies on social media in Kenya should be conducted in Kenya, to better inform policy practices. Journalism practitioners, trainers, researchers and policymakers should continue to assess and appreciate social media’s value in Kenya towards improving the media industry and creating a more democratic society.