LONDA 2023

Kenya making remarkable strides towards inclusive, secure digital future

This is based on the Londa Report 2023 by Paradigm Initiative

In Summary

• The report titled “Digital Rights and Inclusion in Africa,” covered 26 African countries as it focuses on cross-cutting issues affecting digital rights and inclusion. 

• In Kenya, challenges such as data privacy concerns, cybersecurity threats, gender disparities in digital access, and barriers to inclusion for persons with disabilities remain prevalent.

Kenya’s digital landscape has made significant progress even though it still encounters persistent challenges in its journey towards a more inclusive and secure digital future.

This is according to the Londa Report 2023 by Paradigm Initiative.

The report titled “Digital Rights and Inclusion in Africa,” covered 26 African countries as it focuses on cross-cutting issues affecting digital rights and inclusion. 

They include Angola, Benin, Botswana, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi and Mauritania. 

Others are Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

Paradigm Initiative primarily employed a mixed methodology with desk reviews of existing laws, policies and regulations related to the digital landscape. 

They also conducted key informant interviews (KIIs) specifically for the Universal Service Fund (USF) section to gather insights from relevant stakeholders. 

According to the report, USF is seen to continue playing a crucial role in bridging the digital divide by funding initiatives to increase ICT access and connectivity, particularly in underserved communities. 

“While efforts have been made to promote digital inclusion, significant gender disparities persist, particularly in internet access and digital literacy,” the report read in part.  

“Kenya has made remarkable strides in digital infrastructure development, with high internet penetration rates and a sprouting tech sector.”

“However, challenges such as data privacy concerns, cybersecurity threats, gender disparities in digital access, and barriers to inclusion for persons with disabilities remain prevalent.”

On data protection and cyber security, under the legal and policy landscape, the report noted that there are several laws and rules in Kenya that protect personal information. 

It, however, emphasised the need for a multi-agency approach to cyber security concerns even though most laws and policies on data protection are concerned with the same. 

“There are several laws and rules in Kenya that protect personal information. These include the Data Protection Act (2019), the Data Protection (General) Regulations (2021), and the Data Protection (Complaints Handling Procedure and Enforcement) Regulations (2021),” the report read. 

“Other laws and regulations include the Consumer Protection Act 2021 and Article 31(c) and (d) of the Constitution of Kenya (2010), which pertain to the right to privacy.”

On data infringement and human rights gaps, the report highlighted that Kenyan courts have proven to be important enforcers of the laws and continue to provide a breath of fresh air on the issue that has long been pressing. 

Despite the positive news from the courts, there have still been major cases that caused public outcry in 2023. 

“For instance, the operations of a cryptocurrency project by OpenAI Worldcoin were suspended due to data security concerns,” the report read. 

“Despite the physical ban, Kenyans can still access WorldCoin via the internet. Media reports indicate that the American-based company may resume operations in 2024 after complying with government regulations.”

This demonstrates a general lack of awareness among Kenyans about their data privacy rights and a need for greater public education and awareness-raising efforts to empower citizens to take control of their personal data. 

On digital IDs, the report indicated that critics argue that the lack of transparency, inadequate authentication measures and absence of adequate procedural and legal safeguards in the implementation of the Maisha Card could adversely affect Kenyans’ access to essential national documents. 

They have also raised concerns about the lack of extensive public participation involving the public, civil society, and other stakeholders as provided in the law.

“On December 5, 2023, the High Court sitting in Nairobi stopped the government from rolling out the new digital IDs, also known as Maisha Number, after Katiba Institute challenged the process, arguing that there is no legal basis for the rollout,” Londa read.

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Under the development in ICT and emerging technologies arm, on AI, there has been an active search in Kenya for related info in 2023, showing people’s interest in transformational technology. 

Compared to 2022, Kenya has had a remarkable 270 per cent increase in AI searches and a 400 per cent overall increase since 2017.

The country is ranked 5th in Africa and 19th globally on AI readiness, with an estimated 13 billion investments in the last 10 years. 

Although Kenya currently lacks a stand-alone law or policy governing AI, some applicable laws and policies affect AI use.

“In particular, the Data Protection Act (2019) regulates personal data collection, use, and storage,” the report read. 

“The Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act of 2018 provides a framework for dealing with digital platform offences. Third, the Copyright Act, Cap 130 of Kenya, focuses on copyright and related rights, infringement and enforcement, exceptions, collective management of copyright, and administrative issues.”

Others include the Kenya National Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics Policy of 2019 which promotes the development and use of AI and data analytics to ensure they are used ethically and responsibly.

The report added that even though AI has positive implications for humanity, it may be misused and existing gaps in regulation may be exploited with potential human rights concerns in various domains. 

“AI also adversely impacts human rights in Kenya through algorithm bias that can perpetuate existing inequalities and discrimination.”

“Also, AI adoption could lead to job losses due to automation and serve as a tool for surveillance, infringing upon individual privacy rights.”

On blockchain technologies, Londa noted there are no specific laws or regulations governing the use of blockchain technology in Kenya. 

Nevertheless, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) regulates cryptocurrencies through Kenya’s Money Remittance regulations.

Cryptocurrency companies must acquire licensing from Kenyan authorities to offer transmission services within Kenya. 

There is also the National Payments Systems Act (2011), where the CBK regulates cryptocurrency by overseeing payment service providers and ensuring that platforms are safe for investors.

Kenya has a high cryptocurrency adoption rate and ranks 5th globally in peer-to-peer exchange, with over six million cryptocurrency owners.

The country holds over $1.5 billion (Sh 193.1 billion) worth of Bitcoin (2.3 per cent of GDP), indicating acceptance.

The growing use of digital currencies in Kenya is attributed to increased internet access and low crypto exchange charges.

Despite its instrumental features, such as immutability and cryptography, blockchain has its share of violations. 

“For instance, Kenyan authorities have raised an alarm over the growing use of digital currencies, warning of possible money laundering and terrorism financing risks from cryptocurrency trading,” the report read.

Londa essentially underscored that the Kenyan government exhibited laxity in implementing the existing laws. 

“The government allowed WorldCoin’s marketing operations, including using public premises such as Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC) as retinal scanning points, without assurance of legal authorisation. This way, it contributed to the Worldcoin controversy by failing to ensure that any interference with personal information was per Kenyan laws.”

Under digital inclusion, on gender and ICT, the report noted the continuous underrepresentation of women in the digital space poses negative ramifications for Kenya’s digital development goals. 

This is due to a lack of access to digital resources, which limits women’s opportunities for economic empowerment and social inclusion opportunities.

The issue of women’s lack of access to digital resources disproportionately affects women and girls with low literacy or low income and those living in rural areas. 

A recent study titled “Kenya’s Digital Economy: A People’s Perspective” found that only 35 per cent of women use advanced digital services compared to 54 per cent of men. 

It attributed the huge gap to discrimination, harmful social norms, the education divide, geography, and a lack of motivation. 

These factors create significant barriers for women to fully engage in Kenya’s digital economy.

Another 2023 report by the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTAnet) highlighted that the most prevalent cases of Online Gender-Based Violence (OGBV) include receiving abusive messages, false posts on social media, sexual harassment, sharing of personal information, digital manipulation of images, and identity theft. 

An interesting finding from the study was that female friends, alongside male friends and unknown attackers, were among the top three sources of online attacks. It was seen that these attacks mainly occurred across Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram, which are all owned by one company, Meta.

On digital inclusion for persons with disabilities (PWDs), the report noted Kenya is making tremendous steps towards ensuring that some laws and policies foster digital inclusion for PWDs. 

It highlighted that there is also a marked under-inclusion of PWDs in the development of digital platforms where their input would be valuable in developing usable products. 

“Digital inclusion transcends accessibility, as it is a fundamental human right. PWDs continue to experience difficulty using web-based technologies or accessing digital information services, despite the specific tenets laid out in the National ICT Policy,” the report said.

“Indeed, most of these violations are avoidable if the policy frameworks and guidelines regarding digital inclusion for PWDs are fulfilled.”

On the review of the USF, Londa indicates that despite successes on its implementation, the destruction of telecommunication masts, lack of electricity in target areas and difficult terrain hindered proper implementation of the fund’s objectives in 2023. 

To support the implementation of Kenya’s 2022-2026 USF Strategic Plan, several legal and policy documents have been developed, amended, or adopted. 

Financed through mandatory contributions from the Government, grants and donations, the USF is designed to support the development of policies and programmes that seek to close the digital gap and increase internet connectivity. 

In Kenya, the USF continues to fund various initiatives that contribute to enhancing ICT access and connectivity.

The first phase of USF implementation successfully provided mobile connectivity to 78 sub-locations in 15 counties.

Some of the actionable recommendations made by Paradigm Initiative to the government include ensuring a well-functioning digital infrastructure and adequate digital literacy before rolling out AI and blockchain-enabled registries.

It also urged the government to formulate a governance framework led by the Ministry of ICT and Digital Economy that fosters regular audits and feedback loops for AI operations in the country. 

The government is also urged to develop clear and comprehensive supportive frameworks to support the Data Protection Act, aligned with emerging technologies, formulate comprehensive gendered legislation and policies on data protection, cybersecurity and Online Gender-Based Violence and enforce regulations that protect women from online harassment and cyberbullying.

The civil society has been called upon to advocate for a multisectoral approach to address human rights concerns related to AI exploitation involving government agencies, civil societies, and technological companies. 

It has also been urged to increase and education regarding personal data privacy issues, and Collaborate with the government, industry, and other stakeholders to address challenges and opportunities presented by big data and personal information privacy. 

“They should also advocate for the creation of online spaces for women and girls, including people with disabilities on digital platforms, with accessible and transparent reporting and complaint procedures,” the report read. 

The civil society should promote a change in societal attitude towards people with disabilities to achieve digital inclusion for young PWDs in Kenya and advocate for the inclusion of PWDs in policy-making processes to enhance their understanding and contribute to bridging the digital gap.”

Londa has recommended the private sector to develop clear and comprehensive institutional policies for data protection aligned with emerging technologies and create partnerships between the government, private sector, and nonprofits to provide affordable internet and digital services and products to women. 

They have also been urged to collaborate with the government, industry, and other stakeholders to address challenges and opportunities presented by big data and personal information privacy. 

“They should create online spaces for women and girls on digital platforms with accessible and transparent reporting and complaint procedures and ensure blockchain technology features an immutable, decentralised, and tamper-proof ledger to address and curb human rights violations.”

Academia was called upon to conduct systematic and dynamic assessments of the negative impacts AI possesses on algorithm bias and privacy concerns and support digital literacy programmes for PWDs to enhance accessibility and usage.

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