On Wednesday, Kenya’s 12th parliament enacted the contentious 2020 ICT practitioners bill.
The ICT Practitioners Bill, first sponsored in 2016 by majority leader Aden Duale and supported by Kenyan MP Godfrey Osotsi, demanded the registration and licensing of poorly defined “ICT practitioners” by a council.
Individuals seeking registration with the council, according to the 2016 proposal, would need to have finished a university degree and at least three years of relevant experience, as well as pay an annual license fee. Individuals who did not comply would face jail time and penalties if the bill passed.
The proposal sparked outrage in the country’s tech community and was reportedly withdrawn after Joseph Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Information and Computer Technology, rejected it, noting that proposals in the bill would affect innovative talent and alienate local youth from lucrative online jobs, educational, and investment opportunities.
Two years later, in 2018, Godfrey Osotsi, a member of parliament nominated to represent workers, submitted the measure with a change that simply relaxed the qualifying threshold for ICT specialists. Instead of being obliged to acquire a university diploma, a planned ICT Practitioners Council would decide who was registered. It was turned down, again.
The bill was reintroduced two years later, in November 2020, with minor changes. Almost two years later, on Wednesday in a sedate parliamentary session, and with one day before the 12th parliament’s term ended, the law was quietly passed and now awaits presidential assent.
What does it mean if this bill is signed into law?
Your Google, Microsoft, Udemy or Moringa School certifications are more of null and void, in the country. Your ‘paper justified skills’ from ages ago are however deemed fit. With the ICT sector being very broad and driven by talent, it is difficult to understand what the target is and the problem it aims to solve.
The bill provides that for individuals to qualify for registration, they must have;
- A Bachelor’s Degree in ICT related field from a recognized university. This could be Computer Science, Information Technology, Telecommunication, or Computer Engineering.
- A Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Mathematics, or Physics, with at least one year of post-qualification experience in the ICT field.
- A Diploma in Computer Science, Information Technology, Telecommunication, or Computer Engineering, with three years post qualification experience in the ICT field.
- A Bachelor’s Degree (any) from a recognized University with at least three years of post-qualification experience in ICT.
- Any person who has demonstrated expertise, innovation, or competence in ICT as may be determined by the council.
The bill provides a fairly broad definition of ICT, which might refer to a wide range of services, many of which do not require particular training and only require a license from the Institute. The bill’s registration standards state that graduates and certificate holders from recognized universities are eligible, although it does not define the criterion for determining one. The additional clause (5) also, somewhat confusingly, possibly renders the others redundant and superfluous, as having a degree or certification becomes unneeded if one can just demonstrate their knowledge to the Council instead. Furthermore, it makes no mention of how such knowledge may be shown.
On the bill’s impact on innovation, the bill will restrict entry into an industry that is now under-crowded and has a large unsatisfied market need. Admitting certain individuals excludes talented innovators who lack academic qualifications or meet the conditions and prevents them from engaging in the sector. The prohibitions are futile because the sector is designed to be omnipresent and cross-border in order to facilitate the flow of ideas, skills, and expertise.
According to Google and the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) e-Conomy Africa 2020 report, Kenya is one of the five African countries with the most software developers. According to the report, 30% of developers are self-taught, 20% learnt on the job, 9% attended online schools, and 8% attended boot camps.
Furthermore, the bill proposes that the Institute collect sensitive personal data, which raises serious privacy concerns. It further states that the names and addresses of registered and licensed practitioners must be published in the Gazette. The bill provides no privacy measures and does not recognize the Data Protection Act as the primary legislation that will provide safeguards for the personal data acquired.
Foreign investments and partnerships are also expected to suffer as a result. Kenya is regarded as Africa’s premier innovation hub, with numerous foreign investors and partners coming in to set up shop. According to the 2019 African VC Ecosystem Report, investment volume for start-ups increased by 300 percent. The World Bank Report also cited a 23% annual growth rate in the ICT sector over the last decade. This law will impede the sector’s current growth and adaptability by requiring every ICT Practitioner intending to practice in the field to meet registration and licensing criteria. Due to the greater effort and subsequently additional expenses imposed in respecting these legal provisions, investors are likely to be discouraged from entering and participating in our markets.
Currently, there is an online petition seeking to stop the assent of the bill into law, and it is justifiably right. The bill is referred to as retro progressive in the petition.
“75% of Kenyan IT professionals are self-taught, no degree or college diploma. Passing a bill that is killing the dreams and visions of Kenyans is not sustainable. The bill should be rejected in totality to give every Kenyan a room to grow, innovate and monetize his or her skills.” reads the description of the petition.
If the Bill is passed, the constraints therein could inhibit invention and lead to the loss of employment, undermining ICT practice, which was not the Bill’s initial goal. Besides, we could see a major migration of techies from Kenya.