Regulations: Innovation Killers Or Inspirers?


Brilliant ideas need an opportunity to flourish.

You know how we are encouraged to think outside the box? Now, imagine this box is called regulations and policies, and you have to think innovatively around, through and inside that box. There is no outside. Would you be inspired and creative, or would you be deflated by restrictions and give up? This is the question we set to answer with today’s webinar, Balancing Regulations, Compliance And Innovation. 

Edward Erinkanya, Director of Legal Services, works with the Communications Authority of Kenya, (CA) who have the mandate to regulate the ICT industry. Based on their milestones, regulation exists to enhance the impact of innovation positively. They consider themselves as enablers, not punishers. The types of regulation include economic, social and administrative. CA plays an administrative role on behalf of the government. When there is an enabling environment, ICT can spectacularly transform sectors such as education, healthcare, agriculture and environmental management, trade, entrepreneurship and the provision of government services.

CA makes this possible by pushing for collaborations. To what end? So that the remaining 49 per cent of the world can have access and enjoy connectivity. Collaboration is mandatory because one cannot just ram things down stakeholder throats. After all, transformation has to be stakeholder-driven. Regulators can no longer afford to be adversarial, pitting themselves against the private sector and private sector betwixt themselves. Not when there is so much to do with Emerging Technologies: digital start-ups, fintech, mobile money, AI, Big Data, 3D printing, blockchain – think of all the 2020 predicted tech trends. So much so the approach has to be win-win.

Kenya’s regulatory framework is embedded in our constitution and the Kenya Information and Communications Act (KICA) with about 16 other sets of regulations, and informed by agencies such as the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) Media Council of Kenya (MCK).

“Regulators can no longer afford to be adversarial, pitting themselves against the private sector and private sector betwixt themselves. Not when there is so much to do with Emerging Technologies: digital start-ups, fintech, mobile money, AI, Big Data, 3D printing, blockchain – think of all the 2020 predicted tech trends. So much so the approach has to be win-win.”

Speaking on behalf of CA, Edward says, “To realise positive regulatory effects on innovation, while taking care not to jeopardise original regulatory objectives, regulators must ensure competition, streamline regulations, understand the linkages between regulations and technology, apply technology-driven approaches and harmonise regulations with an eye towards a universal bent.”

When it comes to ICT touching every aspect of people’s lives, Thelma Quaye, Head of Digital Infrastructure Programme, Smart Africa Secretariat, where 30 member states come into play, talks about several quick wins in their vision to transform Africa into a digital market by putting ICT at the centre of every aspect of people’s lives. These run the entire gamut of ICT. “One thing we seek to do in terms of policy and regulation is to harmonise. We believe that as a Pan African organisation, there is no need to have segregated policies,” she notes. Against this backdrop lies three fundamental concerns in dire need of regulation.

Every year, 11 million youth are released into the African job market. A market that can only absorb 3.1 million. It becomes a security issue unless they find themselves thriving in a conducive start-up environment that allows them entry into the world of entrepreneurship. One that needs pragmatic real-time regulations to support this demand. They currently do not exist.

“If I travel from Nairobi to Kigali, my data should arrive in Kigali ahead of my arrival for them to know my vitals. It is time to think about data liberalisation in a responsible manner. There may be trust issues, but the framework is needed regardless.”

The second one is data privacy which became apparent with COVID-19 when it came to tracing people and using said data responsibly. Information that should support crossborder data flows especially with most countries reopening. “If I travel from Nairobi to Kigali, my data should arrive in Kigali ahead of my arrival for them to know my vitals.” Only 29 countries in Africa have data protection laws, and most of these do not support cross-border information flow, yet the demand for such regulation pends. Taking into account the fact that this is needed for free trade agreements to be successful. So far, only Ghana and Mauritius allow cross-border data. “It is time to think about data liberalisation in a responsible manner. There may be trust issues, but the framework is needed regardless,” posits Quaye.

Then there is connectivity, the fundamental enabler. With Corona, we saw user demand rise to at least 70 per cent. Without connectivity, much would be left undone. Does this infrastructure exist? “We need to set up the right spectrum policies, be able to set up around proper use of investor access fund and infrastructure sharing. These three areas have come out specifically out of actual user demand, driven by changes in lifestyle.” It highlights the importance of an agile, accommodating and relevant regulatory regime.

Interestingly enough, Adam Lane, Deputy CEO, Huawei Kenya, shifts the perspective of this dialogue by looking at the critical nature of standardisation. Huawei ranks fifth worldwide when it comes to filing patents. They know a thing or two about innovating around regulations. “I think the only time I hear people mention standards in Kenya/Africa is when they reference a lack of it. Which is a shame and is something that has to be worked on in time as much as technical knowledge,” he illustrates. “Looking at timelines, some of this research and development takes 3 to 5 years before being stuff gets commercialised. Our role in terms of standards is in between the innovation aspect when we come up with a new idea, and something that is actualised as a product or solution. It is done around cooperating with the industry and the customers.”

“Every year, 11 million youth are released into the African job market. A market that can only absorb 3.1 million. It becomes a security issue unless they find themselves thriving in a conducive start-up environment that allows them entry into the world of entrepreneurship.”

Standards unite the industry ecosystem, which enables innovation and builds a healthy industry. They also have common definitions, qualify platforms and enhance compatibility and safety, all acting as proof that something has undergone due processes. This works when organisations join together to create specific themes and standards. Standards being met is all very black and white with remarkable clarity. It bestows confidence which is vital for any industry but more so in ICT.

“Today, we understand the value of being connected like never before. MNOs (mobile network operators) have invested almost $1 trillion in network infrastructure over the past five years bringing mobile internet coverage to about 91 per cent of the world’s population. Traditionally innovation are ahead of regulations. This is not a problem unique to SSA only. It cuts across the entire globe,” discloses Caroline Mbugua, Senior Policy Manager, Sub Saharan Africa. “Regulators must strike a balance between an enabling environment and innovation to unlock the true benefits of technology.”

Innovations speaking to relevant challenges and issues people are facing are particularly potent. The GSMA Innovation Fund offers grants. Grantees go through an internal process and get funding in Sub Saharan Africa and Asia looking at innovators coming up with relevant ideas that can be scaled, are sustainable, have that socio-economic impact and accelerate internet adoption and digital inclusion.

Caroline brings us back full circle. “We need to have a more collaborative approach to regulation to meet the objectives of stakeholders’ involvement to ensure the usage gap is solved and continue to transform lives, especially of the digitally excluded. In my view, for this to happen, we need to look at technology. It is not a respecter of borders. We need to involve the international community. This is not a challenge that is singular to Kenya. Regulation itself needs to go through some form of evolution. The innovations that come up are not as vertical as we understand them. You may find an innovation that cuts across different verticals. What is needed is an environment that will allow innovations to continue growing.”



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