Kenya dispatch: controversial bill regulating IT professionals awaits president’s signature

Kenya’s legislators have passed the controversial Information, Communication Technology (ICT) Practitioners Bill 2020. This is a bill that has found its way back to parliament time and time again despite being rejected in 2016, 2018 and 2020. It seeks to regulate people who make use of technology in order to collect, process, use or send out information on behalf of others for a fee.

The conflict stems from the manner in which parliament wishes to fulfill this objective. The bill states that in order for one to be an ICT practitioner in Kenya, they must have acquired a university degree or diploma or completed a training program accepted by the council of the ICT practitioners institute. Moreover, practitioners will be expected to pay a fee before being registered as certified practitioners.

The fact that one must have a degree or some form of recognized education is a cause of fear for many ICT practitioners. This stems from the fact that many ICT skills in Kenya are self-acquired. This is not surprising considering it is now possible for people to acquire these skills through various social media platforms such as YouTube where people can share videos on how to accomplish various technical tasks. It is therefore unfair for the government to lock out such individuals. Many Kenyans have gone on to Twitter and other social media platforms to voice their opposition to the bill. Many argued that platforms such Microsoft would not have existed if their governments had locked out their creators simply because they were uneducated.

Ordinary citizens were not the only ones to have aired their distaste for the bill. Raila Odinga ( Azimio leader) and Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru have also publicly opposed the bill and have appealed with the President  not to sign it into law. They both argue that if the bill is made into law, then many Kenyans will lose their jobs. Moreover, many bright individuals who could have made a difference in the ICT sector will be locked out due to such stringent requirements.

Despite opposition, MPs supporting the bill continue to argue that the bill will cut down the number of frauds in the industry, thus benefitting the country in the long run. Dr. Shem Ochuodho an IT expert supports the bill. Arguing out that the bill will benefit the country and the only people who are against the bill are those who have benefitted from the lack of structure in the ICT sector this far.

As it stands, the bill has already been forwarded to President Kenyatta for assent. Under Kenyan law the president has 14 days to either accept or reject the bill while providing his reservations to parliament. However, due to elections fast approaching, parliament officially closed until further notice last week Thursday. This was done immediately after passing the bill hence it will be very difficult for the president to reject the bill. It is not clear how the president will communicate his reservations, if any, and if he fails to do so within the stipulated 14 days then the bill will be automatically made into law in accordance with article 116 of Kenya’s Constitution.

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