What have we learnt from studying 5 years of Internet Disruptions in Africa?

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On 5 October 2016, the Ethiopian railway corporation launched a 750 KM rail-line connecting the landlocked country from its capital, Addis Ababa, to Djibouti, its strategic economic link to global commerce. A few hours later, the communication ministry completely shut down all Internet connectivity across the country, with the stated aim of quelling protests in parts of the country. Spending millions of dollars to connect a country to the world through a railway, while intentionally shutting down the country’s Internet connectivity on the same day is a quite a paradox. To consider a whole city, or even a country, intentionally disconnected off the Internet for days by their government, may sound quite abstract, but more than fifty incidences like these were recorded globally in 2017, of which for every two of these, one was happening in Africa.

The effects of these intentional Internet disruptions have ranged from increased citizenry backlash, economic losses, and eroded international reputation. What is interesting though, as seen from the Ethiopian vignette above, is how disrupting the Internet contradicts the very economic plans of such countries. On the one side, countries are investing heavily on communication and transport infrastructure for economic connectivity yet easily reversing the marginal gains made by their intentional Internet disconnections.

Today we are releasing the longer report, complete with the associated data-sets. The report shows that by incorporating estimates of the shadow economy in assessing impact of Internet disruptions, there is an average of, as high as 30% jump in economic costs from previous estimate models. The shadow economy is understood here as economic activities and the income derived that circumvents or otherwise avoids government regulation, taxation or observation. This includes what we are calling the ‘WhatsApp Economy’, which involves individuals or small businesses using messengers (especially WhatsApp and Telegram) and social media platforms (especially Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). They use these platforms to market their wares or services, aided by mobile money and boda boda (motorbike couriers) to complete transactions without any registered business or additional tax responsibilities.

Other findings include:

  1. Ten countries in Africa account for 60% of all Internet disruptions experienced in the last five years.
  2. All countries that have had an Internet disruption have had the current ruling party being in power for 18.9 years on average.
  3. Countries with less than 20% Internet Penetration rates are more likely to disrupt the Internet during protests than those with higher rates.
  4. Liberal countries are less prone to Internet disruptions, especially where sufficient oversight exists over the executive arm of Government.
  5. Detection and attribution is improving but regional disruptions remain a daunting task. 

The first section conducts an audit of how Internet disruptions have been defined, detected, attributed, costed and responded to. Section two looks into how to quantify effects of Internet disruptions in Africa. Section three presents the findings from the quantification exercise and section four discusses some cases from the findings and section five presents research and policy recommendations.

Download the report here.

New Report: Biometric Technology, Elections, And Privacy in Kenya

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The use of biometric technology in political processes, i.e. the use of peoples’ physical and behavioural characteristics to authenticate claimed identity, has swept across the African region, with other 75% of African countries adopting one form or other of biometric technology in their electoral processes. This has been necessitated in part due to the low trust majority of citizens have had with electoral management bodies and the assumptions that adopting such technologies will increase confidence and efficiency in the elections. This comes at a high cost to countries already struggling with expensive elections. Despite such costs, the adoption of biometrics has not restored the public’s trust in the electoral process, as illustrated by post-election violence and legal challenges to the results of the 2017 Kenyan elections. An unexplored implication of this techno-optimism of biometric technology in elections is the privacy aspect.

The Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology, a research centre at the Strathmore Law School is releasing the results of an ongoing investigation on the privacy implications of using biometric technology during the electoral process in Kenya. The project focuses on two main questions: what are the motivations for the adoption of biometric technology in Kenyan elections, and how is privacy and security of personal data in Kenya impacted by the adoption of biometrics in the electoral system? We conducted primary and secondary research from our location in Nairobi, Kenya before, during, and after the 2017 General Elections.

The key takeaway is that Kenya’s legal landscape lacks the protections needed to safeguard the privacy of its citizens and protect their data. Transparency, trust, and security are key when deploying biometrics technologies. When such technologies are adopted in the absence of a strong legal framework and strict safeguards, they pose significant threats to privacy and personal security, as their application can be broadened to facilitate discrimination, social sorting and mass surveillance. The varying accuracy of the technology can lead to misidentification, fraud and civic exclusion. As such, it is crucial that as Kenya reviews its election and referenda processes, the use of biometric technologies be understood from a privacy and security perspective.

Find the report here.


Celebrating Trailblazing Kenyan Women in Innovation and Creativity: World Intellectual Property Day 2018

The theme for this year’s World Intellectual Property (WIP) Day on 26 April is ‘Powering change: Women in innovation and creativity’. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), this year’s WIP Day campaign ‘celebrates the brilliance, ingenuity, curiosity and courage of the women who are driving change in our world and shaping our common future.’ The UN specialised agency in charge of intellectual property (IP) urges its member states ‘to reflect on ways to ensure that increasing numbers of women and girls across the globe engage in innovation and creativity, and why this is so important.’ In Kenya, many observers note that women remain significantly underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) despite the country’s significant progress in achieving gender parity in education.

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Open AIR Researcher Presents at University of Cambridge Seminar Series on Open Intellectual Property Models

On 28 February 2018, the Centre for Research in Art, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Cambridge continued its seminar series on ‘Open Intellectual Property (IP) Models of Emerging Technologies and Implications for the Equitable Society’. The topic of the seminar was ‘Open IP in emerging and developing economies’ where the goal was to examine whether emerging and developing economies have an opportunity to take a radical approach to intellectual property (and also collaborative innovation practices) when it comes to areas like manufacturing, green tech, biotech and computing/artificial intelligence. If so, what could that look like and what would it mean for equitable and sustainable development? The speakers during this seminar included: Elisabeth Eppinger (Freie Universität Berlin); Kenneth Huang (National University of Singapore) and Valeria Arza (CENIT). The presentation made on behalf of Open African Innovation Research (Open AIR) was on our on-going work on open and collaborative innovation in and around high-tech hubs in Africa, particularly if/how they are using IP to facilitate openness.

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Are Computers Legal Persons? – A Student’s Perspective

By Emmanuel M. Nzaku**

In 1892, when Mr. Aron Salomon was making leather boots and shoes in his White Chapel High Street establishment, he had no idea that his enterprise would shape the nature and operation of modern trade. Since his sons wanted to become business partners, he turned the business into a limited liability company. The company purchased Salomon’s business at an excessive price for its value with his wife and five elder children becoming subscribers and the two elder sons directors but as nominee for Salomon, making it a one-man business. Not only didn’t Mr. Salomon take 20,001 of the company’s 20,007 shares, the company also gave Mr. Salomon £10,000 in debentures. When the company’s business failed and it went into liquidation, Salomon’s right of recovery against the debentures stood prior to the claims of unsecured creditors, who would, thus, have recovered nothing from the liquidation proceeds.

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Solid Intellectual Property Strategy Key to a Successful Events Planning Business

By Jade Makory**

There is a noticeable boom in Kenya’s entertainment scene. People want to meet up with friends and family, eat and drink while listening to good music or enjoying art or cultural performances. This has led to fierce competition among event planners, who feel the need to set themselves apart from other event planners. To do so, they would need to have distinctive and original features to set their events apart. These unique features may manifest themselves as intellectual creations that would require protection and management as intellectual property (IP). These features may be: branding elements such as logos, slogans and names falling under trademark law in accordance with the Trademark Act; ornamental or aesthetic features of their products falling under industrial design law in accordance with the Industrial Property Act; and original works falling under copyright law in accordance with the Copyright Act.

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Using Blockchain Technology to Digitise the Land Registry in Kenya

by Njeri Waweru**

Blockchain technology is set to be the most revolutionary technology since the Internet. it is famous for facilitating bitcoin transactions but it can serve many purposes, one of which is land title registration. Land title registration is an issue that plagues many African countries fraught with corruption and lack of transparency inhibiting the realisation of land an individual and the country as a whole.

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E-Commerce and the Law in Kenya: Taxation

This semester, we kick off a brand new course for final year undergraduate law students on e-commerce and the law. This course aims at explaining the legal challenges that are posed by electronic commerce. We shall also contextualise and problematise on-going legal/policy developments in Kenya to regulate electronic commerce. In this blogpost, we explore the implications of taxation. Take for instance the case of Karura, our fictional Kenyan answer to Amazon, an established e-commerce business, with dozens of online platforms. It offers a variety of goods and services to its customers worldwide. Delivery of goods and services takes place on the Internet and payments for purchases are made electronically. Karura is incorporated in Mauritius and has a presence throughout East Africa. Their management board sits in South Africa and decisions are often taken in the United Kingdom. If Kenya wishes to assert the authority to tax Karura in Kenya, is there a basis for exercising such taxing jurisdiction?

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E-Commerce and the Law in Kenya: Consumer Protection

This semester, we kick off a brand new course for final year undergraduate law students on e-commerce and the law. This course aims at explaining the legal challenges that are posed by electronic commerce. We shall also contextualise and problematise on-going legal/policy developments in Kenya to regulate electronic commerce. In this blogpost, we explore the implications of consumer protection law. What kind of goods and services fall within the ambit of laws governing consumer protection issues including advertising and marketing? All goods? All services? What of goods or services traded electronically/online (Jumia? Skiza Tunes? Mdundo? Mondo Ride?)

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Comments on Kenya Computer and Cybercrimes Bill 2017

The Computer and Cybercrimes Bill 2017 has undergone First Reading according to Parliamentary Standing Order 127 (3) and is currently committed to the Departmental Committee on Communications, Information and Innovation. The Bill proposes to provide a framework to prevent and control the threat of cybercrime. Parliament recently called for submission of memoranda on the Bill. Upon receipt of the call for memoranda, CIPIT called on members of the public to contribute their views on the bill which we have uploaded on the Jadili platform. Members of the public contributed their views on various issues as compiled here.

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