Data breaches may deter digital economy success

Thursday, November 16th, 2023 09:46 | By
CS for Information, Communications and Digital Economy Eliud Owalo. PHOTO/Print
CS for Information, Communications and Digital Economy Eliud Owalo. PHOTO/Print

Kenya is one of the few countries in Africa that have identified digital economy as a major pillar for growth.

So important is the digital economy agenda that a full-fledged State Department has been established apparently to coordinate system-wide integration. Yet despite these efforts, several challenges remain, especially innovative policy and regulatory ecosystem to sustainably address emerging issues.

Some of the emerging issues currently threatening sustainable adoption of digital economy and that need urgent attention include weak data protection regime, globalised digital activism and institutionalised resistance across government. The latter is informed by mostly by fear of technology-induced redundancies within traditional civil service.

Whilst institutionalised resistance across government can gradually be resolved through accelerated capacity building, the threats posed by data breaches and globalised activism are more unpredictable and damaging to Kenya’s reputation as a regional tech hub in the long run.

Moreover, the double threats of data breaches and globalised tech-activism targeting the country is likely to directly scuttle the digital economy agendas conceptualised by government. Two recent incidents are worth mentioning.

The first relates to Worldcoin’s experimentation and inducement of vulnerable Kenyans to generate important human data by scanning their eyes. The fact that this continued for months before belated government intervention should be concerning.

The second relates to ongoing labour dispute between former content moderators and outsourced tech companies. This has attracted widespread globalised tech activism led by foreign NGOs designed to portray Kenya negatively as a hub for abuse of labour rights of technology workers.

The substance of the allegations notwithstanding, it is an acknowledged fact that outsourcing has been used to spur digital integration and create thousands of jobs in places like India. In essence, Kenya is basically playing catch up in the outsourcing industry.

It is these reasons that the recently-gazetted ICT and Digital Economy Taskforce has a lot in its in-tray that it must not ignore. Officially, Taskforce is mandated to propose legal and policy reforms that will make ICT sector competitive. This, of course, includes looking into areas like the postal service, which is at the risk of being rendered obsolete.

At a practical level, Taskforce’s success or failure will hugely depend on how it innovatively addresses threats to new high potential ICT areas including data protection and ICT outsourcing new technology areas including

One of the low-hanging fruits the Taskforce should seize and prioritise is dispute resolution in the ICT sector. This is particularly important in the sensitive yet critical issues around labour disputes and data handling. The current default mode is for parties to engage in prolonged litigation that erodes Kenya’s competitive edge as silicon savannah.

Even more challenging, especially in class action suits, is the tendency of digital activists to demand astronomical settlement amounts that not only defy market trends but also seem designed to frustrate prospects of out-of-court settlement.

Taskforce, for example, could draw lessons from the increasing momentum for adoption of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms and explore how can be integrated in resolving tech-sector disputes.

Overall, Kenya has made strides over the past decade in embedding ADR in dispute resolution across many sectors.

This has increased autonomy of litigants whilst engendering efficiency in the justice sector. Some notable examples include court-annexed mediation promoted by the Judiciary, which focuses on family, labour, and commercial disputes amongst others.

— The writer is a Law scholar and practising advocate

More on Opinion