Kenya Faces Backlash from Tech Community Over AI Regulation Efforts


The 2023 Robotics and AI Society Bill, aimed at governing the burgeoning sectors of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in Kenya, has met with strong opposition from industry insiders. Professionals in Information Technology (IT) and experts from the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM) have voiced significant objections, recommending that Parliament dismiss the proposed regulation.

On International Safer Internet Day, IT specialists in Kenya, Alex Gakuru, the Center for Law in Information Technology Director and leader of the AMCHAM group, presented their case to the National Assembly’s Communication, Information, and Innovation (CII) committee. The local publication Business Daily reported that they pinpointed major shortcomings in the bill, critiquing the lack of engagement with AI and robotics sector stakeholders during its formulation.

The Kenya Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Society Bill 2023 has been introduced, mandating all entities’ registration with the newly proposed Robotics Society of Kenya (RSK). Those failing to comply face a fine of KES 1 million (approximately USD 6,000), two-year imprisonment, or possibly both.

Gakuru raised concerns that the legislation overly concentrates on the robotics industry while neglecting critical areas of artificial intelligence. He highlighted the risk of legal challenges due to the bill’s inadequate drafting and called for its retraction for further dialogue with those involved in the industry.

Concerns have been voiced over Kenya’s position in the AI sector, which ranks fifth in Africa. According to the 2022 Government AI Readiness Index, Kenya is positioned after Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, and Morocco. Despite investing USD 81.5 million over ten years in AI, Kenya still trails behind South Africa and Nigeria, as reported in Microsoft’s “Artificial Intelligence in the Middle East and Africa Outlook Report.”

Elizabeth Mutua, a faculty member at the Dedan Kimathi School of Computer, shed light on further challenges, including the unavailability of public data sets for AI development and the lack of a legal structure to oversee AI and robotics in the nation.

AI Kenya, an independent initiative promoting data science and robotics growth, described the bill as a “significant impediment to the innovation and development of the bustling tech ecosystem.” This viewpoint mirrors the broader industry concern that the suggested regulations could hinder, rather than encourage, innovation within Kenya’s thriving technology sector.

In light of the growing dissent, Dagoreti South Member of Parliament John Kiarie, who heads the CII committee, promised that the feedback from stakeholders would be considered during the bill’s public consultation phase. As Kenya strives to strike a delicate balance between regulation and innovation in the AI and robotics field, the outcome of the proposed bill is yet to be determined.




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