A key consideration for businesses operating in eastern Africa is the big gap or disconnect that still exists between newer laws and the application and enforcement of those laws, says technology, media, and telecommunications expert Kenneth Muhangi.
As Managing Partner of leading Ugandan law firm KTA Advocates, Muhangi says that while ignorance of the law is no defence when it comes to compliance, given the increasing number of local laws in the ICT space, practical application can be a challenge for clients.
“For example, you can have a law on data protection and privacy which makes it mandatory for you to have a data protection officer and data protection and privacy policies,” says Muhangi, referring to recent law reforms made in many African nations including Uganda.
But on the flipside, notes Muhangi, how many people are qualified to be data protection officers, even if the law makes it mandatory? Businesses may struggle to comply, not only risking fines and legal liability, but potentially slowing progress and curtailing opportunities.
“How many lawyers and law firms are adept in areas like data protection, that are able to advise clients succinctly in those particular areas?” says Muhangi. “There are few, and we can’t represent everyone … it’s a big consideration for clients in regards to compliance.”
Like many African nations, Uganda has had a “plethora of changes” in recent years when it comes to technology, says Muhangi. The legal and regulatory landscape is rapidly evolving.
The Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019 made Uganda the first east African country to recognise privacy as a fundamental human right, implementing GDPR-style reforms and giving effect to article 27(2) of Uganda’s Constitution, protecting citizens’ rights to privacy.
The National Payment Systems Act 2020 now regulates mobile money, a key technological innovation that’s had a particularly large impact in eastern Africa, says Muhangi. “There are a lot of opportunities in the payments sphere, for financial technology, and also with data.”
The legal requirements that various organisations, including government and business, take the collection and use of personal data far more seriously now, adds to the value of data.
“The more we’re going online, the more we have people doing business and just performing everyday tasks, the more we’ll have software applications come up to try to solve gaps.”
While there are infrastructure challenges with access to fast internet across eastern Africa, and the cost of the internet – along with mobile literacy and people understanding all they can do with their devices – Muhangi sees many opportunities for clients now and into the future.
The cross-border nature of technology meshes with recent moves to open up borders with freer movement of goods, services, and people across Africa under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA), which commenced on January 1 (though Covid has slowed its impact).
“With technology, we’re already doing business with other countries, but perhaps what AfCTA is going to do is make the cost of doing business easier,” says Muhangi. “But this is really a ‘maybe’ because you sometimes see a very big disconnect between what you have in policy and what you have on the ground.”
Infrastructure and implementation are vital, not just policy, as that practical application is what will make the real difference for everyone across eastern Africa, says Muhangi.
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