Legislating Africa’s digital economy – Rwanda commits to protect personal data and Uganda to license digital platform drivers

21 February 2020

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African countries have some tough choices to make about legislating the new digital economy. Africa’s “big men” have often seemed to want to choke off social media with taxes, leaving the suspicion that they don’t like too many people getting to express themselves. Russell Southwood looks at two recent pieces of proposed legislation (in Rwanda and Uganda) and sees how they measure up.

Paula Ingabire, the Rwandan Minister for ICT and Innovation, plans to present a personal data protection bill to Rwandan legislators next March:"We will submit the bill to parliament next March and ask legislators to approve it as soon as possible due to the need to protect personal data," the minister said on Wednesday 12 February to local media. Paula Ingabire said the draft is currently under review by the law reform commission and has yet to be approved by the prime minister.

She reported that this text will be accompanied by detailed and extensive guidelines on how government and the private sector are expected to use and protect the data of each individual. It will also guide, inform and delimit how this data will be used. As ever, the devil will be in the detail of those accompany guidelines. One key issue will be how individual’s rights in relation to Government will be protected.

In review since last year, the law announced by Rwandan Minister Paula Ingabire wants to put in place detailed strategies for managing personal data. This should make it possible to control the way in which national and international companies use the personal data of Rwandans. The country has already ratified last July, the Malabo treaty on cyber security and the protection of personal data.

Weighing in on the side of the angels, the GSMA’s Director of Public Policies for Sub-Saharan Africa, Jean-François Le Bihan told local media that if the country wants to seize the opportunities arising from the digital transformation, it should establish a global approach to data protection which is not subsumed into an ICT law, but which applies generally, regardless of sector or technology.

He also warned that if these guiding principles are not incorporated, improper application of data privacy could jeopardize the US$214 billion mobile economy that Africa has the potential to reach in the process.

Meanwhile the Ugandan Parliament has just adopted the 2019 Traffic and Road Safety Bill which will legislate that digital transport platforms will have to get authorization and use licensed drivers.

The Bill says that "any entity wishing to provide an online digital platform for the provision of public transport services for passengers or goods must obtain an authorization and a license" from the Ministry of Transport Regulations and Safety.

This approval, includes everything from an applicant’s background check to the accreditation and issuance of badges to drivers and the presentation of a tax relief certificate and proof of insurance. Applicants will also have to submit periodic reports and information. The law also indicates that the terms of application are those provided for by regulations to be adopted later. This makes it hard to judge the legislation at this stage.

Last year, when the government voted for this bill, there was talk of licensing and special transportation networks operating through online digital applications being regulated. The bill also covers the management of road safety in Uganda.

On this occasion, Ugandan MP Kenneth Lubogo, quoted by the local press, said that the licensing of online transport service providers is important to ensure that gaps in the transport sector are filled and to encourage good operations. There are currently several digital transport operators including Uber, Safe Boda and Bolt.