Kenyan IT professionals have raised concerns over the proposed 2023 Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Society Bill, urging the country’s parliament to reject it due to significant flaws. During a session organized by the National Assembly’s Communication, Information, and Innovation Committee on International Safer Internet Day in 2024, it was revealed that experts from the AI and robotics sectors were not consulted during the drafting of the bill. This legislation mandates registration of robotics and AI ventures with the Robotics Society of Kenya (RSK) and proposes hefty penalties for non-compliance, including fines up to one million Kenyan shillings ($6,269) and potential two-year prison sentences.
The RSK is set to function as a regulatory body to oversee the robotics and AI industries, establishing compliance rules and advising the government on sector trends. However, Alex Gakuru, director of the Center for Law in Information Technology and head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Kenya, argued that the bill is primarily focused on robotics and does not sufficiently address AI issues. Gakuru warned that the bill, in its current state, could lead to a national disaster and face legal challenges unless revised.
Despite Kenya’s position as the fifth-ranked African country in readiness for AI implementation in public services, as per the 2022 Government AI Readiness Index, with a score of 40.36%, the country’s investment in AI lags behind its African counterparts. According to Microsoft’s “Artificial Intelligence in the Middle East and Africa Outlook Report,” Kenya’s AI investment over the past decade amounted to approximately 13 billion shillings ($81.5 million), significantly less than South Africa’s $1 billion and Nigeria’s $378 million investments.
The controversy surrounding the bill highlights the need for inclusive and thorough consultation processes in legislative drafting, especially in fast-evolving sectors like AI and robotics, to ensure that laws foster innovation rather than hinder it.