Per experts, the proposed AI and robotics law is an avenue for the Kenyan government to introduce more taxes to the people.
The Kenya Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Society Bill 2023 seeks to introduce fines of up to KES 1 million ($6,250 according to the current exchange rate), a prison sentence of up to two years, or both on unlicensed entities operating robotic and AI businesses if they fail to register their organisations with the Robotics Society of Kenya (RSK).
Part of the bill reads, “The Society may grant the licence applied for subject to such terms and conditions as the county executive committee member shall consider appropriate.” It adds, “A person who contravenes the provisions of (the section) commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding one million shillings.”
The RSK is a proposed body that will oversee and support the growth of the robotics and AI sector by creating rules and guidelines with other authorities. It will also ensure that companies follow these rules and provide advice to the government on new trends in AI and robotics.
The proposal, introduced to lawmakers in parliament in November 2023, has been controversial and has attracted heated discussions among AI enthusiasts and advocates in the country. According to AI Kenya, an initiative that seeks to democratise and support the growth of data science and robotics in the country, the bill poses a “severe threat to innovation and growth of the vibrant tech ecosystem”.
Elizabeth Mutua, a lecturer at Dedan Kimathi University of Science and Technology, said that the proposal is another avenue for the government to create new offices and taxes without proper AI legislation. “We need a proper law to regulate AI and emerging technologies,” she told Business Daily.
The bill is akin to the shelved ICT practitioners bill that parliament passed in June 2022. Then-president, Uhuru Kenyatta, declined to sign the bill into law after multiple complaints from the ICT industry since it created obstacles in a field that lacked enough skilled workers and added expensive bureaucracy for freelance ICT workers. The proposed law further blocked self-taught people from offering ICT services, which could then stifle innovation.
The bill suggested that ICT professionals in the field must have a degree to work. The bill sought to create an institute to register and licence ICT professionals, approve their education, and conduct exams. It also set a minimum qualifications for certification; otherwise, they would not be able to work.