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Fly a Drone, Go to Jail! The Precarious State of UAV Regulations in 5 African Countries

By Wayan Vota on July 28, 2016

tanzania-drones

We are now seeing multiple uses of drones for development. Unmanned aerial vehicles, aerial robotics, whatever you want to call them, are now finding practical uses across the African continent. For example:

And new primary research from FHI 360 shows that community members are often welcoming of UAV technology when they are consulted on its usage and management.

However, that same research found that government officials expressed concerns about costs, regulations, ownership, and local capacity to maintain and use the technology. That may be the reason why highly restrictive UAV regulations are coming quickly across the African continent:

While many Ghanaians are rightly mad at their government for its draconian rules, others are supportive. For example, Lorm Afuti says:

Drones are about the most intrusive piece of equipment seen in the last 10 years. It is about time some rules were made about its use. The lines of personal space and privacy have been long crossed by these drones with everyone owning one these days.

What is the Role of Digital Development Practitioners?

As techies with an understanding of development needs, we can have a special role in promoting responsible UAV usage across the Africa continent. But what should that role be in an ever-restrictive usage environment?

  • Can we expect to be exempt from these regulations as social service organizations?
  • Should we double-down on drone usage to show their benefits before they are banned everywhere?
  • Or is this just a phase, and governments will relax regulations once drones become commonplace?
  • Overall, when, where, and how can development practitioners use drones for good?

If you are in Washington, DC on August 3rd, you can debate these questions at the next Technology Salon DC. Regardless, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Personally, I think aerial robotics have amazing promise – I’m particularly excited about their role as flying sensor platforms – and I am very worried that few opportunities will be realized if drones are banned before they begin to have real impact.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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7 Comments to “Fly a Drone, Go to Jail! The Precarious State of UAV Regulations in 5 African Countries”

  1. Theophilus E Mlaki says:

    I think that the challenge we face when developing technologies in many countries in Africa is that we do not involve governments at early stages. We assume that most government bureaucrats will understand and absorb our technologies as soon as they are released. It takes time for governments to internalise technologies. What we should do is to engage governments and their relevant departments, at early stages of technology development and trial, impressing upon their potentials in socioeconomic development.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      Great point, Theo, on needing to engage government early. Though I don’t think it’s a case of expecting government staff to understand new technologies. In fact, I think it’s the opposite.

      We often expect them not to understand new tech, to the point that we may believe engaging them will take too much time, and they’ll get the wrong impression anyway, so we ignore government, and even actively avoid it.

      • Damilola Anwo-Ade says:

        Great point. We actually do underestimate the government a great deal but on another hand as well;

        Policy changes to regulations usually take time and therefore don’t usually happen as fast as clicking a button to buy or fly a drone. So till we can get such decision making to happen as fast as Tech innovations we may always have a challenge with tech related policy and the government adaptiveness to new technologies.

        Also, I feel like the initial decision like banning, jail terms and high permit cost are initial reactions to new technology and happens way to often. We need to get to a point where we stop reacting negatively first through proper research and supporting our decision with data before banning, $4000 permits or jail terms.

      • Theophilus E Mlaki says:

        Thanks Richard for the reply. I do not think governments are scared on what technology will reveal. I think these are fears of individuals inside governments with individual self interests. It’s wrong to take these as motives of governments. That is why governments are changed if they do not bring about society development. Any government committed to improving the lives and we’ll being of its people will take seriously the role of technology in development. If and when governments are slow in the assimilation of technology, then developers need to increase their role in engaging bureaucrats.

      • Theophilus E Mlaki says:

        And that, my good friend Vota, is the result of very good technologies not being absorbed to bring about society development. Once the bureaucrats are ignored or where we loose patience in engaging governments, then we reap negative effects. We need to carry the passion of engaging governments nor matter how hard it is or how demanding. We must play this league nor matter how difficult because that will give us over lasing solutions in the future.

  2. Richard Seki says:

    This isn’t about us. The governments are scared of what people will see from the drone footage. Look at Kenya. Drones were banned when the drones stopped too much illegal poaching that was profiting the army. It has nothing to do with the drone. It’s all control.

    • Theophilus E Mlaki says:

      Thanks Richard for the reply. I do not think governments are scared on what technology will reveal. I think these are fears of individuals inside governments with individual self interests. It’s wrong to take these as motives of governments. That is why governments are changed if they do not bring about society development. Any government committed to improving the lives and we’ll being of its people will take seriously the role of technology in development. If and when governments are slow in the assimilation of technology, then developers need to increase their role in engaging bureaucrats.