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Pop Quiz: Should You Need a License to Practice ICT4D?

By Wayan Vota on July 7, 2016

ict practitioner license kenya

The Kenyan government recently introduced the Information Communications Technology Practitioners Bill 2016 bill that would require every ICT practitioner to have a university degree in computer science and pay an annual license fee to an ICT Practitioners Institute. An unlicensed ICT practitioner could be fined 50,000Ksh and sent to jail for 2 years.

As you might image, this idea is quite controversial. Over 23,000 Kenyans engaged with our Facebook post asking their opinion on the matter, with the vast majority of the 60+ comments rejecting the need for this licensing scheme:

  • Justus Muteti Mwandi: Kids as young as 12 years are writing sellable applications. Now they have to wait for campus degree? The person coming up with these has no clue how this industry works.
  • Cde Cliff Mboya: I can assemble a computer from the scratch, upgrade and install all its software required, and I can design a simple website. I was not taught this skill in a university.
  • Crackers Hallworth: What exactly is an ICT Practitioner? Is there a definition? Is this someone who works for Government installing software, someone in a private company working as a Systems Engineer or everyone that owns a PC?
  • Karue Benson Karue: I don’t think one needs degree for ICT job. Even Bill Gates did not get one. What about techies with diploma and certifications? This is really bad. ICT work is agreement between you and your client. I still don’t understand why third party is coming in.

While many Kenyan computer professionals are against this bill, there is actually a rational case to be made for an industry license in information and communication technologies.

The Benefits of ICT License Schemes

Professional licensing has a long history. In the Western world, a system of apprenticeship first developed in the later Middle Ages, developing into guilds and then trade unions. These licensing bodies provided a way for craftsmen to ensure standards of quality and pricing across an industry.

In the Kenyan ICT industry, an ICT practitioner license scheme could have benefits, as supporters of the ICT Practitioners Bill point out:

  • GV Ong’anya: ICT is an enabler in the economy system. Every aspect seems to making use of it, yet many quacks are masquerading as ICT experts. Companies are falling prey to this, since they may not be very sure about the qualification of the person being hired for ICT. Further to this, there is need for discipline in the sector. This may be achieved through regulatory practices provided in the draft law. Finally, Kenya needs professionals to act professionally.
  • Joseph Aghatise: I think it is a good development. There are several people who jump into ICT after a six months training and these guys leave out the underlining principles of computing. Trace the source of failed ICT projects, 90% are from the non-professionals.

These benefits may not outweigh the flaws of the ICT Practitioners Bill as its written. Many commenters pointed out that it actually isn’t in the best interests of the Kenyan ICT sector:

  • Cleopa Timon Otieno: This bill would hinder innovation a great deal. It’s definitely a ploy to give the elite an advantage over the folks who actually work in the sector. Currently there is an online petition saying NO to this bill.

Even more concerning, the bill isn’t even from the Ministry of ICT, which disavowed any relationship to the idea.


Should We Need a License to Practice ICT4D?

While the Kenyan law has its flaws, it does bring forth a very interesting question: Do we need a licensing body for ICT4D professionals? Certainly we now have hallmarks of a maturing industry.

We have an industry-specific website, an ICT4D job board, generally accepted digital principles, an academic discipline, and even our own happy hour. Could it be time we form an ICT4D Practitioners Institute and start licensing ICT4D professionals around the world?

If so, who should get licensed? What would certification entail? How would we enforce it? Let me know now, as I’m thinking this might just be a good idea to improve our profession.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. 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 his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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6 Comments to “Pop Quiz: Should You Need a License to Practice ICT4D?”

  1. Like BREXIT, this is just a really really bad idea.

    I am the Regional VP for one of the top 20 Softare vendors in the world and based here in Nairobi. Not all our staff have a degree in ICT but have come from a business background and are involved in business process management and would not know a line of code or how to configure a network if their life depended upon it. Why, because they don’t need to know, but they are still in the IT business.

    Like post BREXIT, will we now see all the young guys without degrees, but who are writing amazing mobile apps, leave for Tanzania or further afield where they can work and then sell their solutions back to Kenya?

    Must I as an International Software Vendor register and have to fire any staff member that does not have a degree. Only to take on someone with a degree that may well have less skills in the subject area.

    Some IT projects are carried out by International IT Consultants. How will the bill regulate them, when they only come in for a project specific job?

    I know I have said it before, but this is bad, just bad.

    Finally, there has been no consultation with the Industry major players as far as I am aware and I can not see the likes of Microsoft, IBM, SAP etc agreeing to this draconian legislation.

  2. Carl Wahl says:

    No. It sounds like another bit of exclusionary, rent-seeking, business-killing gadfly bureaucracy that quashes a relatively young and open profession whilst it’s still in the cradle. Lastly, it is a potential source of employment for youths, whom for most a university education is simply unattainable.

    A professional organization or certification should be something that an ICT practicioner can apply for, making their own marketability that much better (e.g., you can hire a certified contractor, a certified electrician, etc.), esp. if that certification follows rigorous standards.

    Lastly … think about so many “captains” of the digital industry … Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, etc., etc. None of them finished college prior to becoming successful. That’s not to say that all dropouts do well; however, it does mean that you don’t have to be a college graduate to be good at something.

  3. David McCann says:

    I see this as another symptom of frustration with pilot-itis, of which one cause is inexperienced, low-skilled software engineers writing unmaintainable, unscalable, from-scratch (read: high-cost) software. The single hardest thing with finding software engineering talent is weeding through applicants/companies that claim they know what they’re talking about, have strong resumes, and turn out to be completely incompetent when it comes to actual software product development. That goes double for ICT4D: from complete scam artists to the more well-intentioned but just as incapable and destructive.

    More power to the special-case dropouts and folks developing “cool mobile apps,” I’m talking here about certifications for those writing enterprise-level product and seeking funding or profit for the work. I think most engineers, at least those trying to build teams, would be all for a little more certainty and rigor in the process.

    That said, obviously this bill isn’t the right approach, but the arguments against I’m seeing here are directed at the concept (which is actually a good one), not the implementation (which I agree is bad).

    • Wayan Vota says:


      I agree that the concept is good. Professional licensing has a long, successful history in increasing the skill and quality level of many professions. I also agree that this specific bill is a very bad idea, particularly the vague definitions of an “ICT practitioner” and of the quality control of those so identified. It certainly looks like rent seeking from here.

  4. Karl Brown says:

    Really bad idea. Certifications already exist (things like CISCO, M$, etc), and more could be created, but licensing implies a legal framework under which you are not permitted to practice without said license. Even ICT4D (which is ultimately just ICT with a particular set of clients) requires a broad variety of skills that would not be able to be captured through some licensing scheme.

    A certification, that is optional, might be a decent idea, but even then I don’t think the industry is large enough to sustain that.