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Why Rwanda Beat Tanzania in UAV Drone Regulation and Experimentation

By Guest Writer on June 3, 2021

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Around the world, governments are wrestling with the dilemma of how best to re-regulate airspace to control and selectively facilitate commercial drone activity. Dronespace appears at once as a tantalising frontier for exploitation and a significant risk to public safety and security, where the rapid development and proliferation of drone technology continues to outpace existing mechanisms of control.

Although many aspects of flight are now automated in conventional aircraft, autonomous flying drones pose challenges to the prevailing logic of situated human vision and override. As cheap drones and experimental applications spread into new areas, airspace regulators are being asked to navigate and reconcile these growing tensions.

As the examples of Tanzania and Rwanda reveal, there is variation in regulatory responses, embedded in local contexts and ensembles of interests driving drone development. Nevertheless, the extension of centralised state control over dronespace in line with conventional airspace standards is the dominant story in both cases, suggesting powerful limits to the disruptive and democratising potential of drones.

UAV Drone Regulation in Tanzania

In Tanzania, drone experimentation was initially able to proceed in a context of ambiguous regulatory authority. Led by the World Bank and particular branches of government, and funded largely by donor finance, various mapping projects established Tanzania as an early centre of African drone innovation.

However, anxieties about safety and security, especially in relation to Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) and autonomous delivery services, led to a regulatory closing down of dronespaces. The nascent drone network in Tanzania was unable to allay regulators’ concerns or cohere a strong enough countervailing set of interests to force a more flexible approach or support for corridor infrastructure from TCAA, which extended its control over domestic drone activity.

UAV Drone Regulation in Rwanda

In Rwanda, drone ownership is tightly controlled and there are strict protocols for registered drone operations. The landmark drone corridor network for delivery of blood and other medical products developed with Zipline has led to some of the most advanced and permissive regulations for semi-autonomous and BVLOS operations in the world, albeit still subject to tight regulatory control.

Zipline’s success in establishing a commercial delivery network in Rwanda has been heavily contingent on the government leadership’s political and financial embrace of medical delivery drones as a national development project.

Through this, the company was able to demonstrate the reliability of its infrastructural approach and systems, and cement its monopolistic position as a trusted service provider, attracting additional private flows of capital investment. Yet this took place under relatively unique conditions, where comprehensive ground and airspace control by the state security apparatus was a necessary prerequisite for the development of dronespace.

Implications for African UAV Regulations

The case studies in Making space for drones: the contested reregulation of airspace in Tanzania and Rwanda have important implications for literature on airspace regulation in the age of drones.

1. Africa Airspace is Not Unregulated

First, our findings refute Eurocentric notions of Africa as an unregulated testbed for drone experimentation. Although clearly structured by the legacies of colonial rule and logics of post-colonial development, African modes of airspace regulation are no less stringent than parts of the world, and commercial drone use is tightly regulated in line with ICAO standards.

Governments in Tanzania and Rwanda have maintained and extended regulatory control, and airspace sovereignty was unquestioned. The narrative of unregulated drone use in Tanzania before 2017 was never accurate.

The discourse in Rwanda has been about creating space for innovation in drone systems and delivery networks in particular. Yet while the country’s performance-based regulations have received plaudits for their flexibility by organisations like WEF, they are underpinned by uncontested governmental control over domestic drone activity.

2. Different Regulations for Myriad UAV Services

Second, our examples demonstrate the distinction between drone services that are limited to specific blocks of airspace for surveillance, mapping, crop spraying and so on, and cargo services which connect logistics hubs to delivery locations. Different services may require different forms of regulation and relationships between drones and infrastructure on the ground.

The temporary activation of blocks of uncontrolled lower airspace for mapping operations appears more straightforward to manage with licensing, permits and Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) monitoring, and potentially offers significant cost savings for certain services.

The question for BVLOS drone delivery, however, is how to create a more permanent infrastructural approach that can manage more regular traffic flying semi-autonomously between different locations, while meeting strict standards of airspace safety and security.

By Andy Lockhart, University of Manchester, Aidan While, University of Sheffield, Simon Marvin, University of Sheffield, Mateja Kovacic, Hong Kong Baptist University, Nancy Odendaal, University of Cape Town, Christian Alexander, University of Cape Town

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3 Comments to “Why Rwanda Beat Tanzania in UAV Drone Regulation and Experimentation”

  1. Cavin Mugarura says:

    This is abit naive, this is not the olympics

  2. I saw this come out and was very upset and have wanted to write a response for some time. However, I am just too busy with actual work to take the time to write a proper response. I will say a few things:

    1) “drone experimentation was initially able to proceed in a context of ambiguous regulatory authority” is a completely incorrect statement, and only hurts the efforts and progress that has been made. The only reason I can see for making such a statement is to validate your Headline, “Why Rwanda Beat Tanzania in UAV Drone Regulation and Experimentation”. Which in turn is incorrect and simply clickbait.

    2) Correct me if I am wrong but I believe when Zipline operates in Rwanda they do so under special permits rather than following a generally accessible process for obtaining permits and conducting operations, this DOES NOT HELP the local ecosystem. I could contrast this with the approach that has been taken in Tanzania which rather than seeking exemptions operations have sought to build the capacity of regulators to even the playing field for all.

    Anyway as I said I don’t have time for a long response, I am too busy with work, (which includes operating a fully Tanzanian-owned business that among other things conducts legal drone operations all over the continent.).

    The last thing I will say is that I am very disappointed to see such an article from ICTworks as in the past it is an organization that I have held in high regard.

  3. Bilaro says:

    Tanzania is always keen to study everything in details before jumping in the ship. I remember when Uganda Rwanda and Kenya formed the Northern circuit of business and called it the Coalition of the Willing (COW) by Excluding Tanzania. because Tanzania wanted to study the in details before joining. The Cow Project failed before it could even take off given the strategic location and the costs associated with using the Mombasa port by land locked Countries. Then came the EU- EAC pact for Economic Partnership Agreement which Kenya wanted it fast tracked while Tanzania wanted detailed study. this project has also failed because some section of it are not in the interest of EAC industrial growth. No wonder UK left the EU

    So you can just say Rwanda Beat Tanzania without understanding Tanzania and they way we operate. we want perfect not impressing any one. Our investment was on securing our airspace by building radar which will ensure our air space is secure 200% because we will serve other neighbouring countries Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi Eastern DRC, Malawi Norther Mozambique and large part of the Indian Ocean
    So this is how Tanzania operates we build foundation and then initiate projects when we start we will move fast when other are on the table trying to re-plan

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