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Last week we witnessed, once again, as Big Tech companies (and their CEOs) were dragged in front of America's policymakers to explain how they are not monopolies and defend how they possibly engaged in anti-competitive practices to edge their competitors out of the market. Merits of the arguments aside, how the USA approaches regulation of technology is admirable in that it is a relatively transparent process in which the public also gets visibility of the questions and answers between politicians and tech CEOs before any regulations can be decided on.
On the other hand, during the same week, we saw regulations in Nigeria being passed regarding logistics companies, out of the blue (mostly steep increases in "logistics" license fees). Remember, many okada-hailing (motorbike taxis) startups pivoted to logistics as soon as the Lagos State Government banned okadas. Another rabbit-out-the-hat regulation was also passed in Uganda where certain parts of Kampala have declared boda-boda free zones (in East Africa motorbike taxis are known as boda-bodas).
Again, merits of the arguments regarding the logistics and boda boda regulations aside, let's juxtapose how African policymakers regulate technology and the startups related to it and how Americans and Europeans do it.
As highlighted at the beginning of today's Daily Brief newsletter, on one hand, Americans adopt what appears to be a transparent (at least from the public's perspective) process towards deciding on tech regulations. While African regulators pull random and sudden magic tricks announcing all manner of regulations without anyone in the public knowing the process of how such a decision was reached.
I use these specific words because the regulations in most cases don't seem to benefit citizens. Take the okada ban, logistics license fee increases, and boda boda restrictions for example.
Take the findings from the research report "Informal Self-Employment and Poverty Alleviation: Empirical Evidence from Motorcycle Taxi Riders in Nigeria" by Isaiah Oluranti Olurinola as an example. In it, it is concluded that:
"One, the commercial taxi operations is a source of employment and income for many Nigerian youths and this has shown the importance of the informal sector in the labour absorption process in the urban informal sector of South West Nigeria. The study has therefore confirmed other studies in this respect (Debra, 2007; Khotikna, 2007). Second, the earnings analysis carried out confirms that the majority of operators are earning more than the (then) minimum wage, and that, perhaps has made the sector to be attractive to many educated youths (even up to tertiary level) who would have remained openly unemployed. Third, the study confirmed that both human capital variables as well as personal and household characteristics are important statistically in the determination of earnings. The third finding is that many of the operators have acquired some technical skills prior to their engagement in the okada riding business while some of them are graduates of tertiary institutions who had to get involved in auto-cycle riding due to lack of desired formal sector employment. For those with previous skill training, the lack of financial resources to set up own enterprises is the main reason for their involvement in okada riding."
I am almost certain the findings would be similar in Uganda too, which begs to repeat the question: for whose benefit are these regulations being passed?
Without transparency in how these decisions are reached, or even without the appearance of transparency, we can only assume that the loudest lobbyist with deeper pockets nudged the policymakers hard enough to get the regulations passed. Lobbying isn't necessarily bad.
However, with any regulation passed, it has to pass a test determining whether it benefits citizens or not. If it doesn't it is likely there is corruption involved. Alternatively, it could just be rent-seeking.
Or am I totally off the mark?
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Corruption, despite it being one of the frequently occurring topics discussed across the continent, is not unique to Africa. Also, it did not originate in Africa. Its effects, especially when it comes to the misuse of public funds, are more pronounced on the continent given how it robs citizens from having functional infrastructure and public services. In this episode of The Tefo Mohapi Show we are joined by Oby Ezekwesili for an in-depth discussion to understand the origins of corruption in Africa, the incentives that exist to help it spread, and some ways we can curb it. Mama Ezekwesili also shares some thoughts on how we can fix politics. [Podcast]
The chief executives of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google testified before the USA's Congress on 29 July 2020 to defend their market dominance from accusations they’re stifling rivals. Although there is some merit in the argument for breaking up Big Tech companies, unfortunately, according to some researchers, advocates of breaking up big technology companies, as well as opponents, are both falling prey to some serious myths and misconceptions. [Article]
Many people look for more privacy when they browse the web by using their browsers in privacy-protecting modes, called “Private Browsing” in Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Apple Safari; “Incognito” in Google Chrome; and “InPrivate” in Microsoft Edge. Private or incognito mode browsing is a useful way to cover your online tracks. It can help cover your Internet tracks by automatically deleting your browsing history and cookies when you close the browser, but that's about it. It doesn't let you browse anonymously, those who want to spy on your web browsing activities can still do that. [Article]
Digital disruption has seen media companies lose on revenue as daily circulation shrinks and alternative forms of advertising eat into their revenue. One of the biggest media companies in the East African region – Nation Media Group - is restructuring. From their words, they say that they are ‘evolving into a fresh new brand’ and this will see them change a number of their products with a ‘mobile-first mindset and with the versatile African youth in focus’. However, is it not a little late for a media giant like Nation Media to start talking about ‘mobile-first’ and ‘focus on youths?’ [Article]
REVOLT TV, the a Hip Hop culture digital platform owned by Sean "Diddy" Combs, has announced the launch of "What's Good Africa", a new half-hour unscripted series exploring all aspects of Hip Hop culture in Africa. The series is the result of a content partnership between REVOLT and Kenya's What's Good Networks and its production company What's Good Studios. Recently where have seen Uganda's The Tribe UG, the East African country's premiere hip-hop and urban culture online platform, strike a content partnership with Jay Z's TIDAL to regularly curate and update a featured African Hip Hop playlist. [Article]
Quote of the day
With any tech regulation or policy passed, it has to pass a test determining whether it benefits citizens or not. If it doesn't, it is likely there is corruption involved. Alternatively, it could just be rent-seeking. (Tweet this)
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