Kenya’s Tech Regulation Conundrum

A lack of regulation, or at least a more relaxed regulatory environment, have been directly responsible for Kenya becoming a hub of innovation, specifically in the mobile payments and banking space.

The gorilla in Kenya’s room is Safaricom. The posted a Ksh 21billion pre-tax profit yesterday, citing growth and profits in almost all areas, including 137% growth in data services, which they see as the next big cash cow.

Safaricom has directly benefited from this environment and their savvy marketing and business moves have left others in the dust. Businesses should be allowed to make profits and smart strategic decisions rewarded by profit and market position should be expected and encouraged – else why do they do it?

A couple of weeks ago new regulations, put together last year by the CCK, were floated by the Monopolies and Prices Commission. These rules were intended to curtail the massive growth of firms like Safaricom and the ScanGroup, to the detriment of competitors and the market as a whole. Naturally, the only firms upset with these rules were the incumbents.

Just yesterday, Dr. Ndemo, the permanent secretary for information and communications decided that Kenyan professionals who drafted these new rules weren’t professional enough and called in consultants from the United States to review them. While it is true that the Monopolies and Prices Commission is weak in ability to fulfill its mandate, this move comes off as an appeasement by Dr. Ndemo to Safaricom as it came out on the same day that Safaricom was having it’s annual shareholder’s meeting. It makes you wonder who dances to whose tune.

Both sides have good points. Smaller firms do have an uphill battle, not only due to their size, but also due to the unfair practices that larger firms tend to busy themselves with in Kenya to keep the competition at bay. However, large firms also have point. If they are playing fair, should they be punished for being better than everyone else?

Too much regulation in a sector can cripple a country’s innovative business growth, especially technology (see South Africa’s banking rules…). Dominant players have the same effect.

Maybe, instead of adding unnecessary regulations, governments should look to truly and strongly punishing unfair and dirty practices that are already on the books. A 200,000 Ksh ($2,500) fine is the most that Kenya’s monopoly commission can do, and it’s laughable at best.