Drone paranoia?

Kenya’s New Relaxed Stance On Drones Seems Even Stiffer Than Ever

By  |  December 7, 2020

One Kenyan father recently found to his dismay that getting even a USD 40.00 toy drone for his child was an uphill task in Kenya.

The Kenyan father referred to above is actually Sam Gichuru who is the CEO of Kenya-based startup accelerator, Nailab. A few days ago, he tweeted about the difficulty he encountered in getting his little boy a toy drone and the permission to fly it.

For emphasis, again, it was just a toy drone. But, according to him, it required a Certificate of Good Conduct, approvals from the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior, applied via the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) which only permitted flying the toy drone over a specific area.

It appears flying a drone in Kenya is some serious business, even when one just wants to have fun with a toy.

One thing can be held on to, however; using a drone in Kenya is not a crime at present, technically. That is, drone use is not illegal, but it comes with a bit of a hassle in the East African nation. 

Globally, the past decade has witnessed drone technology grow both in popularity and adoption.

Africa also hasn’t been left out in this advancement as the adoption of drones is evidently on the rise in many of its countries and are being used for myriad things — from its usage in photography to serving as a tool for logistics and even journalism. 

Undoubtedly, the use of drones has been on the increase in Africa, with startups like Lifeblood in Nigeria which uses drones to deliver blood and Zipline in Rwanda, which uses drones for transporting special medical supplies. More individuals, likewise businesses, are steadily embracing drone use.

But despite all this seemingly great progress, the possession and by extension, the usage of drones in Kenya is still a hassle. 

Therefore, taking a drill to how the drone adoption in Kenya has evolved might dig up the answers needed.

The state of drone adoption in Kenya

For Kenya, the adoption of drones has been a long struggle coming from way back. The year 2016 was when a significant move begun for the usage of drones.

That year saw drone enthusiasts clamour for a licensing system to allow its operation in Kenya. In February 2017, it then approved a legal framework that covers operating non-military drones. The rules put forward at the time were super strict, limiting the times and even models that could be flown.

Later in June 2018, drone regulations from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) were invalidated by the Kenyan Parliament. This was borne out of numerous concerns, including lack of public participation, insufficient attention to personal privacy, and inconsistencies in the application of fines. 

And then in November 2019 which is slightly over a year ago, a notice was issued, which emphasized the continuous maintenance of the ban on drones. 

The public notice was issued then by Gilbert Kibe, the Director-General of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), who stated that the directive formerly given on the prohibition of drones in Kenya should be adhered to.

In his words last year, “The public is hereby reminded of this prohibition (use of UAVs), which shall apply to any person who imports, tests, and operates a remotely piloted aircraft (drones). The prohibition follows the annulment by Parliament of the regulations previously published by KCAA on March 21.”

Finally, after several back-and-forths, a breakthrough for the legalization of drones came in April 2020 with the passage of the Civil Aviation (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) Regulations Act.

Before that happened, it was technically illegal as earlier explained, for anyone except the military to own a drone in Kenya, let alone use it. In fact, it was an offence that attracted a fine or jail time, or both.

However, the breakthrough appears to have some obstacles associated with it, as there are still difficulties associated with the use of drones as sighted with the case of the toy drone story. Now, flying a drone in Kenya comes with certain hoops that must be jumped before one is granted permission.

Despite the legalisation of drones, it appears that the rules put in place are still relatively strict, as there now are a host of regulations and rules tied to the use of drones.

Firstly, all drones must be registered with the KCAA, where they would be approved and would be issued a certificate.

According to the law for drones, they now must be identifiable, which accounts for the registration process now involved and the necessity of the certificate of registration. Passing this stage would mean that there would be fewer worries regarding the use of drones. 

In Kenya, only citizens, residents, businesses, and governments are eligible to own a drone. This means that foreigners aren’t allowed to use drones.

Hence, visitors or non-citizens can’t take their drones over to Kenya for use. It doesn’t just end at just being a citizen. To own and operate a drone, a Kenyan citizen must be at least 18 years old.

Also, for drones to be imported, they need the approval of the KCAA. And not just imports, exports also require the KCAA’s green light. The authority must be informed about the export of a registered drone. In summary, importing or exporting drones is only allowed with the approval of the KCAA.

An individual can only transfer the ownership of a drone after the approval of the KCAA.

The usage of drones for commercial purposes now goes a step ahead as they now must apply for a Remote Aircraft Operators Certificate (ROC) from KCAA.

The new laws make for a drone license to be suspended or canceled if certain conditions are violated or if the need to protect the general public is sighted.

Yes, these are the hurdles one would need to cross before getting to use a drone in Kenya. For the Kenyan government, it seems that even a toy drone, as in the example in the beginning of this article, is no different and must fulfill all requirements.

Featured Image Courtesy: Freepik

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