Kenya has legalized the commercial and private use of drones

Fly your drones.
Fly your drones.
Image: AP Photo/Ben Curtis
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Importing, owning, and flying a drone is now legal in Kenya—as long as users operate within the regulations set by civil aviation authorities.

In the next six months, unmanned aerial vehicles operated by private citizens, companies, besides the government will be licensed for recreation, commercial, and private activities. The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) gazetted the laws which will also be ratified by parliament. The move comes after years of banning the non-military use of drones, and threatening individuals without a permit with hefty fines and imprisonment.

Yet contrary to earlier reports, sources at both Uber and Facebook told Quartz neither company has applied for licenses to undertake drone experiments in Kenya. KCAA director general Gilbert Kibe had said both US tech companies had requested permits, with Uber specifically wanting to test flying taxis.

But a person familiar with the discussions said Uber had only engaged the regulator to inform them about their technology and the future of on-demand transportation. That session took place in December 2016, and the two sides have not met since. Uber hopes to introduce flying taxis in a few years in Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Dubai.

With the approval of the law, Kenya joins countries like Kenya and South Africa who have legal frameworks allowing the exploration of drones for social and economic impact. For years, Kenya was dubbed a perfect lab for commercial drones, with many touting the new technology’s use in sectors including aid relief, agriculture, and real estate. But fears that terrorist groups like al-Shabaab would use the UAVs to carry out terrorist attacks pushed regulators to put in place vague restrictions that effectively served as a ban.

In Africa, Rwanda is often highlighted as a pioneer, with Zipline, the world’s first commercial drone delivery service transporting blood across the country. Elsewhere on the continent, drones are being deployed for HIV tests in rural areas in Malawi, to keep elephants out of danger in Tanzania, and to help tackle the effects of climate change in Lake Chad. In contrast, drones are still expensive to register in countries like Ghana and Nigeria with punitive laws able to send users to jail for up to 30 years.

The new Kenyan regulations are also quite scrupulous, requiring drone pilots to be medically fit, complete training courses, have police clearance, and subscribe to a liability insurance cover. Any person who does not adhere to these and many more provisions will have to pay a fine of two million shillings ($19,820) or be jailed for six months.

Calling some of the proposals “ridiculous,” aerial photographer Sam Muchaii says the “tedious” licensing processes and payments might deter some people in Kenya from actively adopting drones.