Harmonizing Cyberlaws and Regulations: The Experience of the East African Community

The development of an enabling framework for e-commerce has the potential to generate significant economic development gains for countries by promoting investor confidence, tapping into business opportunities and responding to the increasing reliance on electronic applications in all sectors (government, commerce, health, education, banking, insurance, etc.). Regional and national commitment towards providing a modern legal framework to interface between the physical and digital space is very important in this context. This study was conducted as part of the work that the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the East African Community (EAC) Task Force on Cyberlaws have been carrying out since 2007 to prepare legal frameworks for e-commerce.

In 2009, the EAC became the first region in Africa to adopt a modern and effective regional harmonized framework for cyberlaws. It had been developed to meet the need expressed by Council of Ministers of the East African Community in 2006 to support the regional integration process with regard to e-Government and e-commerce.

Two sets of recommendations for cyberlaws were subsequently prepared by the EAC Task Force on Cyberlaws in close cooperation with the EAC secretariat with the support of UNCTAD.

  • Phase I of the Framework – covering electronic transactions, electronic signatures and authentication, cybercrime as well as data protection and privacy – was adopted in 2010 by the EAC Council of Ministers on Transport, Communications and Meteorology. It is currently being implemented at the national level.
  • Phase II of the Framework – covering intellectual property rights, competition, e-taxation and information security – is to be examined by the EAC in 2012.

The present study assesses the status of cyber-legislation in the EAC. Similar analyses have previously been prepared by UNCTAD for Latin America and Central America.1 The analysis contained in this report provides valuable information also for developing countries outside of the EAC region by documenting progress to date describing the law reform process and identifying best legislative standards to ensure cyberlaw harmonization.

The first part discusses the need for regional harmonization and the challenges faced with regard to the implementation of cyberlaws in the EAC region. The second gives a detailed account of the status of cyberlaws in each country. It is hoped that the work of the EAC Task Force on Cyberlaws and this study offer some useful lessons and tools for other countries and regions engaging in cyberlaw reforms. The study’s principal consultant was Professor Ian Walden. National inputs were provided by the following members of the EAC Task Force: Pierre Ndamama (Burundi), Mercy Wanjau (Kenya), Allan Kabutura (Rwanda), Adam Mambi (The United Republic of Tanzania), Denis Kibirige (Uganda), and Matthew Nduma (EAC Secretariat).