Pop Quiz: Should You Need a License to Practice ICT4D?

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The Kenyan government recently introduced the Information Communications Technology Practitioners Bill 2016 bill that would require every ICT practitioner to have a university degree in computer science and pay an annual license fee to an ICT Practitioners Institute. An unlicensed ICT practitioner could be fined 50,000Ksh and sent to jail for 2 years.
As you might image, this idea is quite controversial. Over 23,000 Kenyans engaged with our Facebook post asking their opinion on the matter, with the vast majority of the 60+ comments rejecting the need for this licensing scheme:

  • Justus Muteti Mwandi: Kids as young as 12 years are writing sellable applications. Now they have to wait for campus degree? The person coming up with these has no clue how this industry works.
  • Cde Cliff Mboya: I can assemble a computer from the scratch, upgrade and install all its software required, and I can design a simple website. I was not taught this skill in a university.
  • Crackers Hallworth: What exactly is an ICT Practitioner? Is there a definition? Is this someone who works for Government installing software, someone in a private company working as a Systems Engineer or everyone that owns a PC?
  • Karue Benson Karue: I don’t think one needs degree for ICT job. Even Bill Gates did not get one. What about techies with diploma and certifications? This is really bad. ICT work is agreement between you and your client. I still don’t understand why third party is coming in.

While many Kenyan computer professionals are against this bill, there is actually a rational case to be made for an industry license in information and communication technologies.
The Benefits of ICT License Schemes
Professional licensing has a long history. In the Western world, a system of apprenticeship first developed in the later Middle Ages, developing into guilds and then trade unions. These licensing bodies provided a way for craftsmen to ensure standards of quality and pricing across an industry.
In the Kenyan ICT industry, an ICT practitioner license scheme could have benefits, as supporters of the ICT Practitioners Bill point out:

  • GV Ong’anya: ICT is an enabler in the economy system. Every aspect seems to making use of it, yet many quacks are masquerading as ICT experts. Companies are falling prey to this, since they may not be very sure about the qualification of the person being hired for ICT. Further to this, there is need for discipline in the sector. This may be achieved through regulatory practices provided in the draft law. Finally, Kenya needs professionals to act professionally.
  • Joseph Aghatise: I think it is a good development. There are several people who jump into ICT after a six months training and these guys leave out the underlining principles of computing. Trace the source of failed ICT projects, 90% are from the non-professionals.

These benefits may not outweigh the flaws of the ICT Practitioners Bill as its written. Many commenters pointed out that it actually isn’t in the best interests of the Kenyan ICT sector:

  • Cleopa Timon Otieno: This bill would hinder innovation a great deal. It’s definitely a ploy to give the elite an advantage over the folks who actually work in the sector. Currently there is an online petition saying NO to this bill.

Even more concerning, the bill isn’t even from the Ministry of ICT, which disavowed any relationship to the idea.
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Should We Need a License to Practice ICT4D?
While the Kenyan law has its flaws, it does bring forth a very interesting question: Do we need a licensing body for ICT4D professionals? Certainly we now have hallmarks of a maturing industry.
We have an industry-specific website, an ICT4D job board, generally accepted digital principles, an academic discipline, and even our own happy hour. Could it be time we form an ICT4D Practitioners Institute and start licensing ICT4D professionals around the world?
If so, who should get licensed? What would certification entail? How would we enforce it? Let me know now, as I’m thinking this might just be a good idea to improve our profession.