Why Regulations Will Help, Not Harm, Namibia’s Tech Ecosystem

Kristophina Shilongo

CONVERSATIONS ABOUT technology regulation in Namibia (and most of the ‘developing’ world) are often two dimensional.

They feature platitudes about “negatively impacting innovation”, and prioritise foreign interests over local industry and markets. 

The actual innovators and founders in Namibia’s tech space tell a more nuanced story.

During the Deep Learning IndabaX workshop this July at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (Nust), tech leaders – along with representatives from Namibian civil society – discussed various tensions and needs.

Participants acknowledged that regulations might give foreign investors pause for thought before expanding into the country.

This is a valid fear as many Namibian start-ups lack funding. At the same time, participants noted that any regulations must prioritise the public interest.

Namibian’s technology rules and norms must reflect local context and needs, prioritise user security, and feature transparency and accountability. 


Namibia, like many other countries, is drafting AI and data laws, or discussing national strategies to guide the adoption of these technologies.

Meanwhile, consumer technologies are on the rise: There are pioneers such as Lefa, PayToday and MobiPay, and newer tools like Tololi Online, a market platform for fresh produce by local farmers.

The country has also attracted international platforms such as inDriver and Yango. 

These are important developments. But as tools like these collect user data and make decisions about consumers’ lives, we need government-mandated accountability, data minimisation, and transparency.

Such regulations should not be viewed as restrictive, but rather as precautionary and protective. 

Why? Technologies, specifically data-driven technologies, permeate every aspect of our lives – and come with high stakes.

We have already seen several things go wrong with these technologies: Exacerbated sexism online and algorithms discriminating against historically disadvantaged peoples.

Someone should be held responsible if harm is caused – an approach that ultimately leads to mutual benefits for innovators, investors, and users.

Similarly, customers should be proactively informed about what data is collected and why.

Further, that data should only entail what’s necessary for doing business in order to reduce potential data breaches and privacy violations.


Some start-ups are already prioritising accountability.

E-hauling service provider Lefa Namibia, for example, only collects personal information relevant to the service provided.

Operations manager Kalipi Aluvilu said Lefa also recognises they will not always get things right and are open to customer feedback on safety and information privacy.

The country’s technology industry must also prioritise human rights.

Builders or deployers of tech will not always be aware of the impact of their technologies or businesses on individuals or peoples.

At the recent IndabaX workshop, Deyonce Naris – national coordinator of the Transgender Intersex Movement of Namibia (TIMoN) – provided recommendations to make technologies and e-services safe for gender diverse Namibians.

This includes tech companies adopting participatory approaches to designing their platforms.

Minority or vulnerable groups should be invited to provide insights on inclusiveness, safety, or how data is used or annotated for use.

After the Supreme Court ruled in June that not recognising same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, the dating application for queer people Grindr noticed spikes in new profiles.

It is suspected some people were creating profiles to identify queer Namibians and possibly out them.

Including members of Namibia’s queer community in developing tech products and policies could mitigate issues like this. 

The examples cited highlight that the local tech ecosystem is on the right path.

However, regulation is essential to making these practices mandatory rather than voluntary.

Emerging policies such as the Access to Information Act, Data Protection bill, Cybersecurity and Safety bill and the National AI strategy under deliberation must enshrine accountability and data minimisation.

The Access to Information Act does provide Namibians with a right to information, and creates an information commissioner to protect this right. But the draft Data Protection bill misses an opportunity by not complementing the Access to Information Act or establishing a relationship with the proposed Data Regulatory Authority.

How will Namibians know their rights may have been infringed on if they are not aware that their data is collected in the first place?
As Namibia moves forward with tech regulations, public interest should not come second to economic interests.

In 1991, Namibia defied policy norms and became the first African country (and one of a few globally) to include environmental conservation in its Constitution.

Policymakers knew the mismanagement and exploitation of the country’s natural resources might result in temporary economic gains, but would ultimately undermine Namibians’ rights and agency around natural resources. This moment is no different.

  • Kristophina Shilongo is an AI researcher and a senior tech policy fellow at Mozilla based at Swakopmund.

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