We are now seeing multiple uses of drones for development. Unmanned aerial vehicles, aerial robotics, whatever you want to call them, are now finding practical uses across the African continent. For example:
- Mapping flood zones in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
- Delivering blood supplies in Rwanda
- Catching car thieves and oil smugglers in Nigeria.
- Improving farming practices in Tanzania
And new primary research from FHI 360 shows that community members are often welcoming of UAV technology when they are consulted on its usage and management.
However, that same research found that government officials expressed concerns about costs, regulations, ownership, and local capacity to maintain and use the technology. That may be the reason why highly restrictive UAV regulations are coming quickly across the African continent:
- Kenyan has pretty much banned the use of UAVs.
- Ugandans can forget about importing UAVs.
- Zimbabweans cannot deliver anything by drone.
- Getting a drone permit in Nigeria will cost you $4,000.
- Fly an unregistered drone in Ghana and go to jail for 30 years.
Drones are about the most intrusive piece of equipment seen in the last 10 years. It is about time some rules were made about its use. The lines of personal space and privacy have been long crossed by these drones with everyone owning one these days.
What is the Role of Digital Development Practitioners?
As techies with an understanding of development needs, we can have a special role in promoting responsible UAV usage across the Africa continent. But what should that role be in an ever-restrictive usage environment?
- Can we expect to be exempt from these regulations as social service organizations?
- Should we double-down on drone usage to show their benefits before they are banned everywhere?
- Or is this just a phase, and governments will relax regulations once drones become commonplace?
- Overall, when, where, and how can development practitioners use drones for good?
If you are in Washington, DC on August 3rd, you can debate these questions at the next Technology Salon DC. Regardless, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section of this post.
Personally, I think aerial robotics have amazing promise – I’m particularly excited about their role as flying sensor platforms – and I am very worried that few opportunities will be realized if drones are banned before they begin to have real impact.