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Biometric Technology, Elections, And Privacy

Biometric Technology, Elections, And Privacy

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Patent Drafting Course - Register Now

We have introduced a 3 month course facilitated on an e-learning platform. This course aims to introduce IP professionals to the skills of patent drafting and prosecution. Register here.

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What you need to know about trademarks

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3rd Biennial Moot-2018

We are pleased to announce our 3rd Biennial Strathmore CIPIT Moot Court, to be held on 11-12 October 2018 at Strathmore University

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Intentional Internet Disruptions in Africa

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On 5 October 2016, the Ethiopian railway corporation launched a 750 KM rail-line connecting the landlocked country from its capital, Addis Ababa, to Djibouti, its strategic economic link to global commerce. A few hours later, the communication ministry completely shut down all Internet connectivity across the country, with the stated aim of quelling protests in parts of the country. Spending millions of dollars to connect a country to the world through a railway, while intentionally shutting down the country’s Internet connectivity on the same day is a quite a paradox. To consider a whole city, or even a country, intentionally disconnected off the Internet for days by their government, may sound quite abstract, but more than fifty incidences like these were recorded globally in 2017, of which for every two of these, one was happening in Africa.

The effects of these intentional Internet disruptions have ranged from increased citizenry backlash, economic losses, and eroded international reputation. What is interesting though, as seen from the Ethiopian vignette above, is how disrupting the Internet contradicts the very economic plans of such countries. On the one side, countries are investing heavily on communication and transport infrastructure for economic connectivity yet easily reversing the marginal gains made by their intentional Internet disconnections.

Today we are releasing findings from our continuing research on Internet disruptions, together with the associated data-sets. .

Some of our findings include:

  1. Ten countries in Africa account for 60% of all Internet disruptions experienced in the last five years.
  2. All countries that have had an Internet disruption have had the current ruling party being in power for 18.9 years on average.
  3. Countries with less than 20% Internet Penetration rates are more likely to disrupt the Internet during protests than those with higher rates.
  4. Liberal countries are less prone to Internet disruptions, especially where sufficient oversight exists over the executive arm of Government.
  5. Detection and attribution of Internet disruptions is improving but regional disruptions remain a daunting task. 

We were also interested in estimating economic impact of intentional disruptions in African countries. The report shows that by incorporating ‘shadow economy’ in assessing impact of Internet disruptions, there is an average of as high as 30% jump in economic costs from previous estimate models. The ‘shadow economy’ is understood here as economic activities and the income derived that circumvents or otherwise avoids government regulation, taxation or observation (Schneider 2013). This includes what we are calling the ‘WhatsApp Economy‘, that involves individuals or small businesses using messengers (especially WhatsApp and Telegram) and social media platforms (especially Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) to market their wares or services, aided by mobile money and boda boda (motorbike couriers) to complete transactions without any registered business or additional tax responsibilities.

The first section conducts an audit of how Internet disruptions have been defined, detected, attributed, costed and responded to. Section two looks into how to quantify effects of Internet disruptions in Africa. Section three presents the findings from the quantification exercise and section four discusses some cases from the findings and section five presents research and policy recommendations.


Download the report here.

The use of biometric technology in political processes, i.e. the use of peoples’ physical and behavioural characteristics to authenticate claimed identity, has swept across the African region, with other 75% of African countries adopting one form or other of biometric technology in their electoral processes. This has been necessitated in part due to the low trust majority of citizens have had with electoral management bodies and the assumptions that adopting such technologies will increase confidence and efficiency in the elections. This comes at a high cost to countries already struggling with expensive elections. Despite such costs, the adoption of biometrics has not restored the public’s trust in the electoral process, as illustrated by post-election violence and legal challenges to the results of the 2017 Kenyan elections. However, this study only focuses on the privacy implications of adopting biometrics, an angle yet to be explored.



The following is a selection of publications published or co-published by members of CIPIT as well as other media reporting on the CIPIT’s research, outreach and training activities.

Forthcoming Articles

• Nzomo V & Rutenberg I, ‘Patenting the Un-patentable: Lessons for African Patent Systems from a Review of Patent Subject Matter Exclusions in Kenya”, South African Journal of Intellectual Property Law (2017). (Under Review).


Books and book chapters



  Rutenberg, I & Nzomo, V N. Patenting the Un-Patentable: Lessons for African Patent Systems from a Review of Patent Subject Matter Exclusions in Kenya.  South African Intellectual Property Law Journal 5, pp 58 –74 (2017). Available at this link.

 Nzomo, V B, ‘Rethinking the Regulation of Collective Management Organizations in Africa: Legislative Lessons from Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria’ 1 African Journal of Intellectual Property (2016), 1. Available at this link.

 Rutenberg, I., & Makanga, L. (2016). Utility model protection in Kenya: The case for substantive examination. The African Journal of Information and Communication (AJIC), 19, 19-37. (PDF)

 Rutenberg, De beer, Nzomo,Millar., “A Framework for Assessing Technology Hubs in Africa.” New York University Journal of Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law. Available at this link. (PDF)

 Rutenberg,I & Mwangi, J., “Do patents and Utility Model Certificates Encourage Innovation in Kenya?” The Journal of Intellectual Property Law and Practice. Available at this link.

 Rutenberg, I & Nzomo, V N. “Towards a National Intellectual Property Policy in Kenya: What was once perceived as belonging to community is today complicated by the idea of ownership. How do we begin to understand this shift?” Jahazi Issue 6 Vol. 1, 27-31. Available at this link.

 Rutenberg.I, Gwagwa.A, & Gichuki.D, “Historical antecedents and paradoxes that shaped Kenya’s contemporary Information and Communication Technology policies.” Harvard African Policy Journal, 61-75. Available at this link



• Karanja, M., (CIPIT), Xynou, M., (OONI) & Filastò, A., (OONI), 2016. Kenya: Censorship-Free Internet? Access Link 

• Xynou, M., Filastò, A., & Karanja, M. Ethiopia: Evidence of social media blocking and Internet censorship (2016). Access Link 

• Xynou, M., (OONI), Filastò, A., (OONI), Karanja, M., Gwagwa, A., & Rutenberg, I. Zambia: Internet censorship during the 2016 general elections? (2016). Access Link

• Xynou, M., (OONI), Filastò, A., (OONI), Karanja, M., Gwagwa. The Gambia: Internet Shutdown during 2016 Presidential Election: Primary research on Internet censorship in The Gambia during the General Elections (2016): Access Link

 Gwagwa, A. "Digital Media: An emerging repression battlefront in Angola? A study of Internet based information controls in Angola, with a particular focus on the period around the 23 August 2017 General Election" - Center for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law, Strathmore Law School, Strathmore University, Kenya. (PDF).

• Gwagwa, A. When Governments Defriend Social Media: A study of Internet-based information controls in the Kingdom of Lesotho with a particular focus on the period around the 3 June 2017 General Elections (2017): Access Link

 Karanja, M., (CIPIT) & Muthuri, R. (CIPIT), (2018). Intentional Internet Disruptions in Africa. (PDF).

Conference Papers




In the press (selection)

• Comments on Proposed Regulations on Cyber Security (REGS) available on the Kenya Communication Regulator (Communication Authority) Website (2015) or on pages 42-46 in this PDF:


Legislation and Policy Reviews

CIPIT's Memo to Parliament on the Computer and Cybercrimes Bill 2017: Access PDF

Kenya National Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Master Plan 2013/14 -2017/18 is an ambitious undertaking, poised to cement Kenya’s position as Africa’s leading ICT Hub.

The fact it is a part of, and derives strength from, the 2006 National Information and Communications Technology Policy (policy) demonstrates the policy is responsive to domestic and global developments. Since its adoption, it has provided a normative framework through which the Kenyan ICT sector has hugely contributed to the country’s economic growth.

Most noticeable has been the growth in mobile commerce, with more than two-thirds of the adult population engaging in it, making Kenya the world leader in mobile payments. 

Although Kenya has come a long way in introducing liberal market reforms that have immensely benefited the technology sector, policy challenges remain. Just like most major economies, such as China, the government has actively promoted and supported the development of technologies that bolster the horizontal flow of information, but at the same time, has devoted substantial efforts to control the substance of information flowing via these technologies. Kenya, therefore, needs to introduce a number of policy reforms, key among which is addressing the current policy disjuncture between the policy’s liberal values on the one hand and the draconian and media national security laws.


Please see full publication here, (from page 61) in the Harvard Africa Policy Journal from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Technical research conducted on several Internet service providers in Kenya for the last ten months between June 2016 and March 2017 indicates the presence of a middle-box on the cellular network of one provider, Safaricom Limited. Middle-boxes assume dual-use character in that they can be used for legitimate functions (e.g., network optimisation) and can simultaneously be used for traffic manipulation, surveillance and aiding censorship. 

In light of such dual uses, this report makes clear that service providers operating middle-boxes must communicate to the public in a transparent manner the justification for such activity. This is especially relevant as government bodies announce plans to monitor the Internet during Kenya’s current electoral processes.

This brief presents the methodology we use to detect middle-boxes, illustrates how that methodology was applied on Kenyan networks as well as our findings from the ten months investigations. Finally, we contextualization these findings within the Kenyan political and legal processes.

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