Inside the life of Selina Onyando, an African lawyer and technology policy analyst

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On the 98th episode of the Techpoint Africa podcast, Techpoint Africa Journalists reacted to news that Kenyan lawmakers have silently passed a bill through parliament to regulate the country’s tech practitioners. On Episode 99, NITDA, Nigeria’s technology regulator, unveiled something similar – a code of practice for online platforms.

Usually, such situations provoke reactions from stakeholders, especially in the field of legal technologies, where policy experts try to make sense of these bills before talking to lawmakers and citizens. These are the regular tasks of Selina Onyando, a Kenyan lawyer and technology policy analyst.

“Most of the time in my work, I find that there is often a disconnection from the ecosystem, right? What policymakers want to do is one thing, but what technology practitioners want to do is another. Often, when laws are being developed, technology practitioners are left out of the process.

In addition to a law degree, Selina also holds a postgraduate law degree and recently completed Harvard Law School’s CopyrightX program. She is also perfecting herself for her other interests.

“Learning, for me, is an endless journey. I started reading quite young. In fact, from the age of 12, I received books as birthday presents, books on everything, really. I think for my 12th birthday I got a dinosaur book, which was interesting. And then for my 13th, I had Robinson Crusoewhich I really enjoyed.

Selina prides herself on her continuous improvement and says the various skills help her build physical, mental and emotional strength.

“I have a passion for the arts. In my free time, I like photography. [Growing up,] I loved sports; I swam a little and played a lot of football in primary and secondary school. I don’t blow my trumpet, but I was very good.

Like football, Selina started photography very early in her life and was already taking pictures of people and places when she was nine years old. here is a compilation of his works. Her decision to become a lawyer was influenced by her experiences growing up and the impact of her parents.

“I wanted to be an actor of change, someone who makes a difference. The quest for justice was in me from the values ​​transmitted to me by my family and my friends.

“My parents had a huge influence on me. The lessons they shared and transmitted to me are part of the values ​​that I cherish and that I translate into my work. Things around equality, which are very fundamental in the legislative or policy-making process.

It’s guided by a philosophy summed up in a quote: “It’s a quote I still live by and I really started taking it seriously that first semester, which is progress rather than perfection.” Doing it is better than not doing it at all. »

A conviction for tech law

picture by Unsplash

Selina fell into the tech space when she chose an industry to focus on after her law degree. And, yes, one of his passions played a determining role in his choice.

“Towards the end of 2018, I was doing a lot of photography work alongside my law degree, as I was nearing the end of my law degree. I met a friend of mine in Egypt, who introduced me to a space he was in; it was an accelerator here in Nairobi, and they needed a photographer urgently. He called me on Friday evening and they needed a photographer for Saturday morning.

Typically, she took the opportunity to show off her skills.

“I was there Saturday morning for what was a hackathon. I had never heard of hackathons and had no idea how they worked. But I was there for two days documenting the process of building technological solutions for shelters, and I was very intrigued.

From the outset, Selina and the Accelerator values ​​aligned, with her six-month stay with the organization documenting their processes proving they were a good fit.

She calls it a revelation; because it gave him access to a rich network of people in the tech field, a chance to attend more hackathons and popular tech events, and get to grips with the legal tech space, by especially with lawyers who develop technological solutions. But that was only the beginning.

“And I ended up stumbling into a hackathon myself. But the interesting part was that it was a legal tech hackathon. So I thought that would be perfect for me because then I could apply my legal skills as well as my creative and design skills.

At this point, Selina was sure of her place. In September 2019, she took on a new challenge in legal technology, which she probably saw coming from her undergraduate days.

“Honestly, I haven’t always been drawn to traditional forms of law; I have always thought that times change quickly. It was more than what we learned in school or what people would do in the traditional space. In college, I was more interested in classes that not many people took. »

“I work with a very talented team of professionals to support law in the tech ecosystem by improving the capacity of policy makers, engaging in the policy-making process, improving the public’s ability to challenge laws that are not beneficial and supporting the ecosystem actors to disseminate laws and policies on a larger scale to ensure that the public can better engage.

Selina adds how her travel experiences as an undergraduate student helped her understand policy-making processes and the uniqueness of different climates.

Acknowledging that the environment and schools she grew up in inspired her to think beyond what is currently achievable, Selina, born and raised in Nairobi, says everything she has learned is useful in her work as a technology policy analyst. She boasts that she has an eye for detecting even the most easily missed details when reading a document. But she didn’t always have that “super power.”

Policy reviews and analysis can be overwhelming, and that’s what Selina first felt. However, a support team gave him the freedom to learn from his mistakes and improve. Of course, her willingness to ask for help played a role in her growth.

Understand technology policy and regulations

To begin, Selina explains the forms legal tech can take – advice, litigation, policy, and building products for legal purposes – and defends her strong belief in politics.

“I would say the political space is the most fundamental space because you can’t exist in a vacuum as a practitioner of technology. You must have rules and regulations that guide your transactions. Away from you as a practitioner of technology, technology now comes into a lot of the things we do on a daily basis, so we need to have checks and balances that regulate how this technology is used so that we don’t abuse the rights of individuals . Preparing laws and policies that support the ability to create technology businesses and operate in a country; this is what the political landscape looks like.

Ideally, policy makers should involve technology stakeholders to understand what technology entails before developing laws and policies. In addition, these stakeholders should review the written policies and advise on their practicability.

Selina specializes in reviewing draft policies to spot gaps and researching what is right for particular companies each time, as laws are sometimes imported from places with different legal landscapes.

She agrees that African regulators rarely interact with tech players in a way that one might consider ideal.

“For me, it’s more about: ‘Do the policy makers understand what the problem is?’ Once they understand the problem, you need to ask, “Is this the right solution?” This is why ecosystem engagement is very important.

Life outside the lawyer and politics

Selina Onyando smiling
Selina Onyando: lawyer, technology policy analyst

A typical day for Selina involves a lot of reading, researching, and following trends in the tech space. She optimizes her day by religiously using her calendar, Slack for personal and official purposes, Zoom video conferencing tools and her mobile phone.

She often starts with coffee and breakfast, after which she reviews her schedule to find out what’s on the way. She then attends team meetings before tackling other assignments. When reviewing a bill, Selina reads it and develops a plan to disseminate the information to relevant stakeholders. She takes other meetings and assigns responsibilities to different teams. Selina has a 20 minute lunch and walks in the evening.

His greatest victory is being part of a team that gives him the opportunity to learn.

“One of the bills I worked on that I could really see the impact of was the Central Bank of Kenya Amendment Bill 2021. It was the law that regulated digital lending in Kenya. When I first saw this law, I had never interacted so much with the digital lending space from the regulatory side. I had understood that there were challenges in space, but I had never seen what the regulations looked like. And that piqued my curiosity.

“I started to read more and more about it, and that allowed me to work closely with people in space and see it through until we had the Regulations on digital credit providers 2022. So to be able to work this through and actually see Parliament views those suggestions, I would say, as my biggest win. Also because it has influenced a lot of some of the topics that interest me today in the area of ​​law and technology, which relate to financial regulation in emerging markets.

The idea of ​​work-life balance is not lost on Selina, as she does her best to make her weekends her own.

“I like being alone on weekends more than I admit, but I also like spending time with my family. I like going out, spending time with friends and watching football.

Despite her current schedule, she does not want to give up photography. Although she takes a short break, she takes short courses and joins communities to help her improve her skills and present her art properly. In 2021, she takes a course with Canon on the Art of Storytelling, joins a community of African women in photographyand exhibited his art at the 59th Venice Biennale earlier in the year.

Selina’s drive to accomplish as much as possible as quickly as possible stems from her fear of not having enough impact, so she contributes and volunteers at every opportunity. And she is excited about the future.

“The next five years provide me with the opportunity to expand my networks across the region and meet different people across the continent who do what I do and different things that impact my work. I also want to create networks for other people.

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