Drone journalism innovator: drone ban in Kenya hampers social good

Dickens Olewe is 2015 JSK Fellow 2015 and founder African skyCAM. This interview was shot during the April 22 TechRaking conference: Elevating the News, hosted by the JSK Journalism Fellowships at Stanford, The Center for Investigative Reporting and the News Lab at Google.

In late April, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the News Lab at Google, and Stanford University's John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship Program produced the first ever conference dedicated to drone journalism, in the tech haven of Berkeley, California. The event drew academics, journalists, nonprofit leaders, researchers, lawyers, and key players in the Silicon Valley drone industry into a discussion about the challenges, successes, and future of drones in investigative reporting.

There had been many conferences before that discussed small, remotely-piloted aircraft systems. And there have been several journalism conferences that have devoted a panel to drone journalism. But this event will probably be remembered as the first "get together" exclusively devoted to journalism and drones.

A YouTube playlist has a number of interviews from conference speakers -- which gives a good sampling of the views and topics discussed during the panels. The JSK website also has a good wrap-up.

Dickens Olewe, the key organizer of this conference, has a lot of reason to be hopeful for the future of drone journalism. He was the 2015 JSK fellow, where he focused on best practices for responsible drone journalism, and is the founder of African skyCAM, Africa's first drone journalism project. Formerly, he led the creation of a health data portal and other technologies at the Star newspaper in Nairobi. He also is a member of the Professional Society of Drone Journalists.

In a place where news crews had been risking equipment and lives attempting to cover floods, Olewe's African skyCAM deployed drones to reduce the risk to reporters. Despite Olewe's progress in the field, on January 15, the Kenyan government instituted a general ban on private drone use.

On africanskycam.com, Olewe discusses what Kenya, and the other countries of Africa, risk losing because of the drone ban:

In the US the Federal Aviation Authority, which had been unwilling to engage industry players, has been forced to relent after a political and industry pressure. The US law, which had banned commercial operation while allowing hobbyists to fly, had forced companies to take their research outside the US. Emerging technology trend forecaster ABI Research recently published a report stating that by 2019 the small unmanned aerial vehicle commercial sector will have revenues exceeding $5.1 billion.

By restricting UAV use African countries not only exclude themselves from a rapidly growing industry, they also miss out on opportunities to harness the technology for social good. While I appreciate the valid concerns of the respective governments, the restrictive approach is counterproductive for this innovative technology, and prevents African countries from capitalising on the rapidly expanding commercial UAV market.It’s encouraging however that the Kenyan government is considering reviewing its restriction on civic uses cases but it’s crucially important that we encourage conversation not confrontation.
— Dickens Olewe, African skyCAM