By Ashnah Kalemera |
A coalition of public interest lawyers has been formed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) with an aim to promote digital rights in the central African country. Comprising advocates from six cities- Bukavu, Goma, Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and Matadi – the coalition will provide support to members to grow their skills in digital rights litigation, and promote collaborative advocacy and research with other digital rights actors in the country.
The inaugural membership received two-days skills and knowledge building on the sidelines of the 2021 Haki Conference, which was organised by Rudi International. Hosted in partnership with the North Kivu Bar Association, the training benefitted 19 lawyers and explored DR Congo’s technology policy and legislative environment with a focus on consumer protection, data protection and privacy, and cybercrime as well as national trends in government internet controls.
The role of strategic litigation in digital rights protection was also explored, drawing from the experience of an ongoing case against the 2018 internet shutdown. At the time the case was filed, blockages to communications were a persistent occurrence in the expansive country amidst growing concerns around access and affordability, surveillance, censorship and disinformation. Participants also benefited from a foundation course in digital safety and security.
As part of the Haki Conference, members of the coalition deliberated on the need for a legal and regulatory framework responsive to the evolution of digital technologies in DR Congo and the role of the legal fraternity in the wider push for digital rights in Africa’s fourth most populous country.
According to Rudi International’s Executive Director, Arsene Tungali, the formation of the lawyers’ coalition “adds more voices to the digital rights cause and has helped to enlarge Rudi’s network of supporters and allies.” He added: “Rudi is proud to have championed this initiative and to have been able to bring together a group of talented Congolese lawyers, equipped them with the basics and given them the opportunity to network among themselves.”
The formation of the coalition and initial capacity building efforts were supported by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) through the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF). The initiative in Congo builds on CIPESA’s efforts to foster digital rights in Africa without leaving out key actors, such as legislators, the judiciary, bureaucrats, and private lawyers, who are crucial to the success of efforts like litigation, legal reforms, and enforcing respect for laws and rights.
To this end, CIPESA has previously supported the 2019 Annual Jurists Conference of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Kenya chapter, where we conducted a digital rights strategic litigation training for judicial officers. This training followed a similar one on advancing collaboration in strategic litigation for digital rights which drew on learning from our case studies on strategic litigation suits in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Similarly, at the 2020 Africa Law Tech Festival, we held sessions on strategic litigation and the digital economy that explored business models in the digital economy and rights-respecting policy approaches to advancing innovation, sustainable development and state revenue collection in the digital era.