The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is pleased to announce the return to a physical event of the ninth edition of the annual Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica22). The landmark event, which convenes a spectrum of stakeholders from across the internet governance and digital rights arenas in Africa and beyond, will take place in Lusaka, Zambia, from September 26-29, 2022.
This will be the first time since 2019 that FIFAfrica is held physically. In the shadow of COVID-19, the 2020 and 2021 editions of FIFAfrica took on a hybrid approach. The return to a physical event is a response to the global success in controlling the spread of the coronavirus and the resultant lifting of restrictions by various countries.
Furthermore, returning to the physical mode is in recognition of the technical challenges inherent in virtual and hybrid approaches, and their common failure to offer an equivalent level of networking, engagement with key actors such as policymakers, and a platform for engaged capacity building, to physical interactions. Previous physical editions of FIFAfrica were hosted in Kampala, Uganda; Johannesburg, South Africa; Accra, Ghana; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Hosting the first in-person FIFAfrica in the aftermath of COVID-19 in Zambia is in recognition of the country’s pivotal role in Africa’s decolonisation and democratisation, as well as its efforts to advance digital transformation for sustainable development. Zambia has for long been a bastion of stability characterised by regular elections and peaceful transfer of power. Further, the country has traditionally been a peace broker on the continent and host of anti-colonial movements. Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, was a founding member of the Mulungushi Club, a formation of newly-independent African states to push for the total liberation of the continent. The club was a strong building block for regional integration.
As of 2021, there were an estimated 20 million mobile subscriptions and 10 million mobile internet subscriptions in Zambia, representing penetration rates of 110% and 50% respectively. The government through the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), is undertaking various initiatives to boost internet access and affordable usage in various sectors. Zambia has a data protection and privacy law and as of May 2022, is among the 13 countries to have ratified the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection.
Though recent years have seen some regression, Zambia still ranks highly on freedom and governance relative to most regional countries. For instance, on the Democracy Index, Zambia is ranked as a hybrid regime (only seven African countries are ranked better as full or flawed democracies, while 23 countries are categorised as authoritarian). On Freedom in the World and Freedom on the Net indices, it is categorised as partly free, whereas a large number of African countries are categorised as not free.
The previous government restricted access to some online media, arrested some journalists and opposition leaders over their posts on social media, mostly on allegations of defaming former President Edgar Lungu, and reportedly conducted mass surveillance. During the 2021 elections that ejected President Lungu from power, Zambia joined the league of countries that initiated network disruptions. Zambia’s new government, which won elections in August 2021, put a break to the regressive streak under President Lungu, yet the new reformist president has himself hit a few hitches.
At a time when the continent is experiencing a worrying regression in democracy, Zambia thus presents a vantage point to take stock of the state of digital rights and digital democracy and to build solidarity and partnerships among key stakeholders so as to advance human rights online, especially the rights to access to information, privacy and freedom of expression on the continent.
Over the course of four days, the FIFAfrica22 agenda will feature panels, workshops, exhibitions, and presentations. All interactions will maintain and observe national COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
Registration and call for session proposals will open later this month. For the latest on the Forum, follow @cipesaug. The event hashtags are #FIFAfrica22 and #InternetFreedomAfrica.