By Edrine Wanyama |

The Resolution on Internet Shutdowns and Elections in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its 78th Private Ordinary Session on March 8, 2024, marks a progressive step for electoral democracy in Africa.

Anchored on  the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance and other regional and international human rights instruments, the resolution calls on African countries to take the necessary legislative and other measures to ensure unrestricted and uninterrupted access to the internet in the period leading up to, during and after elections. Article 4(1) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance calls on State Parties to promote democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

In addition, the resolution calls on states to refrain from ordering internet and telecommunications service providers from shutting down or disrupting internet access and other digital communication platforms. It also requires these service providers to inform users of potential disruptions and to exercise due diligence to expeditiously resolve any disruptions.

Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Principles 37(2), 38(1) and 38(2) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, recognise and emphasise the value of freedom of expression and access to information, including through the use of digital technologies. Similarly, Article 26 of the Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa calls on telecommunications and broadcasting media regulators and national security agencies in both the public and private spheres to refrain from acts that seek to block the internet during electoral processes. 

Notably, the resolution is a wake-up call for African countries as they head into elections to safeguard the credibility of elections since internet shutdowns often discredit electoral processes, raise suspicions of states’ actions, and raise questions about the accountability and transparency of electoral processes. 

Thus the resolution is a timely intervention this year when 21 African countries ( Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Togo and Tunisia) will hold elections.

CIPESA commends the Commission for issuing this fundamental resolution which shines a light on the significance of the internet in facilitating freedom of expression and access to information, which are key tenets of electoral processes. 

According to Ashnah Kalemera, the Programmes Manager at CIPESA, “This resolution is a welcome milestone which reflects CIPESA’s and partners’ consistent advocacy against network disruptions in Africa. The timing is critical given that 2024 is the year of democracy, with many countries on the continent going to the polls. ” 

Meanwhile, the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Good Governance has so far been ratified by 38 member States. Many countries that are yet to ratify the instrument, such as Eswatini, Gabon, Morocco, Somalia, Tanzania, the Democratic  Republic of Congo, Tunisia and Uganda, have implemented internet disruptions during electoral processes.

In line with the provisions of the resolution, CIPESA will continue to enhance its efforts to advocate for open access to the internet as a tool for advancing freedom of expression, access to information and participation in electoral democracy.