Highlighting some of our recent work and activities
The Team Promoting Effective and Inclusive ICT Policy in Africa
The CIPESA team is a small but diverse group of individuals committed to advancing ICT policy and application in Africa. Our work is also supported by a pool of experts and fellows who complement our research, advocacy skills and knowledge building efforts. In December 2019, we took time out to reflect on our work, where it has come from, where it currently is, and where it should go. We look forward to renewed energy and unique ideas in our work during 2020. Do you want to be a CIPESA Fellow? Email [email protected]
Below are some highlights from the last few months of 2019.
Digital Rights in Africa: Amidst The Turbulence Lies Promise
Africa Digital Rights Fund Awards USD 215,000 In Grants Support: Since our last newsletter, we have continued to witness many affronts to the growth and inclusivity of the online community in Africa, which calls for continued advocacy and movement building for digital rights protection. In order to support these efforts, the inaugural grantees of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) worked to advance digital rights in 18 African countries.
The Fund was launched in April 2019, and is aimed at growing the number of individuals and organisations that work to advance digital rights in Africa, amidst rising digital rights violations such as arrests and intimidation of internet users, network disruptions, and a proliferation of laws and regulations that hamper internet access and affordability, and undermine the potential of digital technologies to catalyse free expression, civic participation, and innovation.
In the first round, USD 65,000 was awarded to 10 initiatives advancing digital rights in Algeria, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, South Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A second call for applications was issued in the second half of the year and attracted 164 applications from 33 countries, of which 14 initiatives were successful. This round saw a total of USD 152,000 awarded to the initiatives that are advancing digital rights through various projects in 18 African countries.
Guaranteeing an Inclusive Digital Space in Cameroon: Cameroon’s government has professed its intention to leverage the digital economy for sustainable development and to establish an enabling legal and regulatory framework. However, developments such as taxation of application downloads, internet disruptions, and limited efforts to bridge the digital gender divide, indicate a shrinking digital space and are likely obstacles to the uptake of ICT. In this analysis we noted why more efforts are necessary to ensure a digital environment that is both open and accessible to all, upholds users’ safety and security, and guarantees constitutional rights.
Network Disruptions: While 2019 started off with countries such as Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Gabon, Sudan and Zimbabwe experiencing network disruptions, by the end of the year, Ethiopia, Sudan and Liberia, among others, had joined the tally. In Chad, although in July 2019 the government lifted a 16-month blockage on access to social media, which it had imposed in March 2018, various concerns remain. Digital communication costs are prohibitively high, the media are routinely muzzled, while the country remains under the grip of autocracy as President Idriss Déby – in office for 29 years now – is not in a hurry to relinquish power. The prospects of enjoying a greater range of digital rights are low, the likelihood of another internet disruption high. (See: Chad Lifted the 16-Months Social Media Shutdown But Concerns Remain).
CIPESA Makes submissions to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC): In May 2019, we joined the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Rhizomatica, AfChix Uganda chapter, BOSCO Uganda, and the Internet Society to submit comments to the then ongoing review of the licensing framework for the telecommunications sector in Uganda. The submissions were in response to a call by UCC and addressed key issues such as national roaming, effective spectrum allocation, infrastructure sharing, affordability, and the gender digital divide. Earlier in the year, we had submitted comments to UCC on improving access to ICT for Persons With Disabilities. See more on our submission here.
ICT Policy Workshops: In Malawi, we hosted a two-day ICT Policy workshop which brought together 14 participants drawn from traditional human rights organisations, academia and tech organisations. The workshop introduced human rights actors to the various concepts of digital rights, and included a digital security training component to equip participants with the skills to ensure their safe use of the internet given the nature of their work. Among the key concerns at the workshop was that, in the wake of mass personal data collection, the protection of citizens data remains under’-prioritised. In the last three years, the Malawi government has passed various legislation, including the National Registration and Identification System (NRIS), which calls for compulsory national identification documents. As of October 2019, nine million Malawians had registered on the NRIS despite the absence of a data protection framework, leading one commentator to question whether Malawians are sleep-walking into a surveillance state. Watch this video with highlights from the meeting.
On September 16-17, 2019, we hosted 24 civil society delegates from Ethiopia and Uganda, to strengthen their capacity in advocacy for progressive cyber laws. They were introduced to domestic, regional, and international instruments and laws governing human rights including freedom of expression and the right to information, and their application to internet freedom. The trainers emphasised practical and actionable policy and advocacy strategies for promoting internet freedom, including awareness campaigns and engagements with policy makers and other stakeholders, strategic litigation to challenge problematic legislation, and through the Universal Periodic Review, a country-level human rights mechanism overseen by the United Nations.
Forging Clear Linkages Between Technology And Social Concerns
Technology and Disability: Several factors are contributing to the deepening of persons with disabilities from the digital society, including a non-conducive legal and policy environment, poor investments in telecommunication infrastructure that supports ICT access for persons with disabilities, and the lack of access to the required assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, and braille.
Continuing from earlier work conducted in the year on technology and disability, in August, as part of the Kenya Internet Governance Week, alongside the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) we hosted 28 participants in a workshop that explored ICT inclusion obligations for the state and for private companies. It also explored what Kenya needs to do so as to improve access and usage of ICT for persons with disabilities. In addition, the workshop disseminated a draft tool for monitoring compliance and implementation of ICT and disability rights obligations, including those specified by national laws and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD). The aim was to receive feedback on the tool, and to create awareness of how state and non-state actors can assess the compliance of government departments and private entities with digital accessibility obligations. Watch this video with highlights from the meeting. At the September 2019 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), governments and donors were urged to advance ICT access for persons with disabilities during a pan-African interactive session which explored the various challenges faced by persons with disabilities in accessing and using ICT, particularly assistive technologies. Insights from these discussions were also shared at a December workshop on digital accessibility for persons with disabilities which convened 46 participants in Uganda.We produced a policy brief titled "Removing Barriers to ICT Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda" which contributed to the various discussions we hosted.
African Feminism: Online violence against women was the focus of an August 2019 event co-hosted by CIPESA and Facebook. Discussions at the meeting were similar to those in various sessions at the September 2019 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), which noted that cyber violence against women is present in almost all spheres of the digital arena. On the upside, African feminism has grown in presence online as users seek equality online and offline. In much of Africa, feminism is often incorrectly considered a new movement. However, the reality is that feminism in the continent has played a role in shaping social and cultural relations, as well as policy and business development around the continent for decades. It is perhaps the increased vibrancy of feminist narratives in the African digital sphere that has led many to assume its novelty. The difference, however, is that the use of digital technologies has enabled the feminist voice to become more visible, even blatant, unapologetic in the push back against deep-seated patriarchal social mores.
Consumer Protection: One of our fellows, Tomiwa Ilori, conducted an assessment of consumer rights protection in Nigeria and Uganda which noted that while Nigeria had over 103 million internet users (July 2018) and an internet penetration just over 50%, it had just provided a conducive legal environment for its digital economy landscape. For its part, Uganda, with 18 million users (June 2018) and internet penetration of 35%, was fast catching up with consumer protection laws even though enforcement was slow.
Building Capacity and Collaborations for Digital Rights Research in Africa
Evidence-based digital rights advocacy has become particularly crucial in Africa as a growing number of governments and powerful private actors continue to undermine citizens’ online rights through legal and extra-legal means.
But as the need for internet policy advocacy that is informed by research grows, it is essential to increase the amount and depth of research originating from, and relevant to, Africa. Equally, it is necessary to expand beyond traditional research methods to include contemporary approaches such as network measurements, social network analysis, and data mining.
Building upon the foundations of a five-day intensive training on internet policy research methods co-organised with the Annenberg School for Communications’ Internet Policy Observatory in 2018, CIPESA hosted 58 participants who included university lecturers, staff of international human rights organisations, digital rights researchers, activists, technologists and lawyers at a Digital Rights Research Methods Workshop aimed at growing subject area expertise and capacity in conducting multi-disciplinary digital rights research. This workshop forms part of CIPESA's efforts in growing the community of skilled digital rights researchers in Africa.