‘People With Disabilities Left Out in ICT Jamboree’

By Marc Nkwame |
As more Tanzanians join the digital world of Information Communication Technology (ICT), the majority of people living with disabilities have been left out, according to stakeholders.
It has been observed that in their quest to optimize profits, equipment suppliers, content producers and mobile communication service providers skip the needs and rights of persons with disabilities wishing to access such services.
Speaking during a special awareness workshop for Information Communication and Technology accessibility among persons with disabilities, the coordinator, Paul Kimumwe from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) pointed out that it is high time countries formulated special laws to ensure that marginalized groups are also catered for when it comes to such services.
“And if countries have such policies in place, there is the need for legislators to push for their execution, as it seems mobile service providers cater only for a physically able clientele,” he specified.
His observation was also reflected in an assessment tool for measuring mobile communication accessibility for persons with physical disabilities deployed among participants during the just ended workshop on how ICT development side-lined people with special needs.
Dr Eliamani Laltaika, a lecturer from the School of Business Studies and Humanities at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), said the society’s mentality and personal stigma contribute in how ICT establishments view the needs of disabled persons.
“Unlike in the past, people should now realize that in the modern era, all is needed for a person to be useful is a healthy brain not peculiar appeal,” he cautioned.
According to the Don, it is usually the persons with physical disabilities that can prove to be extremely good intellectually and especially in Information Communication Technology (ICT), which means once empowered they can perform better than their physically fit counterparts.
Participants realized that mobile handsets are designed for people with hands and those with strong eye sights, while traders and phone service providers are yet to import gadgets that can cater for people without sight or hands.
Ndekirwa Pallangyo, representing the regional chapter for the Federation of Disabled Persons’ Associations in Tanzania (SHIVYAWATA), admitted that people with disabilities have been left out in ICT development.
“And the worst part of it is that even persons with disabilities themselves are unaware that they have been side-lined,” he said, underlining that when it comes to attending to the needs of the physically handicapped, it is important to consider individual requirements.
“There are those who are physically fit except for their sight. Others have impaired hearing, some can’t walk while there are those with no hands, etc. therefore each group need to be handled according to needs,” the activist added.
Originally published on IPP Media 

A New Interception Law and Blocked Websites: The Deteriorating State of Internet Freedom in Burundi

By CIPESA Writer |

 The state of internet freedom in Burundi continues to decline as the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza tightens control over independent media and critical online publishers. Of recent, frivolous sanctions have been slapped against media houses, access to some online publishers’ websites restricted, and last May, an obnoxious law was enacted that makes it easier for security agencies to conduct surveillance on citizens’ communications with little judicial oversight.

The deteriorating situation follows a May 2015 coup attempt which saw the physical destruction of five private radio and televisions stations by loyalist forces and pro-government militia, and the arrest of several journalists. The events were preceded by a government order to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Viber, so as to curtail demonstrations against Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a new term in office.

On May 11, 2018 Burundi’s president assented to Law No 1/09 of May 11 2018, which amends the Code of Criminal Procedure of 2013. Under Article 47 of the new law, government agencies carrying out investigations can intercept electronic communications and seize computer data. Further, Articles 69, 70 and 71, permit the public prosecutor to issue a written order to start interception of electronic communication of a person under investigation.  Moreover, the public prosecutor has the right to instruct service providers and “any qualified agent” from a department or agency under the authority or supervision of the telecoms minister to install any device to facilitate interception.

On the issue of seizure of computer data, Article 72 grants the public prosecutor, without notifying a person under investigation, the right to order the use of technical tools to access data on the suspect’s device (wherever it is located), to save that data, and transmit it. The tool also has the aim of real time capture of data being received or transmitted by the suspect’s device or being typed on the device. The initial duration of this order is a maximum of six months but this period can be extended for another six months if needed. The seized data has to be destroyed after trial. Articles 73 to 79 provide details of conditions in which the technical tool is used.

The new law, which was introduced on April 28 and passed within two weeks, is deemed to be in contravention of the constitution. A human right activist has stated  that the law is “clearly a wish to legalise the illegal and arbitrary practices that the forces of law and order have already resorted to for the last three years.” On the contrary, the justice minister defended the law, arguing that the amendments were necessary to give the prosecutor and other government organs powers to address new forms of criminal activity that have emerged in the last few years.

The amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure come into place when online news media is under attack. Since October 2017, the websites of independent local news publishers http://www.iwacu-burundi.org, http://www.isanganiro.org, and http://www.ikiriho.org cannot be accessed from Burundi except through use of circumvention methods such as proxies. Tests using the network measurement tool, Ooni probe  indicate that the websites are blocked from access within Burundi.

In interviews, Iwacu officials confirmed that access to their website was blocked but the Conseil National de la Communication (Burundi’s media regulator) denies any hand in it. Some experts believe the blockage was effected at the level of the Burundi Backbone System (BBS), the primary bandwidth carrier from which most Burundian ISPs purchase bandwidth. Representatives from BBS denied this allegation and advised the news sites to work with ISPs to resolve the matter. Meanwhile, an October 2017 letter to the CNC from the Ikiriho group, an independent online press group (www.ikiriho.org), requesting that its website be unblocked has never received a response.

Interestingly, Isanganiro’s radio station still operates from within Burundi, as is Iwacu’s weekly print newspaper. Online access to the electronic version of Iwacu’s weekly newspaper is charged at USD 27 for a three months subscription, or USD 95 yearly, which means the challenges in accessing its website is affecting the publisher’s revenues. Iwacu accordingly announced an alternative website where readers can access news and has been assisting readers, particularly paying customers, to access its main site using virtual private networks (VPN).

On April 10, 2018, in what seemed like an additional sanction against the online portal, the CNC issued its decision No 100/ CNC/005 ordering Iwacu to ban the comments section of its online news website. The ban followed comments made by the website readers referring to Burundi as a “Banana Republic” while another called the National Police a “presidential police” due to its partisan actions. According to the regulator, the comments violated Article 17 of the Burundi press law No 1/15 of May 9 2015, which requires media groups to rigorously cross-check sources of information before publishing. The three months ban on readers’ comments, is the second slapped on Iwacu by the CNC, the first having been issued in 2013 for similar reasons.

In sanctioning Iwacu, the CNC cited article 55 of the press Law, which gives the communications regulator “the right to suspend or prohibit the use of a press pass (journalist pass or press card), the distribution or the sale of a printed newspapers, a periodical, or any other information medium, the broadcast of a show, the operation of a radio or television station or a news agency, when they do not comply with the law.”

The Iwacu director expressed his sadness at what he deemed an “unfair decision” that would close a “democratic space” where all opinions, both critical and supportive of the Burundi were shared. Nonetheless the comments section was promptly shut down, and currently under each news item there is a message reading: “Due to the CNC’s decision, you cannot react nor add any comment to this article.

In another worrying development, on May 4, 2018, the CNC issued warnings to three radio stations – Radio Isanganiro, Radio CCIB FM+, and Radio France International (RFI, and suspended the licences for BBC and Voice of America (VOA) for six months on allegations of not verifying sources and  broadcasting unbalanced news. The BBC was faulted for interviewing Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a Burundian human rights defender who fled Burundi after an assassination attempt in 2015. The regulator claims that, in the interview which aired on April 24, 2018, the activist who is now based in Europe made “defamatory statements against the head of state” and incited “hatred”.

The VOA was accused of publishing unverified news on three occasions during April 2018. In addition, the VOA was accused of broadcasting through the Online Radio Box application used by Radio Bonesha, a local station whose frequency license was withdrawn by the media regulator last September. Radio Bonesha is among the media houses whose premises were destroyed in 2015 following the coup attempt but it has continued broadcasting via Online Radio Box.

The various developments in the online sphere reflect a similarly worrying rights situation offline. Nkurunziza’s government has continued to face criticism at home and abroad, including accusations by a United Nations committee of inquiry of extrajudicial killings of civilians, including supporters of the opposition, in what could amount to crimes against humanity.

Some observers believe that all criminal code amendments and measures against online and traditional media aimed to silence dissonant voices at a time the country was about to hold a May 17, 2018 referendum on a new constitution. Majority of voters – 73% – voted in favour of the new constitution but opponents say the poll was full of irregularities.

The Burundi government needs to respect the constitutional rights to free speech, access to information and privacy of the citizens and desist from enacting laws and taking other actions that undermine digital rights. Moreover, it should desist from passing laws and regulations without giving citizens the opportunity to meaningfully provide their views.


MFWA to Co-Host Africa’s Biggest Internet Freedom Event

Announcement |

From September 26 to 28, 2018, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) will co-host Africa’s biggest Internet freedom forum in Accra, Ghana.  The annual convening, which is dubbed Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) brings together key stakeholders in the Internet governance and online/digital rights environment from the continent and beyond.

The MFWA will be hosting the forum jointly with the Uganda-based organization, Collaboration for International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). The forum is convened annually by CIPESA to deliberate on developments, challenges, opportunities and ways of improving the Internet ecosystem in Africa.  Participants also adopt strategies aimed at enhancing citizens’ digital or internet rights on the continent.

This is the first time the FIFAfrica event is being held in West Africa. Last year’s event was held in South Africa while the maiden event in 2014 and subsequent editions were held in Uganda.

The internet has become a vital tool for enhancing freedom of expression, access to information and citizens’ participation in national discourse and governance. At the same time, it is the target of hostile policies and practices by some governments. It is thus important for all stakeholders to dialogue on how to preserve the internet for development.

“The MFWA is delighted to co-host this important continental forum on Internet freedom. There couldn’t have been a better time to host this event in West Africa as the region is currently witnessing significant developments and challenges in the internet environment,” said Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of the MFWA.

Online freedom of expression has come under attack in recent years in Africa. Over the past one year, countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have passed laws to restrict internet freedom.  There have also been network disruptions and shutdowns in about seven African countries over the same period. Besides, there have been increasing incidents of arrest and detentions of citizens, bloggers and journalists for their social media activities.

The FIFAfrica event will also coincide with the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), which is observed on September 28 each year. The day has been set aside by the UNESCO to mark the importance of universal public access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms.

The FIFAfrica event is scheduled to take place at the La-Palm Royal Beach Hotel in Accra, and is expected to host about 300 participants from dozens of countries in Africa and around the world.

You can learn more about the event by visiting the event website at:  https://cipesa.org/fifafrica/ or follow the #FIFAfrica18.

For further information or inquiries, kindly contact Felicia Anthonio on [email protected] or +233 206 972 867.

This statement was originally published on mfwa.org on July 4, 2018 and Africafex.org.

The Stampede for SIM Card Registration: A Major Question for Africa

By Edrine Wanyama |
It is anticipated that by 2025, there will be at least 5.9 billion mobile subscribers accounting for 71% of the world’s population. As of 2017,  Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) had  a mobile subscription rate of 44% which is projected to reach  52% by 2025. Further, SSA’s mobile internet penetration by 2017 stood at 21% and is anticipated to increase to 40% by 2025.  However, the region has registered the largest number of cases of mandatory SIM card registration yet it suffers some of biggest challenges in personal data protection and privacy.
The benefits of SIM card registration include facilitation of citizens’ access to e-Government services, easy identification of an individual’s mobile number and number portability when switching networks. In addition, it aids combating cybercrime including terrorism by limiting covert communication and promotes good relations between consumers and service providers by simplifying identification of consumers and their use of SIM services. Accordingly, many governments argue that mandatory SIM card registration is for purposes of safeguarding digital and physical security. However, critics argue that when SIM card registration is effected without due safeguards, it poses a threat to privacy and freedom of expression.
Indeed, in 2013 Mexico repealed its policies on SIM card registration “after a policy assessment showed that it had not helped with the prevention, investigation and/or prosecution of associated crimes.” Finland has not enforced compulsory SIM card registration and nonetheless, through voluntary mobile signatures, service providers has succeeded in facilitating user’s access to relevant retail, banking and e-Government services.
Globally, over 90 countries conduct compulsory SIM card registration yet some remain without clear policy on its implementation. Amidst criticisms that mandatory registration does not necessary combat cybercrime, as criminals take the necessary precautions to avoid being detected and circumvent mandatory SIM card registration, African countries continue to proactively enforce SIM card registration. Among the prevailing challenges on the continent is the difficulty in validating identity documents in an environment with a wide range of service providers who create room for potential circumvention.
Mandatory registration has negatively affected access and usage of mobile telecommunication services due to the tedious process which entails the production of documentation such as passports and national identity cards prior to registration, which sometimes results in failure to attain a SIM card, disconnection, or  deactivation of SIM cards.
Additionally, there have been repetitive calls for registration of SIM cards in countries such as Uganda and Nigeria with personal data being collected  more than once. In Uganda, despite government explanation that SIM card verification is aimed at ensuring secure and safer communications, citizens have unanswered questions on the exercise. Suspicion arises due to a fresh validation of SIM card registration using national identity cards subsequent to registration which was initially done using valid documents such as students’ identity cards, driving permits and passports.
Double collection of personal data may partly imply collection of data beyond what is necessary for the purpose contrary to the internationally established data protection principles such as those set out in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Data Protection Principles. Further, there is no guarantee of individual privacy as most of the African countries do not have data protection laws. Moreover, most of the existing data protection laws do not meet internationally recognised standards considered sufficient to guarantee personal data protection and are therefore regarded as offering moderate or limited protection.
Meanwhile, efforts to buttress data protection in Africa have not yielded much. Out of 54 countries on the continent, only 14 have data protection laws (Angola, Benin, Burkina FasoMali, Gabon, GhanaIvory Coast, Lesotho, Madagascar, MoroccoSenegalSouth AfricaTunisia and Zimbabwe). A few others such as Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Niger have Bills. Regional efforts have also not yielded much. The Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection which was adopted by the African Union in 2014 has registered only 10 signatories (Benin, Chad, Congo, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome & Principe, Zambia and Comoros) and one ratification by Senegal.
Ultimately, there is need to reconcile state interests with citizens’ personal data and privacy rights. Mandatory registration, especially in the absence of clear registration guidelines and the lack of data protection laws, puts personal data at risk. African governments need to learn from other jurisdictions such as Europe with regards to processing of personal data as part of SIM card registration. In enforcing SIM card registration, there should be a clear set registration timelines, clear and unambiguous registration requirements.

The Internet Shutdown In Ethiopia Costs The Country Approximately $500,000 A Day In Lost GDP

By Tefo Mohapi |
In October 2016, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency which saw it impose certain measures that included telecommunications, media and Internet shutdowns along with travel restrictions on diplomats and a dusk-to-dawn curfew, to name a few of the measures implemented. The state of emergency, effective from 08 October 2016, comes as a result of about five hundred people being killed in protests in the Oromiya region surrounding the capital Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia since 2015. This is, as reported, after anger over a development scheme for the capital sparked broader anti-government demonstrations over politics and human rights abuses.
Ethiopia is not new to Internet shutdowns with another Internet shutdown taking place as recently as July 2016 with the government stating that it took this drastic measure to prevent leakages during the national exams.
Internet Shutdowns Across Africa
At the recently held Forum for Internet Freedom in Africa 2016 in Kampala, Uganda a panel on the opening day discussed “Internet Shutdowns and Internet Rights” and asked the pertinent question – “Where do we draw the line?

Internet Shutdowns CIPESA FIFAfrica16
Panel on “Internet Shutdowns and Internet Rights” featuring Ephraim Kenyanito, Yosr Jouini, Arthur Gwagwa, Arsene Tungali and Wisdom Donko.

In 2016 alone, the panel noted, Africa has experienced Internet shutdowns or social media bans in several countries including Zimbabwe, Uganda as well as Ethiopia. Notably, these shutdowns or bans typically revolved around political unrest or elections.
Furthermore, as noted during the discussion, Internet shutdowns can cost a country’s economy quite a substantial amount of money with the 2016 Uganda Internet shutdowns rumored to have cost the country $26 million considering it also involved the shutdown of mobile money services for several days around the 2016 Ugandan Presidential election period.

  • But what exactly is an Internet shutdown?
  • What role do telcos play during an Internet shutdown?
  • Are we perhaps overstating the severity of Internet shutdowns considering low Internet penetration rates?

$500,000 A Day
Technically speaking, and as witnessed across different countries in Africa and as discussed on the panel, an Internet shutdown usually involves a government’s ministry typically issuing a letter or instruction to the telcos and mobile service providers operating in that country requesting they cut off Internet access completely (or specific services) to their customers.
In Ethiopia, it is even easier for the government to effect an Internet shutdown as the East African country has only one telecommunications company, Ethio Telecom, which is also state-owned and the only provider of Internet access in the country. This further raises the question of who should be entrusted with provision open and unfettered Internet access to citizens. That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as Internet shutdowns come with a cost to a country’s economy. Continuing with Ethiopia as a case study, is perhaps the impact and cost of the Internet shutdown exaggerated given that the country only has an Internet penetration rate of 2,9% (as per 2015 Freedom House Report)?

Ethiopia Freedom House 2015
Ethiopia Feedom of the Net 2015 Report

A recent report released on 27 October 2016 by the Global Network Initiative along with Deloitte suggests that the current ongoing Internet shutdown in Ethiopia is costing the country approximately $500,000 a day. The report explains that, in dollar terms, it is estimated that for the average highly-connected country, the per-day impact of a complete Internet shutdown would amount to US$23.6 million per 10 million people. For the average country with medium and low levels of connectivity, the estimated GDP impact amounts to US$6.6 million and US$0.6 million per 10 million people, respectively.

“This analysis suggests that the ongoing Internet shutdown in Ethiopia, a low-connectivity country with a population of 94 million and a per capita GDP of US$505, is costing its economy just under half-a-million US dollars a day in lost GDP. “The economic impact of disruptions to Internet connectivity 2016 Report

The report sheds light on the impact on Internet shutdowns and illustrates that irrespective of low Internet penetration rates in country’s like Ethiopia, the impact is still quite high given how the Internet is used in various economic activities.
Furthermore, it is encouraging to hear the United Nations Human Rights Committee condemn Internet shutdowns in their recent resolution.
The United Nations Human Rights Council stated that it condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law.” Specifically calling on all States to “refrain from and cease such measures.”
This article was first published at iafrikan on October 28, 2016.