Invitation for Public Comments on Building an Enabling Environment for Inclusive Digital Transformation in Africa: Roadmap To Reform

Call for Comments |

The 2018 introduction of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) marked an opportune time to advance dialogue and consensus on how to shape and govern the digital economy on the continent to promote greater regional cohesion, development, and competitiveness.

AfCFTA came into force on May 30, 2019 and has the goal of establishing a free trade area among all 55 member states of the African Union, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of more than US$3.4 trillion. Recognition of the role that emerging trends in digital transformation can and should play is a crucial part in the realisation of AfCTA.

The digital economy, including cross-border services, digital trade, and electronic commerce (eCommerce), contributes to democratic and economic development by expanding market access for local businesses, promoting inclusive trade, creating jobs, and expanding tax revenue for governments to provide essential services. As the scope of digital innovation expands around the globe, so must appropriate considerations for national and regional policies and regulations needed to facilitate greater economic competitiveness and inclusiveness while respecting human rights and online freedom.

Harnessing opportunities and limiting barriers to equitable participation in the digital economy have become even more important, as the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has resulted in online global data traffic rising by 20 percent . As people are continuing to rely on digital platforms and services more than ever before, it is crucial for diverse stakeholders including local business communities, civil society, media organizations, and government to actively participate in multi-stakeholder discussions on the development and implementation of legislation and frameworks that impact the digital economy.

As part of the 2019 edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) convened over 35 stakeholders representing the local private sector, civil society, media organizations, and government to identify regional opportunities that can positively shape Africa’s digital transformation.  This regional policy dialogue formed the basis of this Roadmap to Reform which we now invite external contributions and comments on.

This Roadmap to Reform of Africa’s digital economy is divided into three parts. Part one highlights the findings from engagements held at FIFAfrica19 on the various opportunities and challenges related to digital transformation in Africa.  This dialogue brought together representatives from chambers of commerce, civil society, media organizations, and government across over ten African countries. Part two explores multi-stakeholder approaches to capitalizing on digital transformation opportunities in Africa. Finally, part three presents a series of case studies that illustrate the ways in which advocacy and multi-stakeholder engagement can advance the digital economy in Africa.

Submit your comments to the document: Building an Enabling Environment for Inclusive Digital Transformation in Africa: Roadmap To Reform by September 21, 2020.

Niger Passes New Law on Interception of Communications

By Simone Toussi and Thomas Robertson |

In response to national security challenges related to terrorism, ethnic conflict and organized crime, Niger promulgated a new law on the interception of communications, with surveillance implications that threaten the right to free speech and privacy online.

In April 2020, the Nigerien Council of Ministers tabled a bill aimed at securing a legitimate basis for intercepting electronic communications “in the interest of national security” (Exposé de Motifs). The bill was unanimously adopted on May 29 by the National Assembly as opposition politicians boycotted the vote, arguing that it allows for widespread monitoring of communications “under false pretences other than those related to security and the fight against terrorism.” In spite of the boycott, the bill became law pursuant to Article 58 of the Nigerien Constitution, which states that if a bill receives a majority vote at the National Assembly, it is immediately promulgated except in the case of a presidential veto, which has not occurred.

Regional security context

Niger is part of the Sahel region of West Africa, where misguided counterterrorism schemes have disproportionately led to societal stigmatisation and violence against marginalised Fulani/Peul communities. Since the beginning of 2020, over 150 people, predominantly Fulani men, have disappeared or been the victim of extrajudicial killings by Nigerien security forces. Neighbouring  Burkina Faso has also faced scrutiny for the cruelty with which state-sponsored militias have worked in Fulani areas, including the May 2020 extrajudicial killings of 12 men and the subsequent investigation widely criticised by civil society actors. Though Burkina Faso has not engaged in communication interception, a 2019 law punishes media outlets who criticise Burkinabé defence forces. Meanwhile, Mali, which also shares a border with Niger, passed a cybercrime law in 2019 which permits real-time surveillance through interception of communications. The new law, which grants government access to digital communications data, could further exacerbate the ongoing unwarranted state-sanctioned violence against ethnic groups across the Sahel.

Digital authoritarianism

The new law comes into force in the context of a regulatory framework that already infringes upon the free speech of Nigerien citizens. The country’s law on cybercrime adopted in June 2019 criminalises the “dissemination, production and making available to others of data that may disturb public order or threaten human dignity through an information system” (Article 31). This article has been the basis of a crackdown on freedom of expression online, including the arrest of a dozen activists between March and April 2020 after their WhatsApp and Facebook communications featuring criticism of the government were intercepted by the state. In 2016, an activist was convicted of “conspiracy to overthrow a constitutional order” after he used Facebook to criticize Nigerien president Mahamadou Issoufou’s counterterrorism approach.

The law on the interception of digital communications seeks to “reconcile the exercise of free access to information on the basis of national security in the fight against terrorism and organized crime.” However, it violates democratic principles by granting sweeping powers to the executive branch of government. Under article 2, only the President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Minister of the Interior, Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Customs and Trade have the authority to order an interception of communication. Furthermore, according to article 6, the committee created to oversee the law’s enforcement – the National Commission for Oversight of Communication Interception (CNCIS) – is composed of seven government officials, all of whom are appointed by members of the presidential cabinet.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, Niger had an internet penetration rate of 5.25% in 2018. This is among the lowest penetration rates in the world, and in Africa where access to the internet is only lower in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, and Somalia.

On the press freedom front, Niger is in dire straits, with a continued crackdown on dissent. Indeed, despite legislative provisions for media freedom under the Press Freedom law, Niger has a negative track record in its treatment of independent media, as highlighted above regarding the implementation of Article 31 of the cybercrime law. Arrest of journalists on politically-motivated charges is commonplace, and COVID-19 has also been the premise of law enforcement action against journalists. For instance, in March 2020, Mamane Kaka Touda, was arrested and detained for three weeks for social media posts about a suspected case of COVID-19 in a Nigerien hospital.

Furthermore, Niger’s 2018 ranking on the Human Development Index was 189th out of the 189 countries surveyed. These metrics arise confusion as to why the Nigerien government focuses its energy on digital surveillance in a country where internet access is already disparate and more immediate socio-economic development issues threaten the Nigerien people.

With the approaching presidential elections scheduled for December 2020, the adoption of restrictive laws related to citizens’ use of technology clearly follows a logic specific to authoritarian African governments, according to a 2019 report on the techno-political dimensions of internet disruptions in Africa.

Privacy under threat

Taken as a whole, the law on the interception of digital communications violates article 29 of the Nigerien Constitution, which guarantees the secrecy of correspondence and communications. Article 2 delimits the scope of interception to “attacks on state security and national unity, attacks on national defence and territorial integrity, prevention and combating of terrorism and transnational organized crime, and prevention of all forms of foreign interference and collusion with the enemy.”  As the specific characteristics and nature of communications falling under these broad categories are not defined, this article potentially exposes Nigerien citizens to persistent surveillance. In addition, articles 24, 32 and 33 require public officials, network operators and service providers to cooperate with interception operations, failure of which may result in imprisonment for a period between one to five years and a fine ranging from two to ten million CFA francs (USD 3,445 to 17,222).

Although the law provides a semblance of oversight, the procedure of interception leaves room for violation of privacy. Article 11 states that records related to interception are destroyed on the president’s order and expire a month after the order for communication interception has been issued, and that investigation reports on the operation of the interception are written. However, article 12 allows the extended storage of interception records for an unspecified period stating that transcriptions of interceptions “must be destroyed as soon as their preservation is no longer necessary” to preserve national security, and that the aforementioned destruction of transcripts is documented.

With this new law and the Cybercrime Act, Niger joins the horde of African countries including Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Tanzania, which use national security as a pretext to introduce legislation that limits freedom of expression and opinion, the right to privacy and other civil liberties. Past abuses on critical voices by the state justify the reservations about its apparent aim of combating criminal activity and terrorism. If maintained, more violations and arrests against dissenting voices can be expected as Niger prepares for the presidential elections this December. Hence the law should be repealed and other countries in Africa should desist from replicating similar regressive policies and legislation.

Tanzania Entrenches Digital Rights Repression Amidst Covid-19 Denialism and a Looming Election

By Edrine Wanyama |

On July 17, 2020, the Tanzania government issued new Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2020 that apply to online content production, hosting and dissemination. The regulations entrench the licencing and taxation of bloggers, online discussion forums, radio and television webcasters, and repress online speech, privacy and access to information.

The passage of the new regulations raises concerns over free speech and access to information as they come into force barely three months before Tanzania holds presidential elections on October 28, 2020, a period when civic engagement and transparency and accountability in governance requires access to a range of information and viewpoints. The regulations also come amidst Covid-19 denialism by President Pombe Magufuli’s government, which has denied citizens access to vital information and undermined efforts to contain the spread of the virus in the east African country.

Tanzania has been widely criticised for its lacklustre response to the Covid-19 pandemic, yet the regulations aim to further stifle access to health information by prohibiting the publication of “content with information with regards to the outbreak of a deadly or contagious disease in the country or elsewhere without the approval of the respective authorities.”

Earlier this year, the communications regulator, Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), banned the independent Mwananchi newspaper from publishing online for six months, after accusing it of carrying a false and misleading news report on Covid-19. At the time, TCRA said the publisher had flouted the much-criticised Electronic and Postal Communications (EPOCA) (Online Content) Regulations, 2018, which have been replaced by the new regulations. On July 9, 2020, the TCRA suspended the independent Kwanza Online TV for 11 months, over a report on its Instagram account that cited a health alert issued by the United States embassy in Tanzania, on the Covid-19 situation in the country.

In July 2020, United Nations experts noted that Covid-19 had compounded pre-existing human rights concerns in Tanzania, notably regarding the right to freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information. They added that Tanzania’s government was not meeting its commitments on information sharing and transparency after it stopped releasing statistics on Covid-19 cases at the end of April, and President Magufuli declared the country virus-free in early June.

The new regulations require online content service providers, internet service providers, and application services licensees to pay exorbitant fees for licensing and renewal of licences. Providers of “online content service”, described as “content broadcasting to the public through internet websites, application software, forums, blogs, weblogs, microblogs, public account, instant messaging tools, online live streaming, aggregators and other related platforms”, pay an application fee of Tanzania Shillings (TZS) 100,000 (USD 44); initial licence fee of USD 440 or USD 220; annual licence fee of USD 440 or USD 220; and a licence renewal fee of USD 440 or USD 220. The higher fees are to be paid by providers of “news and current affairs”; the lower ones by providers of entertainment, educational or religious content.

Radio and television operators that stream content online will pay USD 22 in application fees, USD 88 for the initial license, another USD 88 in annual licence fees, and USD 88 in licence renewal fees. The duration of all licences is three years.

Similar measures have previously been adopted to gag online content providers including broadcasters and bloggers during elections as was in the Broadcasting Services (Content) (The Political Party Elections Broadcasts) Code 2015.

The new regulations introduce a problematic definition of “news related content”, namely online news information gathering, compiling, editing, publication and broadcasting in a manner similar or that bears a resemblance to traditional media services provision. This essentially covers all information provided online. Similarly, the definition of an “online forum” has been expanded compared to that in the 2018 regulations, to cover every possible online fora and “online platforms”. These definitions are so vague that their application is potentially boundless in scope. With the past experiences of crackdown on media houses and journalists in Tanzania, these definitions appear to be calculated to target individuals and organisations such as Jamii Forums that champion free expression.

The new regulations raise the requirements for applicants, as well as the obligations of licensees, which could have a chilling effect on digital rights. Under regulation 6(2), applicants must provide certified copies of the certificate of registration, tax identification number, tax clearance certificate (for companies or non-government organisations) and national identity card. Furthermore, the applicant must provide a list of owners and the management team, editorial guidelines (if applying to provide “news and current affairs”) and technical description of facilities to be used. Moreover, under regulation 6(i), the TCRA may require additional documents.

The regulations expand the obligations of online content service providers and, under regulation 9(g),   require licensees to remove prohibited content immediately upon being ordered by TCRA. This does not provide room for verification or the right to be heard before removal is effected. Further regulation 9(h) and regulation 14 hold the licensee accountable for all information published. This imposes a heavy burden on licensees, including bloggers with no journalistic skills or resources to verify all information before publication, which curtails freedom of expression and denies citizens access to a variety of information. Moreover, for some unexplained reason, regulation 10 bars radio and television stations that hold district or regional license from live streaming content.

Some provisions potentially violate the right to privacy and undermine free expression. The requirement to install cameras in internet cafes and to store images recorded for 12 months has been retained under regulation 13. Further, the requirement to assign static public Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to computers in cafes would discourage usage of circumvention tools, such as Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which enable users to bypass network restrictions and to enhance their anonymity.

Furthermore, regulation 6 in as far it requires attachment of a tax identification number certificate, national identity card of the applicant and curriculum vitae, as well as academic qualifications of staff in regulation 12 (b), exposes private data. In the absence of a law on data protection and privacy in Tanzania, there is no guarantee that individuals’ data will be safeguarded against unauthorised access and disclosure.

The new regulations expand the list of prohibited content to a wide and ambiguous scope that  fails to meet the internationally acceptable limitations to freedom of expression. For instance, while para.2 of the Third Schedule protects personal privacy and human dignity, it renders a publisher liable for slander and defamation even where the published information is true. This ignores the widely acceptable defence of truth to defamation. Moreover, it is increasingly recommended globally that defamation should be decriminalised.

Furthermore, para.3 prohibits publication of information on public security, violence and national security, including undefined “news, statements or rumors for the purpose of ridicule, abuse or harming the reputation, prestige or status of Tanzania or its national anthem, symbols and logos.” This prohibition is contrary to freedom of expression guarantees provided for under article 8 of the Constitution of Tanzania. The prohibition of publication of information on demonstrations and marches potentially inhibits freedom of assembly and association, which are also guaranteed by article 20 Tanzania’s Constitution.

Failure by the regulations to clearly define prohibited information, such as that considered a threat to national security or public order in paras. 3(d) and (h), to the national currency or the national economy in para.3(f), or information relating to terrorist attacks, droughts, weather forecasts or occurrence of natural calamities para.8(b), could be used by advantaged authorities to wantonly punish critics of government and its leaders.

Regulation 21 introduces a general penalty for breaching the regulations where no specific punishment has been prescribed: a fine of not less than USD 2,200 or imprisonment for a term of not less than 12 months, or both.

In their current state the regulations will further narrow the already shrinking space for digital rights and freedoms in Tanzania, as they will muzzle freedom of expression, access to information, and individual privacy. Such freedoms are particularly important in times of elections and a pandemic. The government should therefore consider repealing or amending the EPOCA (Online Content) Regulations, 2020 so that they progressively promote the enjoyment of digital rights and freedoms.

Malawi Telcos Reduce Data Prices in Response to CHRR, CIPESA Campaign

By Jimmy Kainja |

Malawi’s two leading telecommunication companies, Airtel Malawi and Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM), have reduced data prices in recent weeks. In a July 30, 2020 statement, Airtel Malawi announced new data bundle prices, with reductions of up to 40%. Only a month earlier in June 2020, Airtel Malawi published financial statements showing it recorded profits of 588% for the year ended December 2019. Also in July 2020, TNM announced reduced data rates. Despite the company recording a 10% reduction in profits in 2019 compared to 2018, it remains hugely profitable at Malawi Kwacha (MK) 16 billion (USD 21 million) after tax.
Both companies indicated that the reduction in pricing was a response to public calls for affordable internet. In a joint statement issued on July 13, 2020, the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), and other organisations urged the Malawi government to review the cost of telecommunications services, especially in view of Covid-19 restrictions some of which have led to increased reliance on digital technologies in Malawi and across the world. 
According to the statement, at MK15,500 (USD 21), the cost of a monthly bundle of 10GB was equivalent to half the minimum wage of the average Malawian, which currently stands at MK 35,000 (USD 47). Meanwhile, the country maintained a 17.5% value-added tax (VAT) on mobile phones and services, a 16.5% VAT on internet services and an additional 10% excise duty on mobile phone text messages and internet data transfers, introduced in 2015. 
The statement also pointed out the new government’s campaign manifesto, which included a commitment to reduce the cost of ICT services, through, among other things, securing access to the new submarine infrastructure along the East African coast; review of the taxation regime of the ICT sector; extending broadband internet connection to all urban and rural centres through roll out of a fibre optic cable network; and removal of all tariff and non-tariff barriers on equipment and devices (including laptops and computers, cables, modems, routers, etc.) in order to reduce the cost of broadband internet.
Indeed, the statement was followed by an appeal by the newly appointed Minister of Information tasking the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) to take measures to reduce internet tariffs. Speaking at a familiarisation tour of MACRA, Gospel Kazako agreed with CHRR, CIPESA and others that the cost of the internet in Malawi was too high. He said while the government may not be able to reduce taxes on services, telecommunications companies should not enjoy huge profit margins.  
Illustration – The Nation, Tuesday July 21, 2020
In response to Kazako’s appeal, MACRA’s Director General Henry Shamu is quoted by The Nation as stating that the high cost of services was a pertinent issue that required urgent consideration. “So we will engage the operators on how we can best address the issue. We as MACRA also expect the charges to go down,” said Shamu. MACRA followed up on its word by convening a meeting with the service providers on July 28, 2020 to explore possibilities of data cost reduction plans.
Whereas the recent data price reductions have been criticised as cosmetic, they highlight the potential of civil society engagement  that reaches the right stakeholders to influence policy actions.

Appel à propositions: troisième tour du Fonds africain pour les droits numériques (FADN)

Appel à propositions |

La Collaboration sur les Politiques Internationales des TIC pour l’Afrique orientale et australe (CIPESA) a le plaisir de lancer le troisième appel à propositions au Fonds africain pour les droits numériques (FADN), qui soutient le travail sur les droits numériques à travers le continent grâce à des subventions à réponse rapides et flexibles.

L’appel en cours s’intéresse en particulier aux propositions de travaux liés aux mesures de réponse à la Covid-19, à la manière dont elles affectent le paysage des droits sur Internet et à la réparation des atteintes aux droits et libertés qui en résultent. Cet effort est essentiel car, même en période de pandémie, les gouvernements doivent respecter les droits et ne pas abuser des pouvoirs d’urgence. De plus, de nombreux acteurs doivent avoir accès à des informations et à des recherches crédibles pour renseigner leur propre travail de sensibilisation et obliger les autorités à rendre compte pendant et après la Covid-19.

Les technologies numériques jouent un rôle dans l’amélioration de la surveillance de la maladie de Covid-19, la coordination des mécanismes de réponse et la sensibilisation du public. Toutefois, certaines mesures d’intervention basées sur la technologie pourraient nuire au bénéfice des droits numériques, notamment le droit à la vie privée et à la protection des données personnelles, la liberté d’expression et d’association en ligne pendant et après la Covid-19. En effet, depuis le déclenchement de la pandémie de Covid-19, CIPESA et un certain nombre d’organisations de défense des droits numériques se sont vivement intéressées aux questions de désinformation, de censure et de surveillance.

Toutefois, alors que le scénario actuel nécessite un plaidoyer proactif et soutenu en faveur des droits numériques, de nombreuses organisations de défense des droits numériques, en particulier les plus petites, ont besoin de fonds pour soutenir leur travail, de recherches crédibles pour éclairer leurs activités et d’appui pour leurs campagnes de plaidoyer.

Lancé en avril 2019, le FADN soutient les organisations et les réseaux pour mettre en œuvre des activités qui font avancer les droits numériques, notamment le plaidoyer, les litiges, la recherche, l’analyse des politiques, la mise en place de mouvements, l’alphabétisation numérique et le renforcement des compétences en sécurité numérique. Le premier tour du FADN a octroyé 65 000 USD à 10 initiatives en faveur des droits numériques en Algérie, au Burundi, en Égypte, en Éthiopie, en Gambie, au Mozambique, en Namibie, au Nigéria, en Sierra Leone, au Sénégal, au Soudan du Sud, en Tanzanie, en Tunisie, en Ouganda, en Zambie et au Zimbabwe.

Le deuxième appel à candidatures a vu un total de 152 000 USD attribué à 14 initiatives qui font progresser les droits numériques à travers divers projets dans 18 pays africains – Algérie, Cameroun, République démocratique du Congo (RD Congo), Éthiopie, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigéria, Rwanda, Somalie, Somaliland, Soudan, Tanzanie, Tunisie, Ouganda et Zimbabwe.

Les montants des subventions pour ce tour se situeront entre 1 000 et 20 000 USD, selon le besoin et la portée de l’intervention proposée. Le FADN encourage vivement le partage des coûts. La période de subvention ne dépassera pas six mois.

La date limite pour les soumissions est le vendredi 7 août 2020. Pour en savoir plus sur les directives du troisième tour du FADN, cliquez ici. Le formulaire de candidature est accessible ici.