Are East African States Using ‘Terrorism’ to Stifle Internet Freedoms?

By Edris Kisambira
On May 23, 2014, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) launched a report on the State of Internet Freedom in East Africa. The report is an investigation into the policies and practices that define internet freedom in the region. The event, which took place in Kampala, Uganda, was attended by ICT thought leaders, media and human rights activists from Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Nigeria, among others.
A number of East Africa countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda boast over 50% teledensity and a growing number of internet users.
But as internet user numbers grow, so does content questioning governments’ democratic credentials. In turn, governments are enacting laws to counter freedom of expression, including online. These curtails are often framed under the guise of fighting terrorism, cyber crime and hate speech.
The CIPESA report noted that, regrettably, despite increased usage of the internet and infringements on freedoms, East Africans are not engaging enough in discussions around the issues of internet freedoms.
In his keynote address at the launch, the Chairperson of the ICT Committee in Uganda’s parliament, Vincent Waiswa Bagiire, noted that internet use by East African citizens has grown exponentially over the last five years. Considering the importance of the internet to improving livelihoods, the economy, and to security and stability, it had become necessary to make regulations to govern the online space.
“The issue becomes whether the rules are fair, inclusive, allow the growth of the internet and associated digital technologies, or whether they suppress citizens’ rights and creativity, lock out some sections of society and stifle creativity and innovation,” said Bagiire.
Panel discussions centred on how to find a balance between users’ freedoms and national security, as well as on online safety, security and privacy.
Arnold Mangeni, the Data Centre Manager at the National Information Technology Authority of Uganda (NITA-U) noted that when one goes online, they need not to expect security and privacy granted at the same time. He added that governments are mandated to protect citizens and as such have to curtail some freedoms while protecting citizens.
This sentiment was in sharp contrast to that of Neil Blazevic from the Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network. He encouraged citizens to take more active measures to ensure their privacy and security both offline and online. “Privacy is something we rely on in basic existence without which we face an existential crisis,” he said.
Patrick Mutahi, a Safety & Security Programme Officer from Article 19 Kenya raised the concern that while pursuing national security, governments are collecting citizen’s personal information during SIM card and national Identity registration exercises with no regulations on how this information is used. He further said governments are moving to curtail some of the freedoms because of vices like hate speech.
Lydia Namubiru, a Programme Officer at the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), said privacy and security online, like transport infrastructure for example, was a public service and should be guaranteed by governments. She said government surveillance online is akin to “placing a police officer at someone’s bedroom window”.
Panelists pointed to a need for competent judicial authorities to provide oversight over surveillance and monitoring. They also called for governments to consult citizens in enacting laws related to internet freedoms.
It was also pointed out that individuals and the private sector should take responsibility for their own online privacy and security.
“The Police alone cannot protect everyone online. The private sector has got to play a major role too. For example the problem of unsolicited SMS messages and online fraud where people lose millions of shillings in bogus transactions,” said Jimmy Haguma, the Acting Commissioner for Electronic and Counter Measures, Uganda Police Force.
He was backed by legislator Bagiire who said online safety is complex and needs continuous stakeholder collaborative efforts and user sensitisation efforts.
“Whereas government will put in place laws to protect users like the Computer Misuse Act and the e-signatures Ac, we the individuals have to be careful online,” he said.
Conducted between January 2010 and April 2014, CIPESA’s research found that the state of internet freedom in East Africa is littered with legislation and state actions which contradict constitutional rights provisions.
The legacy of colonial laws still lingers in countries like Tanzania and Uganda where public information disclosure is severely restricted. Besides, some laws, without being explicit on the internet and related technologies, are used in contexts that they were not intended for. Meanwhile, in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi, hate speech content regulations posed a threat to internet freedoms. In Ethiopia, the state monopoly over telecommunications was found to enable mass surveillance and content filtering, particularly that of the regime’s critics.
The full report can be found here.

We are watching you! Tech helps Africans hold governments to account

 By Loren Treisman
(CNN) — With hundreds of millions of Africans owning mobile phones, citizens are becoming increasingly well connected. This is providing a powerful opportunity for citizens to access critical information about their parliaments and to report on human rights violations, corruption and poor service delivery.
These interventions are amplifying the voices of marginalized communities and helping citizens to hold governments to account.
For citizens to actively participate in democracy, it is critical that they are able to access information on parliamentary proceedings and elected representatives. MySociety is contributing to this process. It has partnered with local organizations across Africa to build sites like Mzalendo in Kenya and Odekro in Ghana, which enable citizens to access information about parliamentary proceedings and their elected representatives, rate their MPs and gain a better understanding about government’s inner workings.
They’ve taken this process one step further in South Africa. The Open Democracy Advice Centre has created a platform where citizens can submit Freedom of Information Requests. A data repository has been created online, enabling journalists, analysts and campaigners to utilize this information to hold government to account and campaign for improved service delivery.
There’s a real thirst for this information in Africa. In Nigeria, a simple application created by developer Pledge 51 enables citizens to access their constitution by mobile phone and has been downloaded more than 750,000 times. During protests sparked by last year’s fuel crisis, where an increase in the price of fuel resulted in soaring commodity prices, this enabled citizens to exercise their rights against police forces.
Misinformation fueled this crisis, with few citizens understanding the new fuel subsidy payment or oil revenue share in their country. A local organization called BudgIT aimed to address this by generating simple infographics which took citizens through these complex processes in a visual format.
Utilizing the power of social media, this sparked more informed debates and dialogue that contributed to restoring order. The team has since produced a whole series of images that breakdown the Nigerian budget by state and sector, enabling citizens to better understand the country’s budget and to utilize this information to ensure that allocated funds are translated into improved services.
Across the continent, platforms are being developed that enable citizens to use SMS from basic phones to report challenges in service delivery. In the impoverished Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, residents have submitted around 3,000 reports on issues like poor sanitation, electricity and transport to the Lungisa platform from their mobile phones, Facebook and the web. Remarkably, most of the issues have been resolved by the city council.
In Northern Uganda, the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army conflict has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, leaving infrastructure and service delivery in dire straits. A Peace, Recovery and Development Plan has been put in place but progress is limited. Only a few health centers have been established, there’s a severe shortage of drugs, medical workers and equipment and corruption is commonplace.
CIPESA has created a platform populated with information on health programs being implemented in the region and citizen journalists are able to submit reports, photographs and audio footage describing the real situation on the ground, whilst Voluntary Sector Accountability Committees established by WOUGNET are utilizing a similar platform to report on corrupt practices and poor governance. The data collected is being used by the NGOs to hold government to account and advocate for improved services.
In many African countries, youth often feel excluded from the political process. As young people are the biggest consumers of technology, platforms are being developed that enable them to become more actively engaged. In Kenya, Youth Agenda is utilizing an SMS platform to encourage youth to vet their leaders according to policies and attributes instead of along tribal lines. The platform is also used to gauge political opinion. The feedback is collated into reports which are fed into government, giving youth a voice and allowing them to contribute to the development of policy.
Until 2009, Kibera — one of the world’s largest slums and home to more than 250,000 people — appeared only as a blank on online maps. This made it easy for government to ignore the needs of its citizens. Map Kibera has equipped young activists with GPS-enabled phones and has supported them in creating a map of the region, part of a wider program that empowers youth to raise awareness of the challenges faced by their communities and advocate for change.
Plan Cameroon has taken this process a step further in three districts. Once youth have mapped their area, they populate the map with data on service delivery such as access to water points, clean water and hygiene facilities. Local councilors and activists are utilizing this data to mobilize the involved communities to demand better services and advocate for change.

Technology applications can be developed anywhere and what’s exciting about many of these initiatives is that they’re being devised locally. Technology innovation hubs are springing up across the continent. These state-of-the-art facilities enable technologists and social activists to access high-speed internet, events and mentoring, as well as creating a collaborative environment that galvanizes the tech community. This is beginning to have a significant effect on the number and quality of projects being developed locally.

Homegrown solutions are often most effective, as local communities are best able to understand the complex local needs, behaviors and nuances. Some of these hubs such as Jozi Hub in Johannesburg and Co-Creation Hub in Lagos, Nigeria, have targeted programs to support transparency initiatives, thus catalyzing this process.
Undoubtedly, technology isn’t a panacea for all social problems. And at times, such as when the technology utilized isn’t locally available or where governments lack capacity to respond to issues being reported it can be entirely inappropriate. However, when combined with well devised programs, their power to reach the previously unreachable and to bring the voices of citizens closer to government makes them a significant contributor to the process of ensuring that government’s best serve the interests of their citizens.
This article was published by CNN on August 12, 2013

East African countries put IT spending on back burner

By Edris Kisambira
Though East Africa as a region has been quick to adopt technology compared to other areas in Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda appear to have de-emphasized ICT in budget plans for the next 12 months.
The money allocated to different sectors by the governments of those nations, and the lack of mention of ICT in the spending blueprints for the coming year, seem to indicate that the countries are either slowing down investments in a sector they regard as key or are postponing further funding.
Uganda’s US$4.8 million ICT sector allocation is the lowest in the past three years, according to an analysis by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). The budget blueprints were reviewed by finance ministers on June 15. Looking at the Uganda allocation, the funding amounts to only 0.13 percent of projected government expenditures over the next 12 months. Uganda had spent $7.1 million last year and $5.7 million the year before that.
Ugandan Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka said new technology was driving the country’s efforts to give more people access to financial- and business-related services, considering that telecom services like mobile money payments have registered more users today than commercial banks. Kiwanuka said the government, for example, will in the next 12 months establish a one-stop center to provide online registration services for the various licenses required to start a business.
Meanwhile the Rwanda government, taking notable strides in promoting ICT infrastructure investments and enabling usage by citizens in recent years, did not specifically provide for ICT spending for the next 12 months, and no explanation was given.
John Rwangombwa, Rwanda’s finance minister, said in the next 12 months, the government will help enhance operations of the Carnegie Mellon University in the country and the Kigali Techno Pole tech area to boost ICT for private sector development. Speaking in parliament on June 15, Rwangombwa reported completion of work on a number of investments in the past few years, including the national fiber-optic cable backbone, a wireless broadband system for the capital Kigali, a national data center and an embassy intranet.
Kenyan Finance Minister Robinson Njeru Githae did not say a lot in his budget speech as far as the ICT sector goes but allocated some $5.6 million for the purchase of computers for schools and removed import duty on computer software.
Tanzania, which has in the past allocated far less money in comparison to its neighbors, increased duty on mobile telephone airtime, taking it into a league that Uganda has long dominated, where telephone services are taxed steeply.
Tanzanian Finance Minister William Augustao Mgimwa announced a $2.5 million allocation to strengthen ICT “so as to improve access to various services including information, access to domestic and external market, revenue collection, health services, education, financial services, etc.”
Compared to Uganda’s allocation of $4.8 million and Kenya’s $5.6 million, the $2.5 million Tanzania allocated to the sector pales in comparison, given it also has been spending less in the recent past.
Commenting about the cutback in spending on ICT in Uganda, Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of industry regulator Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), said, “How do you expect the industry to grow when you are not investing back?”
Ashnah Kalemera, an analyst at CIPESA, said ICT is not a field that most governments in the East African region have great experience or competence in. “But also, ICT is a sector whose full benefit is yet to be fully appreciated by government bureaucrats, as indeed like most members of the public,” Kalemera said. “Its contribution is largely seen as indirect, and there is thus a need to have studies that show direct impacts of ICT on development if regional governments are to be convinced to significantly raise budgetary allocations to ICT.”
East Africa is a leader in adoption of mobile devices and, led by Kenya, in adoption of mobile money. Kenya’s teledensity is 71 percent, while both Tanzania and Uganda have passed the 50 percent mark. Millions across the region routinely use their mobile phones to make financial transactions, which in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda total up to no less than $1.4 billion per month for all the three countries, with Safaricom’s M-Pesa accounting for the bulk of that money.
This article was published by Computer World on July 16, 2012

Kasese equipped with the use of ICT tools to share and disseminate information

As ICT becomes a necessity in our daily activities and operations, it has been approved that it’s quite easy to managed access and share information in our communities simply using ICT tools. Kasese district officials, the members from the civil society and Community members have been fully equipped with ICT skills.
This training which took place on 21st and 22nd June 2012 at the E-Society Resource Centre located at Kasese District Head Quarters was done by officials from The Collaboration for ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).
CIPESA is one of the partners of the E-Society Resource Centre Kasese which voluntarily came in to support the centre in addition to what Ric-Net had offered. The training was facilitated by Ms. Lillian Nalwoga from CIPESA assisted by Mr. Jack Sseruwo from CIPESA and Edgar Asiimwe Napolean from SPIDER. The attendance and participation was good and everybody who attended at least was able to create personal weblogs, twitter accounts and had a full understanding of how to use other social networks like face book and Skype to promote citizen participation in governance issues. The training was launched by the assistant LCV Chairperson Hon. Muhindo Tadeo who greatly thanked the management of CIPESA for the partnership and pointed out that he is an ICT compliant who uses a lot of social networking to carry out his activities. The training revealed that in the near future, the world will be required to use much of social media like face book, twitter, weblogs, Skype, Google+ and so many others as innovations go on. A great thanks goes to the District Information Office for organizing the training to enhance civic competence.
This article was published by Kasese District News on June 23, 2012.

Making government accountable to citizens in Uganda and the region

Lillian Nalwoga from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) coordinated research on open governance in Uganda as part of APC’s Action Research Network project. “Citizens, academia, the private sector and civil society need to be more involved in the implementation of open governance,” says Nalwoga in an interview withAPCNews.
APCNews: What is the relevance of this research’s subject to you? Why do you think it is important to promote OGD frameworks in general and in particular on Eastern Africa? What are your comments on Uganda’s situation in the subregional context in this sense?
Lillian Nalwoga: The open government data (OGD) research is relevant to CIPESA’s work in enabling policy makers in the region to understand ICT policy issues and for various stakeholders to use ICTs to improve livelihoods. Most especially, the research is important for CIPESA’s wider programmes in the use of ICTs for democratic governance. Understanding Uganda’s OGD readiness and the perceptions and needs of citizens is an important aspect in gauging the level to which ICTs can be used in promoting an open government, as well easier and faster flow of information between public officials and citizens.
It is important to promote OGD frameworks in East Africa because of the benefits open governance provides. Benefits such as an increase in transparency and accountability would in turn enable citizens to access better social services. East African countries are at different levels of development in all sectors including ICT. Kenya scored highest in Sub-Saharan Africa with the launch of an open data portal in July 2011. The website ( allows Kenyan citizens to freely access government data on numerous sectors and population demographics. More recently, Tanzania has followed suit with the launch of Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are lagging behind their counterparts. Promoting OGD frameworks will allow the countries lacking openness of data to learn and share best practices on how to better promote their efforts especially under the East African Community (EAC). OGD frameworks within the region will allow for easier integration of EAC as member states will easily learn share and access developments in the region while allowing for better service delivery within the region.
In Uganda, promoting an OGD framework will not only make government accountable to citizens but also foster a crop of open public servants and departments. Citizens will get better services because they would know what they are entitled to and the resources available to meet their needs, thus reducing the current rampant corruption in the country.
APCNews: What were the main challenges faced during the research process?
LN: The main challenge faced was scheduling meetings with key informants from the executive level of government. Besides having busy schedules (and we, too, had a tight schedule in which to complete the research), we noticed that most senior government officials were reluctant to participate in research. They probably fear being quoted as criticical of government. But also the law forbids civil servants from making public comments without the authority of the accounting officer of a public department. An additional challenge was that many potential respondents thought open government data was something complicated that they were not qualified to comment about. It therefore took quite a bit of explaining to get them ready for interviews. But once the interviews were underway, virtually all respondents mentioned they were aware of OGD, and supported efforts for Uganda to open its government data.
The OGD concept is fairly new and it touches the hearts of all citizens. More time to capture data on a larger proportion of the population especially in rural areas was unfortunately not available. Besides, there is not much available literature on OGD in Africa, hence it was hard to capture success stories on how OGD could benefit or even spur development in Africa.
APCNews: Assessment of citizen’s perceptions on open governance in Uganda revealed that there is a high level of knowledge about open governance in the country, as well as great expectations for the benefits that OGD would bring to Uganda. Which do you think were the factors that helped build acknowledgement of the importance of the OGD?
LN: The compounding factors that led to this acknowledgement amongst respondents and the overall conclusion maybe drawn from the known country cases of open governance from which citizens have learned about the benefits of OGD. Many respondents cited cases where corruption cases were unveiled as a result of government publishing some department and project expenditures. References were continually made to what countries like Kenya are currently doing to promote OGD and the benefits that have resulted, in order to indicate that promoting for OGD in Uganda would lead to similar benefits.
Also, the launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative last year, where Uganda was among the six eligible countries to join and yet opted out, was an eye-opener for some citizens who are keen on knowing why Uganda decided not to join the OGP.
APCNews: Uganda was one of the first countries in east and southern Africa to formulate a national ICT policy and an access to information law addressing the openness of government data in one of its objectives but, as the report points out, the legislation on this matter remains largely unimplemented. How do you think this gap between the policy and the legislation could be mitigated?
LN: Massive awareness about the existence of the policy among the public is needed so that people get to know its relevance, how to apply it in their everyday lives and what other information to demand. Besides, there is need to lobby and create awareness among legislators and public officials on the need to implement these policies. A good way to lobby would be to showcase how openness has led, or can lead, to public good without hurting the interests of any stakeholder groups, be it government departments, public servants, the private sector or citizens groups. There would also be a need to update legislation (such as the ICT policy and the Access to Information law) to make them more explicitly and progressively supportive of OGD.
APCNews: The study Open government data readiness study in Uganda concludes that Uganda is ready to implement OGD with appropriate support and guidance. What does this support and guidance imply in terms of advocacy? Which actors should be involved on this implementation, according to the knowledge gained during the research and what are the expected inputs from each one of the actors involved?
LN: To some extent, the government of Uganda is practicing some sort of openness but it is facing challenges in sustaining the platforms on which such data should be accessed. Moreover, most of the available data is not in a reusable format. Thus in terms of advocacy, there is a need to point to government areas that require more readily available data. As pointed out by most respondents, more openness is needed in areas such as government spending in health, education, water and energy sectors. Also, government needs to spend more time developing and supporting applications that assist in hosting the data in readily accessible formats. Actors such as citizens, academia, private sector and civil society need to be more involved in the implementation of open governance as each stakeholder has a complementary role to play. The citizenry must continuously demonstrate their need for the data by demanding it. The private sector, on the other hand, needs to design and develop applications that will make open data readily available in easy-to-use formats and also make innovations based on OGD. Civil society has to continuously create awareness about the need for this data among communities while stressing the importance of the free flow of information among government and the public.
This research was developed in the context of APC’s Action Research Network, a project supported by the International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC).
This article was published by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) News on May 30, 2012