Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) 2018 Report

1. Overview: Connecting Research Insights to Discussions at FIFAfrica
2. FIFAfrica Over the Years
3. Reports and Platform Launches
4. Local content development
5. Zone 9 Bloggers share their stories of Censorship, Repression and Surveillance
6. Cyber violence online: Dynamics of Gender and Vulnerable users online
7. Participant tweets
8. Support
Since 2014, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has convened the annual Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) to provide a pan-African space where digital rights discussion at the global level can be consolidated at Africa-wide level, drawing a large multi-stakeholder audience of actors from within and beyond the continent.

This year’s edition of FIFAfrica was held in Accra, Ghana on September 26-28, 2018. It brought together 280 participants from 47 countries to deliberate on gaps, concerns and opportunities for advancing privacy, access to information, free expression, non-discrimination and the free flow of information online on the continent. Hosted in partnership with the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), FIFAfrica18 was the first to be held in West Africa. Previous Forums have been hosted in East Africa and Southern Africa.

Spanning a total of four days, of which the first two are specialized workshops and discussions followed by two days of open panel discussions, workshops, exhibitions and lightning talks, the proceedings of FIFAfrica18 explored common strategies for impactful work in promoting internet freedom in the face of persistent affronts to the rights of African online users.

In his keynote address titled “Many African Governments Hate the Free Internet – And That Is A Very Good Thing”, veteran journalist, publisher and curator of Africapedia, Charles Onyango-Obbo noted that the Internet in Africa “had finally seized from the state narrative-making power”, making “political control difficult”. According to Obbo, governments across the continent appreciate the power of the internet hence their efforts to suppress its use. Calling for the internet’s liberation, he urged stakeholders to “get on their keyboards and fight” against the growing trend of censorship, surveillance and regulation.

This call to action resonated throughout sessions on addressing gender-based violence online which noted that remains a big research and data gap on the experience of African women online.

“As dialogue and open conversations become normalised, more people express that men and boys are abused too, both physically and sexually. While it’s true that anyone, regardless of their gender can experience violence and abuse, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s an issue of proportionality. Further more, when women report that they are being abused, they are subjected to harassment and victim blaming while being told to prove how they were abused while a man is treated differently by both society and the legal system because of patriarchal privileges. This has to change!”

Martha Chilongoshi | Advancing Advocacy on Gender based Violence Online

Other calls to action included the potential of the internet for civic agency and eGovernance; the role of community networks in bridging the digital divide; safety and security for critical internet users; pushing back against internet shutdowns; local content development; curbing cybercrime; promoting online consumer rights; privacy and data protection; advocacy at global level; and fighting misinformation/fakenews, among others.

The particularly poignant state of internet freedom in some African countries was illustrated by frontline experiences shared from Ethiopia and Cameroon. The Zone 9 bloggers collective shared their plight of repression, surveillance, censorship and incarceration under Ethiopia’s repressive regime. The recent release of their members and their continued commitment to human rights advocacy in the context of Ethiopia’s ongoing reforms were perhaps the strongest indication that the spirit to fight should live on. A special edition of the Blacked Out YouTube video on the devastating internet shutdowns in Cameroon was screened at FIFAfrica and exemplified the internet’s potential to challenge and expose authoritarian rule.

In commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), UNESCO hosted a session on access to information through the lens of the Internet Universality Indicators. The indicators are a tool designed to enrich stakeholders’ capacity for assessing internet freedom and development, broaden international consensus, and foster access to information, online democracy and human rights. As Dorothy Gordon, Chairperson of the Information for All Programme (IFAP), noted during the session, “the lack of information literacy in African countries has created terrible fear in the population regarding the use of new communication methods and internet-enabled devices. The Internet Universality Indicators will point out existing obstacles to access the internet and provide governments with key areas for improvement.”

Furthermore, FIFAfrica also served as the platform for the launch of the 2018 edition of the annual State of Internet Freedom in Africa research report, which CIPESA has produced since 2014. This year’s report focused on data protection and privacy in select African countries. Previous editions researched intermediaries’ role in advancing internet freedom, the economic cost of shutdowns, government strategies to stifle citizens’ digital rights, and citizens’ perceptions on privacy, access and security. The reports are fundamental for a keener understanding of the issues affecting internet freedom in the respective countries, and form a strong basis for action plans on promoting internet freedoms in these countries.

Beyond raising awareness of the need to advance internet freedom, FIFAfrica also focuses on skills building. Practical workshops held as pre-events at the Forum included one on strategic litigation led by the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), which aimed to build the capacity of internet activists to collaborate across disciplines to more effectively push back against regressive legal frameworks that are not conducive to access and use of the internet in Africa.

Meanwhile, CIPESA and Small Media hosted a workshop on internet freedom and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) aimed at supporting civil society organisations across Africa to engage with the UPR process through research, capacity development and developing tools to support internet freedom advocacy.

“As a powerful mechanism that is helping to put forward human rights concerns and foster accountability, it is imperative that women’s rights activists and practitioners utilise the UPR to advocate and call for policies and legislation for a safer internet space for women.”

Rebecca Ryakitimbo, Co-founder and representative for Digital Grassroots in Tanzania

Shaping the internet we want: Gender perspectives on FIFAfrica 2018

Further, the Localization Lab also hosted a localisation sprint to translate digital security tools and resources into Amharic, Fante, Igbo, Swahili, Tswana, Twi, and Yoruba to support the education, training, and adaptation of digital security and circumvention tools in the region.

“I kicked off my activities with the digital tools localization sprint where I helped with the translation of glossaries, style guides in Yoruba and gained more insights on the importance of the project from Dragana Kaurin of localization lab team. I intend to continue to support the dream of making digital security resources available in my local language.”

Kola Egbeyemi, Center for Internet Access and Affordability (C4IAA) | My #FIFAfrica18 Experience

“Maintaining open channels of communication with developers helps ensure that tools are ready for localization. This preparation is important for all of our work at Localization Lab, but even more so during Localization Sprints.” Erin McConnell,

Before, During & After: Localization Relies on Communication with Developers

FIFAfrica18 also served as an avenue to host the Association of Progressive Communications (APC) annual Africa Regional Meeting, and bi-annual convening of Ford Foundation Africa Grantees’ including partner organisations from Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria.

The outcomes of the Forum are expected to support the development of substantive inputs to inform recommendations and subsequent follow up on human rights online happening at national level, at the African Union and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), and the Human Rights Council. Moreover, it is anticipated that participants will use the skills, knowledge, and networks from FIFAfrica to advance internet freedom research and advocacy in their respective countries and regions.
There is rising awareness among Africa’s growing online community about the use of the internet to defend human rights, complement independent local media, strengthen democratisation, and demand accountable and transparent governance. However, there are limited avenues for Africans to participate in discussions that shape internet governance. While global convenings such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF, the Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) and RightsCon discuss the internet freedom landscape – including in Africa – attendance by African stakeholders is often limited.

Thus, the content of the Forum has evolved over the years to represent the various gaps and opportunities that impact digital rights in Africa.


Topics covered


National and regional legal and regulatory environments for privacy, human rights, media and cybercrime.


Violence against women online, Cybercrime, Net Neutrality, media freedom, access to information, digital safety, freedom of expression online, creative expression, the economics of the internet, etc


Transparency and Accountability of Intermediaries, Internet Shutdowns, Human Rights in Connectivity, Using Tech to Defend the Defenders, Creative Social Tech and Commentary, Clickbait Journalism, African Frameworks on Internet Freedom, Using Data to Track Rights, Online Violence Against Women, Researching Internet Rights, Cost of Shutdowns, Cybersecurity Strategies.


Catalysts for Collaboration in Strategic Digital Rights Litigation; Business of Big Data; Universal Free Access to Information Online; Equality in the Age of Discrimination Online; the Future of Human Rights, the Internet and Civil Society; Keep Up with #KeepItOn; News Content and Responses to Fake News in Africa; Challenges and Opportunities for Media in SGD Advocacy; Elections and Technology; Research Capacity in Internet Measurements, Cyber Policy and Digital Rights; Measuring Internet Universality; Women’s Safety Online; Universal Periodic Review Mechanisms; Innovation and Security in Conflict Territories; the Impact of Internet Shutdowns; Gender Sensitivity in ICT Policy; Risk Assessments for Civil Society Organisations; Privacy and Freedom of Expression Online


Advocating for Internet Freedom with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR); Digital Tools Localisation; Strategic Litigation for Internet Freedom; Advancing Advocacy and Research on Gender-Based Violence Online in Africa; The Zone 9 Bloggers: Experiences of Censorship, Repression and Surveillance; Big Data to Open Data: Key Ingredients for Civic Technology and Social Innovation; The Social and Economic Costs of Social Media Taxes; the Future of The Unconnected in Africa; Trends in Online Regulation in Africa; Securing At-Risk Online Users: Experiences From the Frontline; The Impact of Shrinking Civic Space on ICT-Based Initiatives for Democratisation; (Re)setting Online Narrative on Africa; Cybercrime in Africa: Policies and Legislation; Consumer Rights Protection in the Digital Age; Last With the Story, First With the Truth – Media Navigating Fake Facts and Hidden Truths Online; Case Study: Code for Online PressFreedom; Sexting and Selfies, #RethinkPrivacy; Social Norms on the Internet; Customer Service at What Cost; Litigating Against Social Media Taxation in Uganda; Privacy and Personal Data Protection in Africa: Trends and Challenges,; Advancing Access To Information through the Internet Universality Indicators; Securing Online Rights Through the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms’ Network; Multi stakeholder advocacy for digital rights through the Freedom Online Coalition; Protecting Free Speech and Online Dissent; Data-Driven Advocacy Against Shutdowns in Africa; Wikipedia 101: A Practical Session; and Funding for Digital Rights Work in Africa

State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2018: For the fifth year in a row, the Collaboration on International ICT policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has produced a research report on the State of Internet Freedom in Africa, with the 2018 edition focusing on privacy and data protection on the continent. While the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has grown exponentially, there are several challenges related to privacy and data protection. According to the GSMA, at the end of 2017 Sub-Saharan Africa had over 444 million mobile subscribers representing a 44% penetration rate, while the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) reports that 21.8% of individuals in the continent use the internet. However, as more users come online, many remain unaware of how their privacy rights could be affected by their use of digital technologies. The report tracked key trends and challenges in recent years that have shaped this area of internet governance and use in the continent.

Cost of Shutdown Tool: The advocacy group, Netblocks soft-launched the Cost of Shutdown Tool during a session on data driven advocacy. Economic arguments have proven to be an effective means to bolster the case for human rights online with a view to development and prosperity, a trend which is being recognised and made accessible to internet freedom campaigners by way of the new initiative. The COST tool is built upon established economic models published by the Brookings Institution for global coverage and a specialised model by CIPESA for sub-Saharan Africa, taking into account indirect economic factors and informal economies that play a major role in the region. Economic indicators are integrated from open data sources including the World Bank, ITU and Eurostat.

Alongside the launch, a panel discussed how communities are developing new data tools to advance and support the case for digital rights across the world. A key lesson from the session was the need for more accessible internet measurement tools which are accurate and real-time. Further, the relevance of such data to campaigns such as #KeepItOn was stressed as key to the workflows upon which the pushback against network disruptions is built.

Digital Economy Enabling Environment Guide: The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) previewed a new resource on the digital economy during a session on ‘Consumer Rights Protection in the Digital Age’. The preview came ahead of a formal launch in October at the conference of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), in Tarrytown, New York. The guide was developed in collaboration with the New Markets Lab (NML) and focuses on four priority topics that serve as the building blocks of digital economy: Consumer Protection, Data Protection, Cybersecurity, and Electronic Transactions (e-payments and e-signatures). The guide explains key regulatory considerations and helps policymakers, the private sector, and other stakeholders reach a shared understanding of these often complex topics in order to engage in constructive policy dialogue.
In partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation, the Forum also served as an opportunity to engender unfettered access to information online through a Wikipedia 101 session on how the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, works – the editorial principles (policies and guidelines) that shape the content, its governance system and the communities behind it. The session brought together existing Wikipedia content editors and novice content creators to explore the drivers of the current content gaps as well as how these gaps manifest on the continent.

This conversation extended to a panel discussion on (re)setting the online narrative in Africa which explored efforts underway to address the local content gap online, the extent to which language access is reflected in unmet user needs, as well as the importance of localizing and prioritizing internet education tools and the limitations of localization as a band-aid for the lack of local content support.

A running theme through FIFAfrica is the need to increase avenues for the generation of and access to more relevant online local content. This included through the development of more linguistically diverse digital security tools, the promotion of affordable access to the internet, the creation of safer online spaces for vulnerable online users including women, children and minority communities as well as more responsive policies which can be measured through the use of tools such as the internet universality indicators which were also presented during the FIFAfrica.

During FIFAfrica18, we hosted a Digital Tools Localisation Sprint following a successful initial Sprint hotsed in FIFAfrica17. Where the first sprint focused on the Southern African languages, Shona and Ndebele among other sub-Saharan languages, in 2018, eight languages were focused on including Amharic, Fante, Ga, Igbo, Swahili, Tswana, Twi and Yoruba.

The localization Sprints have been led by the Localisation Lab who specialise work on promoting access and circumvention tools to users in their local languages to support the growth of more local content online, and representation and preservation of language and culture. FIFAfrica provides the unique platform for a diversity of languages to be tackled concurrently in a shared space.

Participants got to contribute to existing glossaries which are open-source, and are downloadable, and freely available online. The session included members from the Zone 9 Bloggers Collective who contributed Amharic translations to the sprint.

Alongside the Media Legal Defense Initiative (MLDI) a workshop on strategic litigation was hotsed with the goal of building the capacity of internet activists to collaborate across disciplinary silos to more effectively push back against regressive legal frameworks that are not conducive to access and use of the internet in Africa. Litigation has been recognised as a potentially effective tool in removing restrictions on the free flow of information online in countries with repressive internet regimes. Increasingly, some initiatives are seeking to encourage collaboration among different actors in strategic litigation for a free and open internet.

Various cases in litigation for the respect and realisation of digital rights have been recorded in Cameroon, Kenya, Burundi and Gambia, among other countries in Africa.

The workshop explored the meaning of strategic litigation and examine relevant comparative and international legal standards drawing on judgments from regional courts, analysis of the legal issues that can arise in the context of digital rights and freedom of expression through three case studies and interactive group sessions, during which participants examined how the comparative and international standards could apply in practical terms.

The Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) which represents 30 governments who have committed to work together to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms online also hosted a meeting during the Forum. Participants got to engage with representatives from the FOC and the multi-stakeholder FOC Advisory Network, as well as and raise internet freedom issues they would like the Coalition to address.
Among the most popular sessions at the Forum was the narration of the experiences that the Ethiopian bloggers endured for their work using social media. In order to contribute to the democratic discourse in Ethiopia, in May 2012, nine individuals formed the Zone 9 blogging collective – a loose network of activists regularly blogging and campaigning on human and democratic rights. However, two weeks after the launch of the initiative, the Ethiopian government blocked access to the collective’s online platform. In April 2014, six members of the collective were jailed on allegations of working with foreign organisations and rights activists by “using social media to destabilise the country.” The other three members fled into exile.

The collective got its name from the eight zones of the notorious Kaliti prison in Addis Ababa where political prisoners are housed. The ninth zone is a metaphorical extension of the zones to apply to the rest of the country due to the harsh controls on freedom of speech and association across Ethiopia at the time

Since then, the Zone 9 hadn’t reconvened till FIFAfrica where members from the collective shared a stage and narrated on their experiences of censorship, repression and surveillance including the tactics employed by the state to surveil and censor them, their trial, imprisonment for 15-18 months, and post-incarceration trauma. Their participation served as a means of raising awareness on the realities of being an activist in Ethiopia during a time when the state was particularly repressive.

In February 2018, after six years of facing charges that included terrorism and inciting violence, prosecutors in Ethiopia dropped all charges against the last members of the collective that still faced prosecution. The announcement came as part of ongoing economic and political reforms in the country since the resignation of former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn in February 2018, and appointment of a new premier, Abiye Ahmed, two months later.

Since mid-2018, Ethiopia has been undergoing political and economic reforms which have included freeing thousands of prisoners; announced measures to liberalise the telecom sector; and dropped charges against many opposition leaders, bloggers, and activists. Further, the new administration has lifted the state of emergency that had been reinstated in February 2018, reconnected mobile and broadband internet services that were cut off since 2016, and unblocked 246 websites, blogs, and news sites that had been inaccessible for over a decade.

See this about who the Zone 9’er are: Zone 9 Bloggers To Speak on Censorship, Repression and Surveillance at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2018 (FIFAfrica18)
The undercurrent of the gender digital divide was present in most sessions due to the prevailing inequalities that are present online as much as they are offline. Deeply rooted social norms, including language, culture, and religion are increasingly normalising gender-based violence and hate speech against women online. Marginalised and vulnerable users including the LGBTIQ community also face various forms of technology aided violence online.

While there are efforts in some countries to address the online violence, gaps in policy and practice persist, calling for the need for practical solutions to deepen understanding of the realities of being a girl or woman online in the face of abuse, harassment and threats.

During a discussion on “Advancing Advocacy and Research on Gender-Based Violence Online in Africa” it was noted that there remains a big research and data gap on the experience of African women online, particularly on the issue of cyber based violence and the sense of entitlement patriarchy has created over women and their bodies. Gender based violence online is real yet remains largely invisible to society.

As such, raising awareness, mobilising stakeholders for more effective advocacy, monitoring and countering, as well as informing research on gender-based violence across different contexts were key components of the discussion. Further, the restrictions to access introduced through online regulation in countries like Tanzania and social media taxes in Uganda presented another layer to the digital divide that often goes unnoticed.

Meanwhile, it was noted that online violence can be both obvious and subtly hidden through the use of language, imagery through to the use of memes which may appear inoffensive but come at the cost of an individual’s online presence and activity. Meanwhile, issues like cases of revenge porn also contribute to the negative perception held by women online. It was noted that in Uganda women can be criminalised if her nudes are shared online without her consent, yet men are revered when their “dick pics” appear online. Women who face attacks online are often met with the trope, “she asked for it”, the perpetrator hardly gets any blame placed upon them. Thus, these factors are among many others that contribute to self-censorship and limited online engagement by women in a bid for “self-preservation.”

Further, it was noted that the anonymity granted online escalated the nature of violence faced online faced by marginalized and vulnerable users. While anonymity has a place and indeed a role to play online, it provides an enabling environment of attackers online.

However, there was a call from Nabillah Naggayi, a Member of Parliament representing the Kampala Women Parliamentary Constituency in Uganda who urged women to remain online and resilient to online attacks.

Meanwhile, during a lighting talk on “Selfies and Texting: #RethinkingPrivacy”, debate included on whether one should be conservative and not take nude selfies at all versus enjoying the personal capacity to take such images and share the with a select individual/s knowingly. An argument on “cultural correctness” was also presented against the capacity for women to independently choose to share nude pictures with her partner. Cultural/social norms are often used against women’s access, use and interaction with technology.

Ultimately it was noted that to enjoy one’s rights online, it shouldn’t come at the cost of someone else’s rights. Meanwhile, there was consensus that there will be limited change without delving deeper and dealing with the root causes of gender violence including those fueled by social norms, outdated traditions and patriarchy if long term results are sought.

The challenges faced by women online were also captured in visuals prepared by Policy. See some the artworks displayed by Policy here.

The experiences of women online are mirrored by vulnerable and marginalized communities who also face various forms of attacks and exclusion from the digital society. Their experiences were shared during a session titled, “Securing At-Risk Online Users: Experiences from the Frontlines” wherein issues such as the need for improved digital security practices and tools, increased digital literacy and the need to build better mechanisms to support at-risk activists and critical users were discussed.

For all groups there is a shared need for legal support, improved digital security practices and awareness raising.
In addition to support from OTF, the 2018 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa was supported by Ford Foundation, UNESCO, Small Media, Internet Society, Association for Progressive Communications (APC), US State Department (DRL), Facebook and the German Development Agency (GIZ).

For session organisation and mobilisation, CIPESA partnered with AccessNow, the Media Legal Defense Initiative (MLDI), Internews, the ICT4Democracy in East Africa Network, Localization Lab, International Media Support (IMS), Netblocks and the Council of Europe.

There are strong indications from supporters and beneficiaries alike that CIPESA’s internet freedom work is well regarded, is pioneering and has created capacity and networks in the region to advance internet freedom. This creates the possibility for continuing to attract funding.