CIPESA is at the forefront of illuminating and popularising issues that affect technology’s potential to advance inclusive development and improved governance; elevating those issues onto the agendas of advocates, journalists and policymakers; and creating platforms where public officials, civil society and private sector actors meet to discuss best ways to harness the potential of technology to serve digital rights and the digital economy.
CIPESA works to defend and expand the digital civic space to enable the protection and promotion of human rights and to enhance innovation and sustainable development. With a focus on disparate actors including government, the private sector, civil society, media, policy makers and multinational institutions, our work is accomplished through:
Millions of Africans are enjoying access to pluralistic information and exercising their right to freedom of expression as a result of CIPESA’s work. We have made the internet safer for thousands of critical democracy actors and contributed to building vibrant digital economies.
The Problem We are Trying to Solve
CIPESA’s work aims to engender a free, open and secure internet that advances rights, livelihoods, and democratic governance. Our work responds to shortage of information, research, resources and actors consistently working at the nexus of technology, human rights and society. Indeed, CIPESA’s establishment in 2004 was in response to the findings of the Louder Voices Report for DFiD, which cited the lack of easy, affordable and timely access to information about ICT-related issues and processes as key barriers to effective and inclusive ICT policy making in Africa.
CIPESA continues to address the rising threats and challenges to Africa’s digital landscape and the enjoyment of digital rights on the continent. Some of these include the arbitrary arrest, detention and prosecution and intimidation of users of digital technologies, digital taxation, internet disruptions, disinformation, digital exclusion, surveillance, cyber attacks, poorly regulated digital identity programmes, digital authoritarianism, and the proliferation of regressive legislation that undermines the digital economy.
Besides informing national policymakers, particularly parliaments and regulators, CIPESA’s work feeds into regional and global digital rights and democracy conversations, norm-setting and human rights compliance initiatives. We also engage with human rights monitoring, compliance and reporting mechanisms at the United Nations and at the African Union level such as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, human rights treaty bodies, Special Procedures, regional courts and Regional Economic Communities (RECs).
Digital rights are markedly under threat in Africa, with few organisations working to defend and promote them. Many organisations active in this area face limitations of geographic reach, skills, resources, and consistency in engagement in digital rights work. Indeed, a Global Partners Digital study found that whereas digital rights advocacy in the region had a large pool of interest, it was very shallow, spread very thinly and was difficult to sustain. CIPESA works to bridge these gaps by complementing other organisations’ work and by being a knowledge and information broker that conducts research to inform and drive advocacy, building a digital rights community of practice, and by actively participating in joint advocacy campaigns, strategic litigation, capacity building with partners in the region.
Information Availability and Evidence-Driven Advocacy
CIPESA has consistently produced thought-evoking research on various facets of technology for public good, which inform policy and practice around internet/ ICT regulation and use. Our extensive research library, built consistently since 2004, includes documentation on digital rights violations, analysis of laws and policies, and exploration of thematic issues affecting technology and society. Our research is widely cited by researchers and journalists, informs advocacy and shapes policy conversations and processes by disparate actors across the continent. CIPESA has been invited to share learning and experience by institutions such as national parliaments, Chatham House, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), African Union, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
In 2018, CIPESA developed the Framework for Calculating the Economic Impact of Internet Disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa. The framework informed the Cost of Internet Shutdowns Tool (COST), which is to-date the primary, if not sole, tool for calculating the economic cost of network disruptions in real-time. The tool has been used globally by diverse researchers, academics, civil society groups, multilateral agencies and the media.
More recently in 2022, CIPESA spearheaded the development of the Africa Media Freedom and Journalists’ Safety Indicators. These indicators provide a framework for the annual assessment and measurement of the state of African journalists’ safety and media freedom on the continent both online and offline. These indicators, developed in partnership with UNESCO, informed the first State of Media Freedom and Safety of Journalists in Africa report.
Similarly, CIPESA developed a framework for assessing the compliance of governments and private sector with the ICT and disability rights obligations as enshrined in international human rights instruments and national legal and policy frameworks. The Digital Accessibility Indicators were used to assess the performance of 10 telecom companies in five countries and have also been used by disability rights campaigners in other parts of the continent. Further, the findings informed CIPESA’s submissions to the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), and the East African Communications Organisation (EACO) highlighting their obligations to protect and advance the rights of persons with disabilities. CIPESA also collaborated with the GSMA and endorsed the GSMA principles to drive digital inclusion for persons with disabilities.
Meanwhile, our cornerstone State of Internet Freedom in Africa report, produced annually since 2014, remains a key reference point on key issues on digital rights and those affecting the digital society and digital economy.