The Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) Awards USD 63,000 in New Advocacy Grants

By Ashnah Kalemera |

Eight current or previous grantees of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) have been awarded grants to scale their digital rights policy advocacy efforts. Across six countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal and Somalia – the thematic focus of the advocacy intervention areas includes women’s rights online, digital accessibility for persons with disabilities, social media regulation, and digital entrepreneurship. One initiative, with a continent-wide focus, will explore digital authoritarianism. 

The grants, totalling USD 63,000 were awarded under the fourth round of the ADRF which sought to deploy six-months policy advocacy campaigns that further the conversation on internet freedom in Africa. 

In Somalia, the Women in Media Initiatives in Somalia (WIMISOM) will conduct three roundtable engagements – in Garowe, Mogadishu and a nationwide one – to further raise awareness about women’s digital rights issues and push for policy and practice reforms that contribute to the development of a safe and empowering online environment for women and girls. Targeted stakeholders will include government institutions mandated to address gender inequality and development of women and girls’ rights, ICT ministries and regulatory bodies, women’s associations and networks, social and human rights activists, technologists and innovation hubs, telecommunications operators and digital financial service providers. These efforts will build on previous ADRF-supported advocacy campaigns as well as skills and knowledge building on women’s safety and security online in Somali territories. 

Similarly in Namibia, the local chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC) will run a nationwide campaign on gender-based violence online with the aim to inform the review of the Data Protection and Cybercrime bills, as well as amendments to the Combating Domestic Violence Act 2003. The campaign will feature surveys alongside analysis of the bills, which will feed into multi-media survivor stories, safety and security tips, and a citizens’ call to action/endorsement on the need for safe spaces online. Under the inaugural round of the ADRF, ISOC Namibia was supported to work with women parliamentarians, political activists and various other actors in a campaign to tackle politically motivated gender-based violence online during the November 2019 elections.

In Mozambique, the continued push for digital inclusion through web accessibility campaigns will see  Forum de Organizacoes de Pessoas com Deficiencia (Mozambique Disabled Persons Orgazations Forum) – FAMOD – engage disability rights organisations (DPOs), web developers and the government to create an open source, open access library of reusable code for accessible web components to support online entrepreneurship, eLearning and access to eServices. 

Still on digital inclusion, in Cote d’Ivoire, Action et Humanisme will build on previous ADRF-supported stakeholder dialogues on internet accessibility for persons with disabilities to further engage with DPOs, entrepreneurs, activists, and telecommunications operators to develop policy recommendations on internet accessibility and affordability for persons with disabilities.  The recommendations will be tabled before policy makers and government entities. 

Building on from the success of the “protect our online space” series of dialogues supported by the ADRF under Round 2, Digital Shelter went on to host monthly coffee meet ups to promote engagement on digital rights in Somalia. In continuation, Digital Shelter will engage key stakeholders including journalists, women’s rights groups, ICT ministry officials and the Office of the Prime Minister on the need for legal and regulatory frameworks that promote safety and security online. Specifically, Digital Shelter will advocate for building mechanisms to combat cybercrime including bullying, trolling and harassment. Furthermore, Digital Shelter will engage the Ministry of Trade, innovation hubs and academia on skills and knowledge building in digital rights and digital entrepreneurship targeting youth. 

Despite having in place a Digital Economy Blueprint whose vision is a “digitally empowered citizenry living in a digitally enabled society”, Kenya introduced an inhibitive digital taxation regime in 2020. In this regard, Mzalendo Trust will convene forums on challenges faced in the country’s digital economy. The first forum will bring together key stakeholders from the ICT sector, including private sector alliances and associations, civil society organisations, economic think tanks, the Kenya Revenue Authority, academia, the Ministry of ICT, the Ministry of Trade, and the business community to deliberate on inclusion in the digital economy. 

The second forum will convene policy makers including Committees of Parliament and the recently established Office of the Data Protection Commissioner on policy frameworks for consumer protection in the digital economy. Wider awareness raising within the project will take the form of social media chats, publication of policy briefs and commentaries. 

Many countries on the continent are moving towards social media regulation. The Senegalese government is among those that have initiated steps to put in place a regulatory framework for social media. Jonction Senegal will analyse the draft bill on social media regulation and engage stakeholders through targeted convenings and online campaigns on the proposed law’s provisions on  free speech and censorship. 

Lastly, leveraging its wide cross-national network of individual contributors and partners in the journalism, not-for-profit, legal, private sector, academia, tech, policy, innovation and activism spaces in Africa, Global Voices – Sub-Saharan AfricaMiddle East and North Africa will convene a design workshop to explore the impact of digital authoritarianism on the African continent and make recommendations that foster an online space that promotes digital rights and an inclusive digital economy. The recommendations will form the basis of a white paper for wider policy advocacy on issues including access, affordability, infrastructure, safety and security online.

The ADRF is an initiative of Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), established in 2019 to offer flexible and rapid response grants to initiatives in Africa to implement activities that advance digital rights, including advocacy, litigation, research, engagement in policy processes, digital literacy and digital security skills building. The ADRF’s supporters have included the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the Ford Foundation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the German Society for International Cooperation Agency (GIZ), and the Omidyar Network.

Investigation Finds More than 700,000 Barriers Limiting Website Accessibility in Mozambique

By Staff Writer |

In a pioneering data-driven investigation, the Mozambican Disabled Person’s Organisation Forum (FAMOD) has teamed up with UK-based non-profit Data4Change to run automated accessibility testing on 90 of the most important and useful websites in Mozambique.

The result is a publicly-available dataset of 722,053 instances of accessibility ‘violations’. Each violation represents a barrier preventing someone with a visual, hearing, physical or cognitive impairment from fully engaging with the web page.

The investigation revealed that just five types of accessibility violations accounted for nearly 90% of all the violations found. These top five violations were low colour contrast (37% of violations found), lack of landmarks to identify regions of a page (33%), links that aren’t made apparent (11%), no descriptive text for interactive elements (3%) and no ‘alt text’ for images (2%). The violations were defined according to international standards for web accessibility as described under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 and 2.1 (WCAG 2.0 and 2.1).

Cantol Alexandre Pondja, President at FAMOD noted that access to ICT is essential for persons with disabilities, adding that, “It is clear from the results of our investigation that the majority of websites, including those providing public and essential services, remain largely inaccessible for persons with disabilities. As a result, FAMOD plans to strengthen the advocacy work in this area and we look forward to working with political authorities, the private sector, and donors as part of this effort.”

Some of the worst-performing websites include a job ads site, a large telecoms provider and a government tax authority. One screen reader user told FAMOD, “In most websites there comes a stage when it is not possible to use. I finished my studies recently and when I went to the job website, I was not able to apply for a job, because when I get to the end of the first page of jobs I can’t move onto the next. I end up giving up.”

The platform provides more information about the investigation and invites Mozambican web content creators, designers, and developers to test their existing knowledge with an accessibility quiz; pledge to uphold accessible and inclusive design principles in their work as well as access a free ‘digital toolkit’ containing resources to help with writing, designing and developing more accessible websites.

Bronwen Roberston, Director of Data4Change which works on data-driven projects aimed at solving issues affecting underrepresented and marginalised groups stated that, “ proves that there’s a long way to go to ensure the internet is accessible for people with disabilities in Mozambique, but that there are some easy and concrete steps that can be taken to improve the current situation.”

The investigation was carried out in the context of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) which is an initiative of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). According to CIPESA’s Programmes Manager, Ashnah Kalemera, Mozambique, like many other African countries, ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which places significant obligations on state parties for equal opportunities and inclusion of persons with disabilities. “a11y indicates that these obligations remain largely unimplemented and, as a result, a large section of persons with disabilities continue to face digital exclusion. CIPESA is really proud to partner with FAMOD in raising awareness of disability rights issues as they intersect with technology and access to information in Mozambique,” said Kalemera.

In November 2020, CIPESA alongside, FAMOD, Small Media, and the Associação de Cegos e Amblíopes de Moçambique made a joint stakeholder submission on digital rights in Mozambique which in April 2021, will be assessed under the Universal Peer Review (UPR) process at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Indeed, among the recommendations made was a call to the government to implement measures that promote inclusive access for marginalised and vulnerable groups including women, rural communities, and persons with disabilities, with funding from the Universal Service Fund.

Promoting Accessible ICT in Uganda

By Ashnah Kalemera |
The challenges faced by persons with disabilities (PWDs) in accessing information online and financial services since Uganda introduced taxes on social media access and mobile money transactions came to light last August. These taxes added to the catalogue of barriers to promoting access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for disabled persons in the country.
Indeed, national statistics for internet and telephone penetration (49% and 69% respectively), are not disaggregated by disability which in itself could be telling of the state of digital accessibility for PWDs in Uganda. General barriers to ICT use in Uganda include high costs of accessing and owning ICT; a shortage of usage skills which is linked to low adult literacy rates; poor electricity and telephone network coverage in rural and underserved areas.
Furthermore, uptake of ICT for PWDs is hampered by the high cost of assistive technology; low levels of ICT and disabilities literacy among policy makers, academia, civil society and other stakeholders; non-implementation of policies related to ICT access for PWDs; and unavailability of relevant software in local languages. See draft ICT for Disability Policy (2017).
As a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the government of Uganda has been working to ensure equal opportunities and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Article 9 of the CRPD calls on state parties to take appropriate measures to ensure accessibility of ICT to persons with disability. The CRPD also calls on member states to ensure that private sector service providers, including through the internet, provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities.

Following the drafting of the ICT Policy for Disability last year, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance has also drafted Accessible Publishing Guidelines and an Accessible ICT Procurement Policy. The publishing guidelines are aimed at ensuring that government communications, documents and publications (print or electronic) are universally accessible at the same time and no extra cost to PWDs. They build on the Guidelines for Development and Management of Government Websites which set out requirements for accessibility for audio, visual and speech impaired users.
For its part, the proposed procurement policy requires all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to ensure that PWDs have access to all government electronic facilities, resources and services by incorporating accessibility requirements in procurement of goods and services.
Speaking at an awareness-raising workshop on the proposed policies on October 11, 2018, Silas Ngabirano, the Assistant Commissioner for Information Management Services at the ICT ministry, stated that the policies had undergone participatory consultations, with input from MDAs, local government authorities, the private sector, civil society organisations, development partners and the media.
The proposed implementation plans for the policies include establishment of a national accessibility centre, set up of ICT and disability focal points at each MDA, monitoring of government ICT services for accessibility, and support to private sector initiatives working on accessible ICT products and services.
It remains unclear when the various policies are expected to be finalised. However, according to ICT Ministry, implementation of certain aspects of the proposed policies was already underway. For instance, all education institutions are currently required to have computer terminals accessible for students with disabilities. However, as highlighted by a lecturer participant from Makerere University, infrastructure at the university and many other institutions remained under-equipped for PWDs while course assessment procedures hardly took into account the needs of students with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the Uganda Communications Commission is working to enforce compliance with ICT licensing requirements and regulations with regards to sign language interpretation and subtitles by television broadcasters. In a notice issued on October 19, 2018, UCC states that effective January 1, 2019, it “shall not renew” licenses of any television operators not compliant with the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2006. Section 21(2)(a) of the Act states that “Any person who owns a television station shall provide sign language inset or subtitles in at least one major news cast program each day and in all special programs of national significance.”
Further, in partnership with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Uganda government is working to develop an information portal, which once finalised, will track implementation of policies on assistive technologies and provide information and experiences of ongoing accessibility initiatives in the country. Previously, UNESCO has helped to conduct a training for Uganda government officials on web accessibility for PWDs.
At the sensitisation workshop, stakeholders acknowledged that implementation of the proposed policies and existing legal and regulatory frameworks is hindered by inadequate data on PWDs for effective planning. Resource requirements for provision of assistive devices, large print or magnifiers, materials in braille and video captioning, were also cited as a challenge.