Safeguarding Digital Rights in Africa’s Growing Digital Economy

By Loyce Kyogabirwe |

Increased digitalisation and adoption of technology in Africa has fuelled the continent’s economy, with commerce and transactions increasingly being conducted online. Innovation and use of web and mobile applications have also encouraged the growth of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, which has advanced financial inclusion and employment, and made the technology sector a key contributor to African countries’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP). For instance, platforms such as Jumia which is operational in 11 African countries have transformed the retail, travel and food markets. Other notable online platforms include Appruve and Esoko (Ghana), mFarm (Kenya) and Novus Agro (Nigeria).

African governments have prioritised the integration of technology into more sectors to drive social and economic transformation. However, the rapid adoption of technology tools and platforms has also been met with growing concerns about the impact on digital rights, including data protection and privacy, the digital divide, freedom of expression and surveillance. Other worrying trends include network disruptions, digital taxation, data localisation requirements, and encryption regulations. There is a growing consensus among digital rights advocates that the adoption of technology tools and policies impacting the digital space should not only advance economic inclusion, but also be carefully assessed and implemented in a way that respects human rights in the digital age. 

According to a GSMA report, in 2020, “mobile technologies and services generated more than USD 130 billion of economic value” while USD 155 billion is projected to be generated by 2025. The report further says that “495 million people subscribed to mobile services in Sub-Saharan Africa” by the end of 2020, representing 46% of the region’s population, and this is expected to increase to around 615 million subscribers by 2025, reaching the mark of 50% of Africa’s population.

In an effort to advance digital rights across Africa’s growing digital economy, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) through the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) has worked to support advocacy initiatives, skills development, and movement building to effectively influence policy and practice on digital rights and the digital economy. Efforts by the ADRF grantees have engaged with state and non-state actors, providing replicable insights into how governments and the private sector in the region can safeguard digital rights while advancing the digital economy. 

In Ghana, the Financial Inclusion Forum Africa developed a Data Protection and Privacy Policy to serve as an internal guide on how digital financial service providers in the country should collect, store, and process individuals’ data. The policy outlines principles on the management of personal data in compliance with Ghana’s Data Protection Act 2012 and the International Organization for Standardization and International Electrotechnical Commission Standards for Information Security Management – ISO 27001:2013. The policy benefited from reviews and input from leading digital financial service providers such as Appruve, Jumo, Vodaphone Cash, and G Money, alongside industry experts and regulators such as the eCrime Bureau, RegTheory, and CUTS (Consumer Unit and Trust Society) Ghana. This provided insights into the policy’s viability and applicability by tapping on real-life experiences of these service providers. 

Similarly, the Centre for International Trade, Economics and Environment (CUTS) and Mzalendo Trust have worked to advance consumer protection, security and inclusion, and public awareness within the digital economy in Kenya. The two Kenya-based grantees engaged with stakeholders such as the Capital Markets Authority, Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), Association of Freelance Journalists, Open Institute, The Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) at Strathmore University, Article 19, County Assemblies Forum, Internews, and the Election Observation Group (ELOG).

In Mozambique, efforts by the Mozambican Disabled Persons’ Organisation Forum (FAMOD) under ADRF focused on accessibility and compliance assessments of online services, including for employment, telecommunications, and revenue collection. These assessments helped identify key areas where advocacy campaigns for digital inclusion of persons with disabilities would be most impactful. Meanwhile, in an effort to promote women’s safety and participation online in Namibia, the local chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC) conducted policy engagements on the protection of women and girls as part of the Data Protection Bill. 

In Somalia, the work of Digital Shelter made significant breakthroughs in stakeholder dialogue and engagement on aspects of digitalisation that previously have not been prioritised or discussed regularly. Engagements, including in partnership with the Institute of Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneurship (IITE), the ICT and e-Governance Department in Ministry Communications and Technology, the private sector and activists, have focused on youth skilling, digital empowerment, data protection and privacy, and an open and inclusive internet. 

Finally, ADRF grantee, Alt Advisory, recently published research on a rights-based assessment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications in South Africa. The research involved inputs from 14 leading companies in the country’s financial services, retail and e-commerce sectors and two government bodies – the Home Affairs Department and the Department of Health. The findings of the study indicated human rights gaps in AI profiling and the need to bolster compliance with rights guarantees under relevant laws and policies and enforcement by the country’s data protection watchdog, the Information Regulator, and other regulatory bodies.

The ADRF grantees’ interventions in Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Somalia, and South Africa highlight the value of evidence-based advocacy that informs multi-stakeholder deliberations on the digital economy and digital rights. Together with the work of the broader ADRF cohort, it presents key lessons on digitalisation in Africa and the need for operationalisation of supporting frameworks such as for cyber security, data protection and privacy; increased participation of minority and marginalised groups in the design of initiatives; multi-stakeholder collaboration; harmonisation of national and local government plans; and digital literacy skills building. To learn more about the ADRF programme, please visit

How the ADRF is Building Capacity and Traction for Digital Rights Advocacy in Africa

By Apolo Kakaire |

Three years since it was launched and with USD 649,000 disbursed to 52 beneficiaries across 39 African countries, the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) is powering digital rights policy advocacy and engagement across the continent. According to several beneficiaries, the ADRF is a unique funding initiative that has broken ranks with traditional funders’ structures, and to considerable effect.

The Fund is lauded for adopting a simple application process, allowing for flexibility in implementation, breaking barriers for little-known actors, enabling grantees to build on previous initiatives to ensure greater reach and impact, and supporting local context-specific and responsive projects. This, according to grantees and collaborators who were part of a June 2022 virtual convening on ADRF advocacy experiences which was aimed at promoting learning and best practice.

The ADRF was launched in April 2019 in recognition of the growing role of technology in fostering democracy and promoting equity on the African continent amidst rising arrests of activists, network disruptions in several countries, and restrictive legislation that stifled innovation and human rights online. Moreover, assessments at the time had found that many digital rights interventions were limited in scope, thinly spread across the continent, faced resource limitations, and were often inconsistent in their engagement with digital rights work. 

“The situation called for partnerships to bring together different competences to advance digital rights on the continent through seed funding,” said Ashnah Kalemera, the Programme Manager at the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the administrators of the ADRF.  Those partnerships required provision of flexible and rapid response funding to a range of entities that did not have the ability to attract funding from traditional funders, who have stringent application requirements and lengthy grant application processing times. 

With grants ranging between USD 1,000 and USD 20,000,  ADRF beneficiaries have undertaken various initiatives focused on technology in society, the public and private sectors. Besides the funding, grantees have also received capacity building in data-driven advocacy and impact communication and media relations. Across the continent, the Fund has helped to strengthen capacity in evidence-based research, collaborative advocacy and impactful policy engagements responsive to regulatory and practice developments that affect the internet freedom landscape.

At the June convening, select initiatives in Kenya, Namibia and Somalia supported by the Fund shared their advocacy experiences. In Somalia, the ADRF-supported work of Digital Shelter has seen a major breakthrough in stakeholder dialogue and engagement on hitherto undiscussed digital rights subjects such as digital inclusion, online civic space, gender-based violence online, digital entrepreneurship, civic participation and data protection and privacy

“Prior to ADRF’s support, people in the country had no appreciation for digital rights and the consequences of internet shutdowns. The Fund helped us to engage the government to talk about policies and legislation and when the conversation started, the Minister [of Communications and Technology] was very open and he was surprised that there was a local group addressing these issues,” said Ayaan Khalif, Co-founder of Digital Shelter. “The ADRF was an eye opener and helped us partner and link with other organisations and to understand what works in other countries.” 

Aayan added that applying for the ADRF funding was an easy process. She said: “We were almost giving up on donor funding after so many rejections. The ADRF process was simple. Some donors complicate things. The [application templates] are in English but sometimes it is as if it is in another language.”

The inroads made by Digital Shelter underscore the importance of collaboration and partnership in advancing digital rights in the region. Zakarie Ismael, the eGovernment Implementation Advisor in Somali’s Ministry of Communications and Technology, stated that the government of Somalia, through the ministry has responded to the appeals of Digital Shelter and other actors by prioritising the technology sector, including through the ICT Policy and Strategy 2019-2024. That government responsiveness has been crucial to the work of digital rights activists. As Ayaan noted, “It makes it easy to make inroads when you have people backing you up in policy advocacy. Our partnership with the government has been very practical in this regard.”.

As legislative and oversight bodies, national parliaments have a key role in advancing  digital inclusion and rights-respecting digital policies and practices. Indeed, some grantees, including Mzalendo Trust in Kenya, have dedicated efforts to promoting citizen-parliamentary engagement on digital rights. With the suspension of parliamentary proceedings in Kenya at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ADRF supported functionality upgrades to the Dokeza and Bonga Na Mzalendo platforms. The upgrades enabled citizen participation through remote annotation and submission of memoranda on bills including on the controversial Huduma Initiative

Mzalendo Trust has also worked to promote an inclusive digital economy in Kenya. Like Ayaan, Slyvia Katua, a Programme Officer at Mzalendo Trust, lauded the ADRF for using a simple and straightforward application process. “The application requires you to outline what issues you are targeting, what solutions you offer and what impact you foresee,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Josephat Vijanda Tjiho, from the Internet Society (ISOC) Namibia Chapter, appreciated the ADRF grant process for allowing them to build from one project to another. “We organised forums on digital media and elections, then stepped up to privacy and data protection especially around the Covid-19 pandemic and thereafter a campaign against online violence against women and children. Our ideas [which the ADRF supported] were building from one to the other and this made our application process quite smooth,” Tjiho said. 

ISOC Namibia conducted research and convened engagements with different stakeholders on data protection, gender-based violence online and access to information. “Based on our engagements, the Namibia Access to Information (ATI) Act was passed in June 2022 and this was partly made possible through support from the ADRF,” stated Tijho. For its campaign against gender-based violence, ISOC Namibia successfully collaborated with prominent personalities including a technologist, musician and pageant as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The campaign fed directly into work on research and workshops on gender-based violence in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region for which ISOC Namibia partnered with CIPESA, Meta, Pollicy, Genderlinks and University of Pretoria Centre for Human Rights.

According to Neema Lugangira, a Member of Parliament (MP) in Tanzania, undertaking digital rights advocacy without involving parliament has created huge gaps in ensuring that policy and legislation around digital rights are rights-respecting and are effectively implemented. She faulted civil society organisations seeking policy reforms for concentrating on other arms of the government and ignoring parliaments yet they play a key role in policy formulation and oversight. She urged ADRF grantees and other digital rights actors to actively engage MPs as part of their programming. “We should prioritise capacity building for MPs because they are ignorant about digital rights,” said Lugangira.

The experiences of ADRF grantees indicate the potential of rapid response and flexible funding in positively shaping the digital rights landscape in Africa through targeted research, advocacy and movement building.

DataBytes: Strengthening the Data Confidence of Africa Digital Rights Fund Grantees

By Data4Change |

“Numbers? Yes, but I was never very good at maths.”
“Data? Sure, but I don’t know how to use spreadsheets.”

Mathematical anxiety is real. These expressions are often heard from people who think data isn’t for them. For advocates, data-driven storytelling and investigations can support powerful campaigns to raise awareness and engage relevant stakeholders. Data4Change has designed an immersive and practical introduction to using data for advocacy. Dubbed DataBytes, the four-week remote programme shows data advocacy is for everyone, and that sometimes all you need is a pen and paper.

Image: Visual prototypes designed by participants in the Sketch a Data Story workshop

DataBytes itself uses a unique data-led approach. In the preparatory stage, participants take a Data Personality Quiz and chat with “Dot the Bot.” The data generated through these two activities helps the Data4Change facilitators understand the key strengths and potential areas of work for each specific participant.

Image: Data4Change’s quiz calculates a data personality type for respondents

DataBytes was piloted by Data4Change and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) as part of institutional capacity building efforts under the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF). The ADRF provides rapid response and flexible grants to initiatives advancing digital rights in Africa.

Targeting grantees of the fifth round of ADRF, the programme combined interactive questionnaires, games, offline self-study courses and live sessions (with simultaneous translation to French) to boost data confidence among participants.

“Numbers help understand the urgency and magnitude of the problem. It helps to legitimise our advocacy and creates more impact in our reporting” – DataBytes participant

The 16 participants, representing nine countries – the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda – gained hands-on experience in getting, cleaning, understanding and communicating with data.

Participants also learned to read datasets and develop data communication techniques as they produced their own bar and line charts, range plots, choropleth maps and scatter plots to uncover trends and patterns.

Image: A selection of charts created in Datawrapper by DataBytes participants

The programme closed with a much-needed conversation around Data Values and Data Ethics which explored the issues of data extractivism, real consent, and the ethics around data collection and processing. These complex topics were interrogated through a game of “Fortunately, Unfortunately” where participants collaboratively analysed possible scenarios where data collection ethics could be at stake.

Image: One of the “Fortunately, Unfortunately” scenarios created by DataBytes participants

The DataBytes programme builds on earlier joint efforts by CIPESA and Data4Change in strengthening data advocacy among digital rights actors in Africa. Previous efforts, targeted at the first and second round of ADRF grantees, featured capacity assessments followed by data workflow and visualisation workshops – foundational and advanced levels. Two ADRF grantees – the Mozambique Disabled Person’s Organisation (FAMOD) and Digital Shelter – went on to be supported to develop data-driven campaigns. FAMOD’s campaign promotes web accessibility for persons with disability in Mozambique, while that of Digital Shelter is on women’s inclusion and safety online in Somalia.

Images: A selection of screenshots from campaigns co-created with FAMOD and Digital Shelter

Furthermore, CIPESA and Data4Change conducted a data-driven Sketchathon for digital rights at the 2021 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) targeting actors in Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Image: The cover of the Sketching Shutdowns workbook

Image: Sketches created during the Sketching Shutdowns Workshop

Call for Proposals: Round Six of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF)

Call for Proposals |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is pleased to issue the sixth call for proposals to the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF), which supports digital rights work across the continent through flexible and rapid response grants.

Grant amounts for this round will range between USD 1,000 and USD 10,000, depending on the need and scope of the proposed intervention. The ADRF strongly encourages cost-sharing. The grant period will not exceed six months.

Launched in April 2019, the ADRF supports organisations and networks to implement activities that promote digital rights, including advocacy, litigation, research, policy analysis, skills development and movement building. As at August 2021, the ADRF had supported 45 initiatives with a total sum of USD 564,000. 

Grantees have advanced learning on the intersection of technology, society and the economy across the continent. Notable efforts include studying the role of technology in human trafficking, promoting data protection in digital financial services, digital rights coalition building, confronting online abuse against women, capacity development in digital literacy and security for refugees and pushing back against barriers to digital accessibility for persons with disabilities

Furthermore, the Fund has provided technical and institutional support in impact communications and data-driven advocacy to further enhance grantees’ capacity and ensure sustainability of their work.

Application Guidelines

Geographical Coverage

The ADRF is open to organisations/networks based and/or operational in Africa and with interventions covering any country on the continent.

Size of Grants

Grant size shall range from US$1,000 to US$10,000. Cost sharing is strongly encouraged.

Eligible Activities

The activities that are eligible for funding are those that protect and advance digital rights. These may include but are not limited to research, advocacy, engagement in policy processes, litigation, digital literacy and digital security skills building. The current call is particularly interested in proposals for work related to:

  • Data governance including aspects of data localisation, biometric databases and digital ID
  • Digital resilience
  • Digital economy
  • Digital inclusion
  • Misinformation/disinformation


The grant funding shall be for a period not exceeding six months.

Eligibility Requirements

  • The Fund is open to organisations and coalitions working to advance digital rights in Africa. This includes but is not limited to human rights defenders, media, activists, think tanks, legal aid groups, and tech hubs. Entities working on women’s rights, or with youth, sexual minorities, refugees, and persons with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply.
  • The initiatives to be funded will preferably have formal registration in an African country, but in some circumstances organisations and coalitions that do not have formal registration may be considered. Such organisations need to show evidence that they are operational in a particular African country or countries.
  • The activities to be funded must be in/on an African country or countries.

Ineligible Activities

  • The Fund shall not fund any activity that does not directly advance digital rights.
  • The Fund will not support travel to attend conferences or workshops, except in exceptional circumstances where such travel is directly linked to an activity that is eligible.
  • Costs that have already been incurred are ineligible.
  • The Fund shall not provide scholarships.


The Fund is administered by CIPESA. An internal and external panel of experts will make decisions on beneficiaries based on the following criteria:

  • If the proposed intervention fits within the Fund’s digital rights priorities.
  • The relevance to the given context/country.
  • Commitment and experience of the applicant in advancing digital rights.
  • Potential impact of the intervention on digital rights policies or practices.

The deadline for submissions is Friday April 15, 2022. The application form can be accessed here.

Technology, Society and the Economy: Lessons from the Africa Digital Rights Fund

By Ashnah Kalemera |

The role of technology in driving social, economic and political transformation in Africa is widely recognised. Continent-wide efforts including the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030) and the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) present opportunities to re-shape countries’ interventions in harnessing technology for transparency and accountability, citizens’ participation, service delivery, innovation and respect for human rights. 

However, there remain various challenges to digitalisation in the social, public and private sectors across the continent. According to stakeholder engagements and documentation on digital transformation which were conducted by grantees of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) during 2021 and 2022, key challenges include conflict and instability, illiteracy, poor infrastructure, and inadequate policy and legislative frameworks.  

Using its second grant from the ADRF, Digitally Yours analysed government and civil society technology initiatives in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Sudan to establish the reality beyond the hype. The findings are captured in Arabic, English and French language podcasts that feature speakers from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA), the Open Government Unit at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Arab Centre for Cyberspace Research, among others.

The podcasts indicate that in Libya, political instability coupled with limited infrastructure roll-out and a weak legal and regulatory environment have limited public and private sector adoption of technology. Despite the prevailing challenges, notable initiatives include Hexa Connection which is at the forefront of promoting technology for entrepreneurship, governance, civic engagement and innovation; and Lawyers for Justice Libya, whose Adala Academy serves as an online education platform for human rights. Technology is also playing a crucial role in pushing back against racial discrimination in Libya

The podcast series also documents technology-enabled citizen journalism and cultural and creative expression in Tunisia, online citizen-parliamentary engagement in Morocco, and how internet shutdowns have undermined media and researchers’ roles in the context of Sudan’s political contestations. The podcasts underscore the importance of open government, data protection and privacy for refugees, national cyber security strategies that are protective rather than oppressive, and fact-checking in pursuit of effective digitalisation in the region. 

Listen to season one and two of the Digitally Yours Podcast

Away from North Africa, Somalia boasts a fast-evolving technology sector, with affordable internet and active efforts to mainstream digital rights. The 2020 eGovernment Survey, which measures eGovernment developments and performance, ranked Somalia 191st globally out of 193 countries. In line with the objectives of Somalia’s ICT Policy and Strategy 2019-2024, ADRF grantee  Bareedo Platform engaged the public, local government authorities, the media, academia and civil society organisations on digital transformation.

Bareedo initiated awareness campaigns on eGovernment and how its adoption at local government levels can transform and facilitate more accessible public services, allow greater public access to information, and promote duty bearer-citizen interactions. The campaigns were coupled with roundtables in Garowe and Mogadishu on digitalisation for service delivery. In Garowe, the capital of semi-autonomous Puntland, it emerged that local authorities had spearheaded digitalisation programmes in taxation, land and property registration, as well as public consultations and public expenditure

In Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, the move to online services was seen as an opportunity to overcome some of the challenges linked to terrorism in the city. For instance, a 2019 terrorist attack at the Mogadishu local government building disrupted service delivery to residents. The two local government authorities committed to advancing digitalisation and enabling ICT policies, and identified registration of births, applications for business permits and revenue collection as the priority services for digitalisation. Digital illiteracy and the lack of harmonisation in platform roll-out were highlighted as the key barriers to increased adoption of the various online service offerings.  

In neighbouring Kenya, despite the existence of a Digital Economy Blueprint whose vision is a “digitally empowered citizenry living in a digitally enabled society”, the country introduced an inhibitive digital taxation regime in 2020. With support from the ADRF, Mzalendo Trust worked to highlight the opportunities and challenges faced in Kenya’s digital economy. In a policy brief on the Digital and Data Policies for Promoting a Secure and Inclusive Digital Economy in Kenya, Mzalendo Trust documented the exclusion of women and youth from Kenya’s digital economy due to cultural biases, mobility restrictions, security risks and time limitations, among other factors. On the other hand, the digital economy was found to present new opportunities for women and youth, opening up external and internal digital markets to serve small and medium enterprises.

Based on the findings of the policy brief, Mzalendo Trust convened two stakeholder forums bringing together innovators, private sector associations, civil society organisations, economic think-tanks, state agencies and policy makers to deliberate on inclusion in the digital economy and the need for  supportive policy frameworks

Mzalendo Trust’s digital economy work echoes that of CUTs International Kenya, which, with support from ADRF worked to  raise the visibility of consumer protection in the digital financial sector through op-eds and a policy brief, alongside stakeholder engagements with digital financial services stakeholders including the Capital Markets Authority (CMA), Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA), Financial Sector Deepening (FSD), Kenya Bankers Association (KBA), FinTech Association of Kenya (FAK) and Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK).

Meanwhile, building on the foundations of its civic engagement and data journalism efforts, ADISI-Camero promoted data journalism, social accountability and citizen-duty bearer engagement beyond Cameroon’s economic capital Douala. The initiative built the capacity of youth leaders in digital advocacy, public policy participation, and  access to information. A Memorandum of Understanding signed with Deseka Municipality supported the evaluation and redesign of  to promote transparency and accountability. 

The success of the ADISI-Cameroon-Deseka Municipality model saw other municipalitiesDschang, d’Edéa 1er and Loum – express interest in forging partnerships to promote citizen-duty bearer engagement. According to ADISI-Cameroon’s Executive Secretary Paul-Joel Kamtchang, “the extension of this [Eseka] model to other municipalities in the country would allow us to constitute a “Hub of Open Councils”.

Recommendations emerging from the various ADRF grantee interventions include operationalisation of supporting frameworks such as for cyber security, data protection and privacy; increased participation of minority and marginalised groups in the design of initiatives; multi-stakeholder collaboration; harmonisation of national and local government plans; and digital literacy skills building. 

Launched in April 2019, the ADRF supports advocacy, skills development, and movement building to effectively influence policy and practice for digital rights protection in Africa by offering flexible and rapid response grants. As at August 2021, ADRF had supported 45 initiatives with a total sum of USD 564,000. 

Past grantee efforts have included studying the role of technology in human trafficking, promoting data protection in digital financial services, digital rights coalition building, confronting online abuse against women, capacity development in digital literacy and security for refugees and pushing back agaisnt barriers to digital accessibility for persons with disabilities.