Skilling Justice Actors in Digital Rights Advocacy in Africa

CIPESA Staff |

In June, 2022, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) conducted a regional capacity building workshop aimed at equipping participants with thematic understanding of key digital rights trends in the region, including disinformation, alongside practical skills development in impactful digital rights advocacy and communication.

Hosted in Lusaka, Zambia, the two-days workshop (June 28 and 29), attracted 20 participants from 10 African countries – Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

According to Ashnah Kalemera, CIPESA’s Programme Manager, the training was part of various interventions through which, CIPESA is developing the capacity of different social justice organisations with the requisite skills to effectively engage in digital rights advocacy  including research methodology and communications, designing evidence-based advocacy strategies, as well as digital resilience.

“There is limited understanding of digital rights among traditional human rights defenders,  with many yet to make the direct link between technology, social justice and human rights as part of their advocacy efforts. Meanwhile, many are working in hostile environments, with shrinking civic space both online and offline,” said Kalemera. 

Although there has been a growing number of civil society and justice actors responding to and challenging government excesses over the years, there are still knowledge and skills gaps among actors that hinder their  engagement in meaningful policy advocacy. Findings from a 2017 joint research study conducted by CIPESA, Small Media, DefendDefenders, and the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) showed that in all of the countries surveyed (Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda), civil society organisations (CSOs) failed to demonstrate a baseline of digital security knowledge, and/or failed to implement practices effectively.

The report notes that although the internet and related technologies have empowered CSOs to engage with the public, share information, and advocate for citizens’ rights in sometimes challenging and closed political environments, it has also offered means and tools that are used by state and non-state actors to interfere with their work, surveil them, and censor their voices.

In addition, digital security and safety skills are lacking among some of the most at-risk groups, yet trainers and support networks are in short supply. Without adequate digital security capacity, activists and human rights defenders are not able to meaningfully undertake advocacy and engagements around human rights, transparent and accountable governance.

CIPESA’s capacity building interventions are therefore designed and structured to provide both skills and knowledge modules and serve as a platform for developing collaborative advocacy strategies for advancing digital rights in the region. The training in Lusaka covered topics such as the interplay between technology, democracy and human rights; trends in digital rights violations such as arrests and intimidation of online users, internet blockages, surveillance and interception of communications. 

Other topics covered during the workshop were disinformation and human rights, which explored the implications of false and misleading information on online mobilisation and participation. Elsewhere, the workshop explored digital inclusion, with Zambia-based activist, Matha Chilongoshi of Revolt Media emphasising the need for increased engagement on the digital divide, online violence against women and girls and digital accessibility for persons with disabilities. In this regard, Kamufisa Manchishi, a Lecturer at the Mulungushi University – Zambia noted that the existing  digital disparities are a result of access and affordability barriers including failure by governments to design and implement universal service fund policies that prioritise equity. This calls for proactive efforts in policy influence for an inclusive digital society.

Indeed, as highlighted by Apolo Kakaire, the Advocacy and Communication Manager at the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), “in order for civil society’s work in Africa to impact government policy, help change attitudes and behaviour in society, and ultimately result in greater protections for internet freedom, there is a need to develop and implement robust advocacy and impactful communication strategies.

Post-evaluation of the training workshop indicated increased understanding of the key terms and concepts covered including the link between disinformation and freedom of expression, disinformation and internet shutdowns, and commitment by participants to apply the acquired knowledge and skills, including acting as infomediaries within their communities and organisations through awareness raising among colleagues, and conducting information verification prior to sharing.

“As a communication officer, I will cross-check and make sure that all the information I am sharing is not deceitful while encouraging others to do the same,” noted one participant. Another participant indicated that they would work to get more involved in advocacy regarding disinformation laws that are detrimental to human rights. “We are planning to have a workshop with the grassroots women human rights defenders on disinformation and human rights and develop a digital rights advocacy and communication strategy.” The planned workshop will take place in Kenya’s largest urban informal settlement, Kibera, led by Tunapanda.

Research Methods Workshop for Internet Policy And Advocacy in Africa

Call for Applications  |
The Annenberg School for Communication’s Internet Policy Observatory, the Collaboration on
International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), Research ICT Africa, Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), Unwanted Witness, Paradigm Initiative, and
Young ICT Advocates seek applications from young scholars, activists, lawyers, and technologists working across Africa for an intensive practicum on using research for digital rights advocacy.
The workshop seeks to provide a venue for stakeholders in the region to build collaborative possibilities across sectors, expand research capacity within practitioner and digital rights advocacy communities, and to provide the skills and know-how to more strategically use research and data to advance advocacy efforts. Sessions will cover both qualitative and quantitative methods and will provide the space for hands-on activities and the development of individual and group research interests. In this way, the workshop seeks to provide opportunities to connect scholarly expertise with policymakers and advocates and improve working synergies between emerging African networks of civil society organizations, academic centers and think-tanks.
Sessions will include workshops on stakeholder analysis, conducting interviews, researching laws and regulations, social network analysis, network measurement, survey methods, data visualization, and strategic communication for policy impact.
We encourage individuals from Africa in the academic (early career), NGO, technology, and public policy sectors to apply. Prospective applicants should have a particular area of interest related to internet governance and policymaking, censorship, surveillance, internet access, political engagement online, protection of human rights online, and/or corporate governance in the ICT sector. Applicants will be asked to bring a specific research question to the program to be developed and operationalized through trainings, group projects, and one-on-one mentorship with top researchers and experts from around the world. Several partial and full scholarships will be made for the most competitive applicants to participate.
The course will be conducted in English and applicants should have high proficiency in English in order to interact with experts, lecturers and other participants who will come from diverse backgrounds. Please also note that we require all participants to have a laptop to use for the duration of the program.
Application Deadline: November 10, 2017
Workshop Dates: Feb 26 – Mar 3, 2018 | Location: Kampala, Uganda
To apply for the program, please fill this form.
For questions, please email Laura at [email protected].

Building Local Online Content Through The Creative Industries in Africa

By Juliet Nanfuka |
The creative industry provides a blend of literature, visual, audio, physical and verbal means through which to communicate complex social issues – increasingly complemented by online tools. In particular, the music industry in Africa is driving the digitalisation of content as it aligns itself with global trends.
There are locally developed apps to cater specifically to African content producers and consumers. Websites such as Fezah (Uganda),Mvelani (Malawi), Mkito (Tanzania) – which also offers a short message service option to source music through feature phones – and Spinlet (Finland, Nigeria, South Africa) are providing unique African music platforms through which content can be easily disseminated. These platforms are creating avenues through which African artists can promote, distribute and monetise their content while also reaching a global audience.
However, the economic potential that the music industry has – and by extension, other creative industries – is often overlooked. According to PriceWaterHouse Coopers, Kenya’s music market generated revenues of US$19.8 million in 2012, up from US$16.5 million in 2008, a figure projected to reach US$20.7 million in 2015. The report also indicated that spending on digital music will overtake physical spending in 2015.
In Nigeria, the music market generated revenues of US$51.3 million in 2012 with forecasts indicating further growth to reach US$53.8 million in 2017. The report further estimates spend on digital music content in Nigeria will rise to an estimated 66.6% of digital’s share of total spending on recorded music by 2017, up from 49.0% in 2012.
But a 2015 British Council report on the music sector in East Africa found that “the impact of digitisation on both music-making and distribution is not fully understood nor is it encompassed by statutory law, with most regulations having been passed before the digital revolution.” This impact purportedly spans beyond music, influencing other areas of the creative industry such as photography, visual arts including painting, graphic and digital design, sculpturepaint, dance and even literature.
Accordingly, last May, East African artists and performers convened in Jinja, Uganda for Doadoa, dubbed an “East African Performing Arts Market”, for a three-day event aimed at providing a platform for East African artists to engage with each other as well as to define the path that the creative industry takes in making itself more financially sustainable. Doadoa echoes the  Festival au Désert in Mali and South Africa’s Moshito festivals which also connect artists from across the continent.
Discussions at DoaDoa explored issues of content creation, music production and commercialisation in a sector that is challenged by limited infrastructure, skills, geographic divides, piracy, and fractured protection of intellectual property. As more East Africans have gone online, so has the amount of content generated for both general and commercial consumption yet it accounts for just a small fraction of the global content available online.
Despite the increased amount of online content produced, there remain few laws applicable to the creative industry and for those in existence, there is limited enforcement. An ArtWatch Africa 2013 report on Monitoring Freedom of Creative Expression noted the limited priority and commitment that African national constitutions have for guaranteeing  freedom of creative expression or cultural rights. As such, there have been reports of abuse and infringements on artists’ rights when their work challenged political, religious and social norms.
For instance, in September 2014, South African artist Brett Baily struck a nerve when his piece, Exhibit B, on exhibition in London challenged racism. Fellow South African activist and photographer Zanele Muholi has also received criticism for her work depicting the brutality that black lesbians face in the hands of their communities. In 2012, a Ugandan play titled “State of the Nation” was cancelled by the Media Council because of its subject matter of corruption and poor governance, while in 2013, Daniel Cecil, a British theatre producer, was deported from Uganda following work on a play that had a gay character.
However, despite the emergence of bills applicable to the creative industry such as Kenya’s National Design Bill 2015 or the East African Community Creative and Cultural Industries Bill, 2014, there remains little explicit mention in the bill of online media as a tool increasingly used in the creation and dissemination of artistic and cultural content. Similarly, there are no legal mechanisms to protect and promote a regional online creative economy.  Kenya however has released their National Design Bill which established the Institute of Designers Kenya. It however limits creative expression to members of the (IDK) thus posing a challenge to creatives without the means to pay the registration fees for membership with the institute. It also makes limited mention of online design content.
As creative content has become pivotal in the digital economy, the need to protect it as a form of expression  is key to its sustainability both online and offline. Creating symbiotic relationships between the artistic community across the continent, online advocacy groups and human rights defenders in pursuit of more locally driven and cohesive advocacy on social issues such as freedom of expression, privacy, data protection and surveillance is key.
Image: Bwette Photography

ToroDev trains rural youth and women in online advocacy for improved service delivery

ToroDev has started training rural women and youth leaders in the seven districts of the Rwenzori Region in using online tools to monitor service delivery. The maiden residential 2 days training involving ten participants was held on 16th – 17th of August, 2012 at ToroDev resource center in Fort Portal, Uganda. The training which is supported by ToroDev in partnership with SPIDER/Stockholm University was facilitated by Milton Aineruhanga from WOUGNET.

ToroDev will train 210 rural monitors and advocates in online/ Web 2.0 tools to collect, document and disseminate online public accountability for improved serviced delivery issues. They will particularly oriented on how to interact with the “Ushahidi” online platform and other relevant open-source software. The monitors were also trained in online social media tools, human rights, governance and democratic engagement.
The monitors were highly trained to be independent local citizens that will keep updating the community and project team at ToroDev about the status of service delivery and identifying communities own service delivery needs.
They will further go ahead to mobilize and encourage regular meetings and focus group discussions (FGDs) among the 14 Advocacy Forums in the region on issues of service delivery monitoring.
Rural Monitors will also advocate for quality and timely public accountability from local leaders.  They will use 11 radio stations in the Rwenzori region as a major tool for distributing/disseminating all the information accessed through online/internet and mobile phones.
This information will be converged on the FM radio stations as a way of sharing information with the rest of grass root citizens in the region, who may not necessarily have the skills and afford town or access internet based knowledge tools. The rural FM radio will be used a hub for the convergence of all ICT tools for effective service delivery monitoring in the Rwenzori Region.
Some of the sample articles posted by the rural monitors on the Ushahidi platform.
Documented by Solomon Akugizibwe
This article was published on August 28, 2012, about the ICT4Democracy in East Africa project, which brings together various partners in the region – among them CIPESA.
For more information, visit

Digitalizing Democracy: Initiatives in East Africa

By: Caroline Wamala
A number of organizations in east Africa are using ICT to hold leaders accountable, fight corruption, monitor service delivery, and contribute to building a democratic culture. The East Africa ICT4Democracy Network, supported by Spider, was launched in June 2011 to enable the participating organisations to have stronger impact, build a more sustainable initiative, and further enhance people’s capacity to act and participate in democratic processes.
Participating organisations are:

  • iHub, Kenya
  • Women of Uganda Network,
  • Kenya Human Rights Commission,
  • Transparency International, Uganda
  • Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance
  • Collaboration on International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa, Uganda

For further information about the projects, visit
The core problem is that despite the concerted efforts by international agencies, governments and local donors, ignorance prevails about human and citizen rights among the majority of communities. This perpetuates a culture of poor or bad service delivery across all sectors.
In the developed world generally everyone is aware that water is a human right, health is a human right, in sub-Saharan Africa, or east Africa, people are unaware of these rights, clean water, or access to health is seen as a favour.”

Ashnah – CIPESA at M4D2012 New Delhi

Informing people about their rights to government services is the first step to engaging communities in holding their government accountable to better service delivery.
“So we are not just demanding accountability, we are making communities aware that you are entitled to freedom of expression, entitled to clean water, health etc. so we are engaging them, and they are participating, they are knowledgeable…we are going beyond survellieng and hold someone accountable.

Ashnah – CIPESA  at M4D2012 New Delhi

 Are ICTs the road to democracy?
 While ICT can raise awareness on good governance, spread information on human and citizen rights and help monitor service delivery, it is “merely an amplifier, that acts within the environment it is embedded in. ICT is not the panacea none of our projects think or say that technology is the answer, technology is probably solving 5% of the problem, the other 95% requires us as a people to come together. As long as the cohesion and symbiotic relationships in this network continue these projects will explode into some serious change and become sustainable, we are working together and mobile technology is creating effective change and the same model can be applied in other places, we are building something by learning from each other.

Angela and Hilda – iHub at the M4D2012 Conference in Delhi

 Caroline Wamala is Project officer at Spider and post-doc researcher at Karlstad University.
This article was published by the Swedish Programme on ICTs for Developing regions (SPIDER) on April 18, 2012, about the ICT4Democracy in East Africa project, which brings together various partners in the region – among them CIPESA – Editor