Towards an Accessible and Affordable Internet in Africa: Key Challenges Ahead

By Paul Kimumwe |

Over the last few years, Africa has experienced exponential growth in internet access spurred by mobile internet, which stood at 28% penetration  in 2020. However, internet access and affordability are still a major challenge for the majority of Africans, especially the rural poor, women, and persons with disabilities.

According to the State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2021, Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest coverage gap (those living in areas without mobile broadband coverage) at 19%, which is more than three times the global average. While internet access has become more affordable, particularly through mobile phones, costs are still high and unaffordable to many in the region, who remain offline.

A new brief by CIPESA explores some of the retrogressive measures that undermine citizens’ rights to access a reliable and affordable internet in Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Some of these measures include digital taxation that has led to increases in internet costs, registration and licensing of online users that imposes high licensing fees and tough penalties, network disruptions including internet shutdowns that lead to inaccessibility of the internet, and the failure to provide enabling infrastructure that exacerbates the digital divide.

Many governments have been eager to increase their tax base, particularly from the telecommunications sector and over-the-top (OTT) services, which they claim are eating into the revenues of licensed operators. Several other governments have slapped taxes on mobile phone handsets and other devices. These costs are passed on to consumers, thereby raising the cost of owning and using a mobile phone and accessing the internet.

In addition, the lack of an enabling infrastructure, including lack of access to reliable electricity, has been a major hurdle to broadband adoption in many African countries. It is  estimated that 45% of Africans live farther than 10 kilometres from the network infrastructure essential for online education, finance and healthcare services.

Network disruptions including internet shutdowns, internet throttling and social media blockages have recently become endemic in several African countries, and present yet another hurdle. Governments have sometimes shut down or restricted access to the internet or to social media platforms in an attempt to limit or control conversations online and prevent mobilisation for potential pro-democracy protests. The disruptions have mostly been initiated around election times, public protests, and during national exams.

Various countries have also adopted the registration and licensing of online users on whom they impose high licensing fees and tough penalties. This has forced many online users to abandon their platforms due to the high costs and threats of prosecution. Many of those who are online routinely practice self-censorship for fear of attracting reprisals.

The lack of internet access requires immediate counter action by several countries especially given the overbearing effects of digital exclusion caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Countries with better access to online platforms for business and education are reaping faster economic rebounds compared to unconnected economies. The internet plays a vital role in the realisation of human development and facilitates the enjoyment of several human rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression and information, the right to education, the right to assembly and association.

According to the brief, African governments need to recognise and nurture the true potential of the internet in driving inclusive economic growth and development, as well as digital transformation, especially in the post-Covid pandemic era. This calls for robust investments in internet infrastructure, digital literacy and refraining from taking actions that undermine the transformative potential of digital technologies.

See the full brief here.

Date Extended: Applications Now Open for Round Five of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF)

Call for Proposals |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is accepting proposals for the fifth round of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF).

In this round, ADRF seeks to support initiatives in various thematic areas including but not limited to:

  • Access and affordability
  • Access to Information
  • Cybercrime
  • Data protection and privacy
  • Digital economy
  • Digital Identity (ID)
  • Digital security
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • eGovernance
  • Freedom of expression
  • Hate speech
  • Innovation for democratic participation, transparency and accountability (civic and social tech)
  • Misinformation/Disinformation
  • Network disruptions
  • Strategic litigation
  • Surveillance
  • Technology and Covid-19

Grant amounts range between USD 1,000 and USD 20,000, depending on the need and scope of the proposed intervention. The ADRF strongly encourages cost-sharing. The grant period will not exceed 10 months. It is anticipated that around 15 grants will be awarded in this round.

Launched in April 2019, the ADRF supports organisations and networks to implement activities that advance digital rights in Africa, including advocacy, litigation, research, engagement in policy processes, movement building, digital literacy and digital security skills building. 

To-date, the Fund has awarded USD 418,000 to 33 initiatives across the continent. In the inaugural round of ADRF, initiatives with activities spanning 16 African countries received a total of USD 65,000. The second call for applications saw a total of USD 152,000 awarded to 14 initiatives that are advancing digital rights through various projects in 18 African countries. In its third round, the ADRF awarded USD 138,000 to 11 initiatives responding to the digital rights fallout from the fight against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). The most recent and fourth round awarded USD 63,000 to eight current or previous grantees to deploy six-months policy advocacy campaigns that further the conversation on internet freedom in Africa. 

Grantees have also received technical and institutional capacity building support to further enhance their digital rights efforts and ensure sustainability. In this regard, CIPESA partnered with the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) for capacity building support in impact communications. CIPESA also partnered with Data4Change on data literacy and advocacy support.

Application Guidelines

Geographical Coverage

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$20,000. 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 grant funding shall be for a period not exceeding 10 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 youths, 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.
  • Reimbursements for costs that have already been incurred.
  • The Fund shall not provide scholarships.


The Fund is administered by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (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 now Friday June 25, 2021.  The application form can be accessed here.

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.

Malawi Telcos Further Reduce Data Prices But Affordability Concerns Remain

By Jimmy Kainja |

Data prices in Malawi have been reduced following recent engagements between the Malawi Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) and telecommunications operators. Under the new rates, the cost of 1GB to 4GB bundles are down by between 10% and 31% across the country’s two leading internet service providers – Airtel and TNM.

Announcing the reductions, MACRA stated that it was cognisant of affordability concerns raised by citizens and thus worked with telecommunications operators to “review and revise the current data prices more especially the lower volume bundles which are commonly used by the majority of internet users in the country.”

The new rates, which came into effect in April this year, cut across different validity periods – daily, weekly and monthly. In addition, Airtel Malawi has also removed the validity period for its 1GB PaNet NoVa, which is priced at MK3,500 (USD 4.40). Further, the reductions include packages for social media access and weekend access.

Validity Bundle Operator
Airtel TNM
Old rate New rate Old rate New rate
Daily 1GB MK 1.800 (USD 2.30) MK 1.500 (USD 1.90)
Weekly 1GB MK 2.500 (USD 3.14) MK 2.000 (USD 2.55)
Monthly 1.2GB MK3.500 (USD 4.40) MK2.500 (USD 3.14)
1GB MK3.500 (USD 4.40) MK2.450 (USD 3.10)
2GB MK5,000 (USD 6.30) MK4,000 (USD 5.05) MK5,000 (USD 6.30) MK4,200 (USD 5.30)
4GB MK8,000 (USD 10.05) MK7,000 (USD 8.80)
Unlimited 1GB MK3,500 (USD 4.40)

This is the second time in less than a year that data prices have  been reduced in Malawi. Last August, telcos reduced data prices in response to a joint statement by the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), and other organisations urging the Malawi government to review the cost of telecommunications services, especially in view of Covid-19 restrictions some of which have led to increased reliance on digital technologies in Malawi and across the world.

At the time, MACRA agreed with CHRR, CIPESA and others that the cost of the internet in Malawi was too high. The regulator committed to engaging with telcos to explore further possibilities for data cost reduction. Since then, the regulator reports having been engaging telcos “to further review the standard volume bundles offered to consumers to align to the cost of providing the services in the country.”

Malawi is currently ranked 174 out of 189 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s  Human Development Index, which measures a country’s average achievement in key dimensions of human development. An estimated 71% of Malawians live in extreme poverty. Malawi has one of the lowest mobile and internet connectivity rates in the world, owing to socioeconomic factors but also due to policy gaps that have contributed to the high cost of the internet and limited investment in critical infrastructure that could spur connectivity, especially in rural areas where the majority of Malawians live.

According to the 2019 National Household Survey on Access and Usage of ICT Services in Malawi, mobile phone ownership at household and individual level was at 36.5% and 43.2% respectively. During the same period, internet penetration stood at 14.6%, of which 40.7% of users were in urban areas while 9.3% were in rural areas. The majority of internet users (96.8%) accessed the internet via mobile phones compared to 11.8% who connected via a laptop or a desktop computer. The survey revealed that poor quality of service, affordability, and literacy were among the factors inhibiting greater access to and use of the internet. Indeed, compared to its regional counterparts, Malawi scores lowly on the 2020 GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index, which measures the key enablers of mobile internet adoption in various countries.

The recent reductions are commendable efforts towards improving access to the internet for all citizens including disadvantaged and marginalized groups of the population, by improving affordability. They reinforce the interventions of the Universal Service Fund (USF), whose aims include providing universal access “in areas that are not economically viable or that are marginally viable without subsidies.”

However, other barriers to access such as the prevailing taxation regime need to be addressed in order to more meaningfully enable affordability for the majority of Malawians. Furthermore, it is essential to ensure a competitive environment through quality of service and compliance monitoring of dominant operators and removing barriers for licensing new market entrants. As stated by the GSMA in the Inclusive Internet Index 2020 report, “the country’s efforts to extend internet access are stymied by weak communications market competition [and] high prices for data.”

Overview of Cameroon’s Digital Landscape

By Simone Toussi |

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector in Cameroon has evolved considerably since 2010, despite the persistence of the digital divide and affronts to freedom of expression online. The country’s digital landscape was  boosted by the launch in May 2016 of the National ICT Strategic Plan 2020, which recognised the digital economy as a driver for development. The country has registered increased investments in  telecommunication and ICT infrastructure, including extension of the national optical fibre backbone to about 12,000 km, connecting 209 of the country’s 360 sub-divisions, and neighbouring countries such as Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic and Nigeria. 

By 2018, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications reported that mobile phone  subscribers stood at 18.8 million representing a penetration rate of 83%, while internet penetration was 35%. There are four big telecommunications service providers in Cameroon – MTN, Orange, Viettel and the state-owned CAMTEL. With 48% of the mobile market share or 8.7 million subscribers, MTN is the leading service provider, according to its report for the first quarter of 2019. 

Over the years, Cameroon has scored some improvements in ICT development and affordability. For instance, on the ICT Development Index (IDI) of  the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), its value improved from 1.54 in 2010 to 2.38 in 2017 – against the highest global value of 8.98 for Iceland, and between the highest African value of 5.88 for Mauritius and the lowest 0.96 for Eritrea. Cameroon thus ranked at 149  out of the 176 countries assessed, with more than twenty African countries ranked above it. On affordability of the internet, Cameroon’s ranking has also slightly improved – currently ranked 50, up from 53 in 2015, out of 60 countries. This still makes internet access in Cameroon among the most expensive of the countries surveyed.

Meanwhile, internet shutdowns, arrests and intimidation of online critics, and censorship of online content  raise concerns about the government’s commitment to nurturing a sustainable and inclusive digital society.

ICT Legal and Regulatory Frameworks

The Cameroonian Constitution provides for freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of communication. It states: “the freedom of communication, of expression, of the press, of assembly, of association, and of trade unionism, as well as the right to strike shall be guaranteed under the conditions fixed by law”. 

Relevant agencies governing the sector include the Telecommunication Regulatory Agency (ART), and the National Telecommunications Agency (ANTIC) – both under the mandate of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MINPOSTEL). Other entities such as the Ministry of Communication and the National Council of Communication also has regulatory and advisory roles with regards to media. 

These agencies are guided by key laws that govern ICT including  Law n° 98/014 of July 14, 1998 governing telecommunications and its amendment of December 29, 2005;  Law n° 2010/013 of  December 21, 2010 on e-Communications, and its amendment of April 2015;  Law n° 2010/012 of  December 21, 2010 on Cyber Security and Cybercrime; and Law n° 2010/021 of December 21 2010 governing e-Commerce. Other legalisation related to ICT are the Framework Law n° 2011/012 of May 6, 2011 on Consumer Protection,  Law n° 2001 / 0130 of July 23, 2001 establishing the minimum service in telecommunications, and Law n° 98/013 of July 14, 1998 on competition which governs all sectors of the national economy.

The 2014 Law on the Suppression of Terrorist Acts, which was enacted to support the fight against terrorism and growing threats from the jihadist group Boko Haram, has been used as a tool to suppress journalism and opinion critical of the government under the guise of preventing the spread of fake news and threatening national security. In January 2018, the Minister of Justice issued a directive to magistrates to “commit, after clear identification by the security services, to legally prosecute any person residing in Cameroon who uses social media to spread fake news”. 

A new law is the  2019 Finance Act, which under Section 8, introduces taxation on software and application downloads produced outside of Cameroon, at a flat rate of 200 Central African Francs (CFA), equivalent to USD 0.34, per download. Whereas the government is yet to issue implementation guidelines for the taxes, once in effect, they  will result in additional costs for digital platform users.

Access and Affordability 

Article 4 of the 2010 eCommunications law states that every citizen “has the right to benefit from electronic communications services”. The same law establishes a Universal Service Access Fund, aimed at ensuring equal, quality and affordable access to services (Articles 27-29). Whereas internet and mobile telephony have registered growth, access and affordability remain a challenge, especially among rural and poor communities. Currently, the average cost of 1GB of data is 2,000 CFA (USD 3.4) per month, and with the proposed levy of 200 CFAs (USD 0.34) on software and application downloads, costs are expected to further increase. With an estimated per capita income of USD 1,500 in 2018, the prevailing rates are over and above the Alliance for Affordable Internet’s recommendation of 1GB of data costing 2% or less of average monthly income.  

Gender Digital Divide

A 2015 report by the Web Foundation found that in Cameroon only 36% of women compared to 45% of men were internet users. The key factors inhibiting women’s access to the internet and digital devices in Cameroon included literacy levels, cost relative to income, access to devices, perceived relevance and usefulness, lack of time and poor infrastructure. Towards addressing the digital gender divide, the National ICT Strategic Plan 2020 states among its objectives the need to “support the development of female skills in the field of digital engineering“, and to “support technological and scientific vocations for women“. However, these objectives are not linked to any specific projects within the plan’s priority action areas. 

Meanwhile, without much in the way of provisions for gender, cultural and linguistic diversity, the country’s ICT laws remain largely silent on diversity and inclusion within the ICT sector. Further, seven years since its passing, the Framework Law on Consumer Protection, which includes provisions on consumer rights and quality of services within the technology sector, remains largely unenforced due to the absence of  implementation guidelines.

Privacy and Data Protection

Cameroon has no data protection or privacy law. However, the national Constitution amended by the Law N°. 96-06 of 18 January 1996, guarantees privacy of communications in its preamble, stating that “the privacy of all correspondence is inviolate. No interference may be allowed except by virtue of decisions emanating from the Judicial Power”. The 2010 Cybersecurity and Cybercrime law also provides for the privacy of communications under Article 41 and outlaws the interception of communications under Article 44. The obligation for service providers to guarantee users’ privacy and the confidentiality of information is covered under Articles 42 and 26.  

According to Article 26(1); “Information system operators shall take all technical and administrative measures to ensure the security of the services offered. To this end, they should be equipped with standardised systems that enable them to identify, evaluate, process and continuously manage the risks related to the security of information systems in the context of services offered directly or indirectly”. However, the law does not specify the guiding principles for the collection and processing of personal data, nor users’ right to access and update such data. 

Network Disruptions

The government of Cameroon has in the past initiated two internet shutdowns in the Anglophone region of the country, which together lasted 240 days and drew international condemnation. The shutdowns were imposed in the wake of ongoing strikes, fatal violence and protest action against the alleged “francophonisation” and marginalisation of English speakers who claim that “the central government privileges the majority French-speaking population and eight other regions.” It is estimated that the regional internet shutdown cost USD 38.8 million in addition to affecting access to public services, education, and daily livelihoods. 

Guaranteeing an Inclusive Digital Space in Cameroon

Cameroon’s government has professed its intention to leverage the digital economy for sustainable development and to establish  an enabling legal and regulatory framework. However, developments such as taxation of application downloads, internet disruptions, and limited efforts to bridge the digital gender divide, indicate a shrinking digital space and are likely obstacles to the uptake of ICT. Efforts are thus necessary to ensure a digital environment that is both open and accessible to all, upholds users’ safety and security, and guarantees constitutional rights. These efforts should include a strengthened legal framework with implementation guidelines to ensure enforcement, compliance monitoring, and accountability. 

Moreover, the adoption of a specific law on privacy and data protection is recommended, so as to guarantee the principles of anonymity and consent, and in line with international best practice. For civil society organisations, it is recommended to intensify advocacy against regressive policy and practice including internet disruptions,  and the enforcement of consumer protection and universal services. Crucially, civil society should play an active role in policy consultative processes and citizen sensitisation on digital rights and literacy.