Submit Your Session Proposal or Travel Support Application to the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2023 (FIFAfrica23)

Announcement |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) invites interested parties to submit session proposals to the 2023 edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica23). Successful submissions will help to shape the agenda of the event, which will gather hundreds of policymakers, regulators, human rights defenders, journalists, academics, private sector players, global information intermediaries, bloggers, and developers.

FIFAfrica23, which is set to take place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on September 27-29, 2023, offers a platform for deliberation on gaps and opportunities for advancing privacy, free expression, inclusion, free flow of information, civic participation, and innovation online. This year will mark a decade of hosting the landmark event in various African countries, including Ethiopia, Ghana, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia.

As part of the registration, we invite session proposals including panel discussions, lightning talks, exhibitions, and skills workshops to shape the FIFAfrica23 agenda. 

CIPESA is committed to ensuring diversity of voices, backgrounds and viewpoints in attendance and as organisers and speakers at panels at FIFAfrica. In line with this, there is limited funding to support travel for participation at FIFAfrica23. Preference will be given to applicants who can partially support their attendance and those who organise sessions.

Submissions close at 18.00 (East Africa Time) on July 14, 2023. Successful session proposals and travel support applicants will be directly notified by August 14, 2023.

The session proposal and travel support form can be accessed here.

NOTE: All data collected as part of the registration and session proposal exercise will only be used for purposes of the FIFAfrica event management.   

Follow @cipesaug on Twitter and on the dedicated FIFAfrica website for regular updates on the Forum.

State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2022: The Rise of Biometric Surveillance

FIFAfrica22 |

Digital biometric data collection programmes are becoming increasingly popular across the African continent. Governments are investing in diverse digital programmes to enable the capture of biometric information of their citizens for various purposes.

A new report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) documents the emerging and current trends in biometric data collection and processing in Africa. It focuses on the deployment of national biometric technology-based programmes in 16 African countries, namely Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia.

The report published today is the ninth consecutive one issued by CIPESA since 2014 under the State of Internet Freedom in Africa series. It was released at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), which is taking place in Lusaka, Zambia.

The biometric data collection programmes reviewed by the report include those related to civil registrations, such as the issuance of National Identity cards, biometric voter registration and identification programmes, government-led CCTV programmes with facial recognition capabilities, national ePassport initiatives, refugees’ registration, and mandatory biometric SIM card registration.

The report highlights the key trends, potential risks, challenges and gaps relating to biometric data collection projects in the continent. These include limited public engagement and awareness campaigns; inadequate legal frameworks that heighten risks to privacy; exclusion from accessing essential services; enhanced surveillance, profiling and targeting; conflicting interests and the wide powers of third parties; and limited capacity and training. 

Consequently, the study notes that these biometric programmes are being implemented in countries with poor digital rights records, declining democracy and rising digital authoritarianism, which casts doubt on the integrity of biometric data collection programmes and the resultant databases. Thus, viewed collectively, the developments, trends and risks outlined in the report heighten concern over the growing threats to the right to privacy of personal data and potential violations of digital rights on the continent. 

Finally, the report presents recommendations to various stakeholders including the government, civil society, the media, the private sector and academia, which, if implemented, will go a long way in addressing data protection and privacy gaps, risks and challenges in the study countries. 

The key recommendations include a call to:

  • Governments to implement the laws and policy frameworks on identity systems and data protection and privacy while paying keen attention to compliance with regionally and internationally recognised principles and minimum standards on data protection and privacy for biometric data collection and require the adoption of human rights-based approaches. 
  • Countries without data protection and privacy laws such as Liberia, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Tanzania should expedite the process of enacting appropriate data protection laws so as to guarantee the data protection and privacy rights of their citizens. 
  • Governments to ratify the AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (Malabo Convention) to ensure government commitment to regional data protection and privacy as a means to hold them accountable.
  • Governments to establish independent and robust oversight data protection bodies to regulate data and privacy protection including biometric data.
  • Civil society to engage in advocacy and lobby governments to develop, implement and enforce privacy and data protection policies, laws and institutional frameworks that are in compliance with regional and international minimum human rights standards.
  • Civil society to monitor, document and report on the risks, threats, abuses and violations of privacy and human rights associated with biometric data collection programmes, and propose effective solutions to safeguard rights in line with international human rights standards.
  • The media to progressively document and report on initiatives such as advocacy by civil society and other stakeholders to keep track of developments. 
  • The media to conduct investigative journalism to identify and expose privacy violations arising from the implementation of biometric data collection programmes.
  • The private sector to take deliberate efforts to ensure that all their respective biometric data collection programmes and systems are developed implemented and managed in compliance with best practices prescribed by the national, regional and international human rights standards and practices on privacy and data protection, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
  • The private sector to ensure that they progressively adopt and develop comprehensive internal privacy policies to guide the collection, storing and processing of personal data. 
  • The private sector to take deliberate efforts aimed at involving data subjects in the control and management of their personal data by providing timely information on external requests for information. 
  • Academia to conduct evidence-based research on data protection and privacy including biometrics, highlighting the challenges, risks, benefits and trends in biometric data collection programmes. 

The full State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2022 Report can be accessed here.

Kenya’s 2022 Political Sphere Overwhelmed by Disinformation

Ahead of the August 9, 2022, general elections, Kenya has been hit by a deluge of disinformation, which is fanning hate speech, threatening electoral integrity, and is expected to persist well beyond the polls. Last month, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) and CIPESA convened stakeholders in Nairobi to disseminate the findings of research on the nature, pathways, and effects of disinformation in the lead-up to the election, and the actions required to combat disinformation. Below is a summary of the report findings and takeaways from the dissemination event, as captured by KICTANet:

There is a lot of strange information going on around the country, and this has been happening for a while. During the Kenya Internet Governance Forum (IGF) week, the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) in partnership with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) held a workshop to disseminate a report on  Disinformation in Kenya’s Political Sphere: Actors, Pathways and Effects. The research is part of a regional study conducted by CIPESA, that explores the nature, perpetrators, and effects of misinformation in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, and Kenya.

As Kenya nears the 2022 general elections, disinformation remains at its peak levels, both at grassroots and national levels. The availability of sophisticated technology and its ease of use has enabled a wide range of political actors to act as originators and spreaders of disinformation.

Currently, there is no law that clearly defines or distinguishes between misinformation and disinformation. However, it is an offense to deliberately create and spread false or misleading information in the country. False publications and the publication of false information are punishable under the Computer Misuse and Cyber Crimes Act under Sections 22 and 23. It is a crime to relay false information with the intent that such information is viewed as true, with or without monetary gain. However, these same laws can also be used to silence dissent, making it a double-edged sword.

The study identifies different forms of disinformation that take place both physically and online. They include deep fakes, text messages, WhatsApp messages, and physical copies such as pamphlets and fliers. These are spread through the use of keyboard armies on social media, where politicians up to the grassroots levels hire influencers, and content creators who spread messages around them or against their opponents. This is done through mass brigading and document and content manipulation. The rationale is driven by the desire to get ahead politically or economically and is fuelled by an ecosystem that is fertile for the spread of this vice.

According to Safaricom, in the year 2017, 50% of its communications department time was spent monitoring fraud and fake information at different times. The instigators of this disinformation are influencers, politicians themselves, people they work with, and their parties.

There is a flow to how the fake news gets to the audience, and disinformation does not start with the pictures but with a plan that is part of a bigger political strategy. It starts with identifying the target audience, choosing the personnel and people to push the message, and then narrative development is done. This is followed by content development, which includes videos, pictures or memes, and audio files. Once this is done, the content is then strategically released to the unknowing public, who, without critically analyzing the information, spread it far and wide to a wider audience. This results in diminished trust in democratic and political institutions and restricted access to reliable and diverse information.

This can be addressed by having increased government engagement on social media as opposed to it being reactive only. For example, the government needs to be an active contributor to accurate information. Considering there is a space in which disinformation thrives, in particular where there is a lack of response, rumors spread. Civil society should also engage with policymakers and media representatives on enhancing digital literacy and fact-checking skills. The intermediaries should increase transparency and accountability in content moderation measures and conduct cross-sectoral periodic policy reviews.

Key Takeaways

  1. The weakest link in disinformation is the citizen, and therefore, one of the most effective ways to tackle the issue is to empower the citizenry to be able to detect and respond wisely to misinformation. If the general public is not informed, it is a lost battle.
  2. There is a thin line between misinformation and mal-information and it can easily be blurred.
  3. The Computer Misuse and Cyber Crimes Act 2018 is a double-edged sword that censors yet tries to get some accountability from the general public in regard to spreading misinformation.
  4. Safaricom reported that during the 2017 election, 50% of its time was spent monitoring fraudulent interactions.

Bridging the Gender Digital Divide is Critical for Achieving Digital Rights in Africa

By Victor Kapiyo |

Digital technologies have created new spaces for interaction and enabled new ways to connect, share experiences, work and build communities. These technologies continue to be influential and have the potential of enhancing growth and expanding opportunities for the realisation of women’s rights in Africa. Indeed, access to the internet and digital devices has become central to the empowerment of women and girls, and in enabling them to realise and enjoy their digital rights. 

Women and girls in Africa form a key constituency and a distinct category in their experiences in using the internet compared to men and boys. Plan International points out that while technology and the internet can be a great enabler for women and girls, lack of opportunities and skills, and fear of discrimination, could prevent many from using and creating digital tools and online content. 

Indeed, the growing digital gender divide in access to the internet in Africa limits the potential of the internet and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to contribute to achieving gender equality, women’s rights and digital rights for women and girls. Notably, there is a substantial divide between men and women in internet access and use globally, as a majority of the 2.9 billion people who remain unconnected are women and girls. 

According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in 2013, only 37% of all women were online, compared to 41% of all men. In 2017, the global internet penetration rate for men stood at 50.9% compared to 44.9% for women. This increased in 2019, with ​the proportion of women using the internet globally standing at 48%, compared to 58% of men. In 2022, 62% of men were using the internet compared to 57% of women, meaning that the global internet use gender gap stands at 8%. However, this divide is more glaring in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), many of which are in Africa, where only 19% of women used the internet in 2020, compared to 86% in the developed world. 

Furthermore, the digital gender divide in Africa has continued to widen as most of the new internet users since 2013 were men. According to the GSMA, women in developing countries are 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men and are less likely than men to utilise mobile data, social media applications or SMS services. Sub-Saharan Africa still has the most expensive data prices in the world, according to the 2021 Worldwide Mobile Data Pricing Report, with the average price for 1GB of mobile data coming in at USD 6.44. An analysis by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) shows that 1GB of mobile broadband data became less affordable in 2021 than in 2020, following the impact of Covid-19, with the cost increasing by 12% in the LDCs.

Access remains critical to achieving digital inclusion. In countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe evidence of the digital divide exists as shown in the table below. The high cost of access is driven by taxes such as those introduced in Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia which are paid prior to accessing the internet and social media platforms. In some countries like Uganda, in addition to the high taxes, some social media platforms like Facebook are still blocked and are only accessible through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Further, save for Zimbabwe and Lesotho, the remaining countries fall below the average internet penetration rates in Africa and globally. With respect to mobile penetration, with the exception of Mozambique and Uganda, the other four countries reviewed in this blog – Lesotho, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are ranked above the African and global average, according to the Datareportal

Notably, all six countries fall below African and global social media use rates.  Despite being ranked highest among these countries, Lesotho still stood at 18.7% below the African average. However, it is important to note that there is limited availability of reliable gender-disaggregated data in Sub-Saharan Africa, where inequality is at its greatest.

The 2018 After Access study on “Understanding the Gender Gap in the Global South” revealed that poorer countries from Africa such as Rwanda, Tanzania and Mozambique, showed high gender disparity in ICT access and use, with women being on the lower end. Further, sex, income, education and location were significant determinants of whether people used the internet, with women having a lesser chance and lagging behind men. The study also found that women who were more educated, with higher incomes, and living in urban areas were likely to have greater access to the internet than those in rural areas generally. 

The cost of devices was the primary barrier for the unconnected, while the price of data services was the main barrier for those who were connected. In rural areas, access to electricity was a greater challenge than mobile coverage. The study also revealed that the knowledge of the internet was lower among women in rural areas, with only 35% indicating knowledge of the internet. Indeed, sex remains a key determinant of the probability of an individual owning a mobile phone. These findings are not unique and could mirror the situation in other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Currently, several instruments such as the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), African Platform for Action, the Dakar Declaration of 1994, the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995, the Sustainable Development Goals call for the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of women’s rights and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights call for the promotion and protection of women’s digital rights. These instruments, which enjoy wide acceptance in the continent, highlight the need for stronger protection of women’s rights and could present an opportunity for the use of ICT to empower women, including through the promotion of universal internet access. 

Additionally, governments according to an A4AI report are missing out on USD 1 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP) as a result of women’s exclusion. The report notes that governments are not adopting the policies needed to bridge the digital gender gap, with 40% of 29 countries studied in 2020 lacking meaningful policies or programmes to expand women’s access to the internet. 

Empowering women and girls through the provision of meaningful access to the internet and digital technologies could undoubtedly provide them with opportunities to start businesses, and to access education, health, social and financial services. It could also be a powerful tool to enable women and girls to participate in governance, to associate, assemble and express themselves on digital rights issues that are dear to them and to develop relevant content for their empowerment. In addition, there is a need to increase women’s representation in leadership and decision-making roles within the ICT sector.  

Therefore, in order to bridge the gender digital divide, African governments need to urgently implement legislative, policy, administrative and practical measures to address the existing structural inequalities in income, education, and employment opportunities, and stem the political, economic, legal, cultural, technological and social barriers that lead to the exclusion of women and girls from accessing and using the internet and ICT. These measures should include developing affirmative action that ensures that more women and girls have access to affordable internet and digital devices, meaningful connectivity and sound digital literacy and skills. Finally, closing the digital gender gap will require that countries collect and share gender and age disaggregated data on access and use of ICT in order to help track and evaluate progress and shape policies geared towards promoting the enjoyment of digital rights by women and girls on the continent.

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