Togo: Fumbling With a Digital ID While Actively Surveilling Citizens

By Afi Edoh |

For four years Togo has been inching towards issuing a digital identity (ID) card. While there are indications that 2022 may be the year in which the west African country finally delivers the long-awaited digital ID, the road ahead remains uncertain. Challenges lie both in bureaucratic delays and citizens’ caginess about handing their data to a government with a penchant for surveilling citizens and shutting down digital communications.

The Togolese government announced the e-ID Togo project in 2018, but it was not until mid 2021 that the Ministry of the Digital Economy and Digital Transformation initiated efforts to recruit a communications consultant to devise an awareness campaign to precede the registration stage and a technology solutions service provider. The International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore was awarded the system contract in December 2021.

According to the government, the e-ID project will simplify the process of updating the electoral register, facilitate access to public services and to credit, reduce fraud in the financial sector, and facilitate the targeting of social protection beneficiaries. Only 25% of the country’s population of eight million has a form of identification, with women less likely to have an identification document, which hinders their ability to open bank accounts, enrol children in school, benefit from health insurance, or get a mobile phone number. In recognition of the gaps in civil registration among citizens, the government set out to enrol citizens for e-ID even without proof of birth registration.

Togo passed Law No. 2019-014 relating to the protection of personal data in October 2019. In 2020, parliament passed Law No. 2020-009 relating to the biometric identification of natural persons, whose objective is to establish a system for identification and authentication of natural persons. The law aims to establish a “secure and reliable methodology” for obtaining, maintaining, storing and updating data on the identity of registered individuals. The law requires all citizens and residents in Togo to obtain a Unique Identification Number (NIU) by submitting their demographic and biometric data (Article 4). The biometric data specified for purposes of obtaining a NIU are photograph and / or facial recognition, fingerprints, and iris scan. The National Identification Agency (ANID) is mandated to collect biometric data for the NIU.

SIM Card Registration
In July 2021, a SIM card registration and limitation of subscriptions per individual and network campaign was launched by the telecommunications regulatory authority ARCEP, supported by leading telecom operators Moov Africa Togo and TogoCom. The SIM registration requirements include a national identity card or passport and collection of biometric and demographic data. 

But this extensive collection of individuals’ personal data raises concerns for the safety of such data. These concerns are not unfounded and they partly arise from the state’s record on respect for digital rights, which have seen it order network disruptions and use malware to target opponents and dissidents.

State Surveillance
In 2020, lingering suspicions that the Togolese government was undertaking interceptions of communications gained credence when the Citizen Lab revealed that Israeli-made spyware Pegasus, supplied by the NSO Group, was used between April and May 2019 to target Togolese civil society, including a Catholic bishop and a priest, as well as two members of Togo’s political opposition. The surveillance reportedly coincided with nationwide pro-reform protests that were forcibly dispersed. The Togolese government did not respond to the allegations, which nonetheless sparked debate within Togolese media and civil society.

Further, in October 2021, Amnesty International research found that Togolese activists had been targeted with spyware by the Donot Team hacker group based in India – the  first time that Donot Team spyware was found in use outside of South Asia. According to the report, the activists’ devices were targeted between December 2019 and January 2020, during a tense political climate ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Network Disruptions

During the February 2020 elections, authorities disrupted access to messaging services (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram). Later that year, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice ruled that the 2017 internet shutdown in Togo was illegal and an affront on the right of freedom to expression. 

According to Access Now, the court ordered the government of Togo to pay two million francs (USD 3,459) to the plaintiffs as compensation, and to take all the necessary measures to guarantee the implementation of safeguards with respect to the right to freedom of expression of the Togolese people.

Privacy and Data Protection

Togo’s laws provide safeguards against unlawful surveillance and unauthorised access to data whilst also granting authorities sweeping powers to violate privacy. Law No. 2012-018 on electronic communications provides for privacy of communications but article 92 empowers the Prime Minister, and the Ministers responsible for the economy and finance, defence, justice, and security and civil protection, to trigger the interception of communications and electronic content.

The biometrics identification law requires the National Identification Agency to encode and encrypt data on its registry and only allows access to authorised agents (article 10, 21 & 22). Violation of the obligation of non-disclosure of personal data, identity theft and unauthorised processing of personal data are punishable with fines ranging from one million to 10 million Central African Francs (USD 1,747 to 17,472), imprisonment between one and five years, or both.   

Article 94 of Togo’s 2012 electronic communication law obliges encryption service providers to comply with lawful interception orders, with refusal to provide secret decryption codes to government agencies punishable with a fine of between USD 3,544 and USD 14,178. Cryptology services providers are required to retain for one year, content and data allowing the identification of anyone who has used their services, and to provide the technical means that enable the identification of those users. The service providers are required to avail this data, on request, to the investigating judge, Prime Minister, Minister for the Economy and Finance, the Minister of Defence, the Minister  of Justice, and the Minister of Security. The multiple officials who access data – similar to the various officials that can trigger the interception of communications – offers wide latitude for abuse of citizens’ data privacy rights.

Digital Exclusion
In the wake of Covid-19, Togo initiated a relief programme for vulnerable citizens whose livelihoods were affected by the state of emergency. As at March 2021, the programme, known as NOVISSI, had disbursed a total of 13.3 billion francs (USD 22 million) to 819,972 citizens via mobile money.

However, the programme was criticised for requiring applicants to possess a voter’s ID card. During the last electoral census, opposition parties called on the population to boycott the exercise, which meant that some citizens had not renewed their voter ID cards. There were also cases of unscrupulous individuals utilising the voter’s ID details of other citizens to fraudulently benefit from the programme. As a result, the government temporarily halted the program to allow for physical verification of beneficiaries at dedicated centres.

Way forward

Whereas the various sanctions within the existing legal framework might be a deterrent against unauthorised access to and misuse of personal data, there is wide latitude for state agencies and officials to access the data, which could be abused. This calls for a review of the provisions to ensure they uphold citizens’ right to privacy and data protection, with adequate oversight and redress mechanisms. Further, the e-ID should be rolled out in a manner that ensures agency and dignity, without enhancing exclusion and surveillance. 

The Disproportionate Exclusion of Persons With Disabilities in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Evelyn Lirri |

For Persons with Disabilities, access to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can be an enabler for social and economic inclusion. Yet across Africa, despite the various laws and policies that have been passed and adopted by countries, persons with disabilities continue to lag behind in terms of access and use of digital tools.

Barriers such as low levels of ICT skills, high illiteracy levels, poverty and the high cost of assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnification software, text readers, and speech input software, and digital inaccessibility of websites and mobile applications and services are shared across Sub-Saharan Africa. These barriers are often accompanied by limited clarity on what actions are being taken by states and companies to address these gaps.

The digital inclusion of marginalised and vulnerable communities was among the issues discussed at the September 2021 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica). In a panel discussion titled Technology and Disability, various speakers noted that persons with disabilities continue to face numerous barriers that have prevented them from fully benefiting from the opportunities that technology enables, including access to crucial information and services such as education and health, civic engagement, and employment.

Speaking at the Forum, disability rights activist Clodoaldo Castiano from the Forum of Disabled Persons Organisation in Mozambique noted that despite the country being a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), it has not set a specific agenda to enable ICT accessibility. The CRPD requires states to undertake measures which ensure that persons with disabilities have access to ICT, including assistive technologies and resources to realise the right to access.

“Although we have ratified the CRPD, the government has not been able to define a specific legal and policy agenda to address the obligations of the Convention,” said Castiano, adding that ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities also remains largely unregulated. He further added that although Mozambique has a Universal Access Fund, it does not include programmes that benefit persons with disabilities.

Some countries are, however, trying to put more effort into addressing the disability digital divide. Uganda’s State Minister for Disability Affairs, Hellen Grace Asamo, noted that the country has introduced a number of initiatives to support the promotion, inclusion and accessibility of ICT tools for persons with disabilities. In addition to laws such as the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2020 which recognise the rights of persons with disabilities, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance has drafted the ICT and Disability Policy as an intervention to close gaps in the use of ICT by persons with disabilities.  Furthermore, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has made it a requirement for television stations to have sign language interpreters to facilitate access and inclusion of people with hearing impairment.

“In Uganda where we have 16 per cent of people living with a form of disability, it is critical that we have programmes that ensure they are not left out. We have made available access to Braille and we are working to ensure that all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have sign language interpreters,” said the minister.

The discussion also noted that the Covid-19 pandemic had amplified the gaps in digital access for marginalised and vulnerable communities including persons with disabilities. This resonated with a CIPESA report, ‘Access Denied: How telcom operators in Africa are failing persons with disabilities’ which investigated how operators have made minimal efforts in addressing the needs of consumers who are also persons with disabilities.

Across the world, the pandemic forced many activities to go online which disproportionately affected persons with disabilities especially in developing countries where it only served to further alienate them from access to information, public health updates and online civic participation. In countries where data costs are high, the drop in economic activity also  served to further isolate the community from accessing the internet due to prohibitive costs.

Despite progressive legislative efforts in some countries, while a number of laws and policies have been enacted in various African countries to ensure access to services for persons with disabilities, their implementation continues to lag behind. This, coupled with the lack of awareness by persons with disabilities of their rights has made it difficult for them to demand for ICT-friendly and affordable services.

Robert Nkwangu, the Executive Director of the Uganda National Association of the Deaf, spoke to this issue.  “Majority of people with disabilities have not gone to school and many do not know their rights. Similarly, digital rights are not seen to them as a challenge because they don’t know,” he said. “We need to do more capacity building of members to give them a firm ground to demand for what is rightfully theirs.”

To address these challenges, participants at the Forum acknowledged that increased domestic funding by governments for digital innovations that support people with disabilities will be critical.  This echoes recommendations in a CIPESA report which called for the relevant government agencies such as communication regulators and consumer protection units to enforce legislation on accessible communication products and services. The report also called for more vigilance in enforcing implementation of national disability laws, codes of practice, consumer rights regulations, and ICT and disability policies. More vigilance is also needed in monitoring compliance to avoid empty claims when in reality products and services are still inaccessible.

Africa Law Tech Festival 2021: CIPESA Demystifies the Role Of Lawyers And Courts In Ensuring Digital Access To Justice Amidst The Covid-19 Pandemic

By the Lawyers hub |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) administered a masterclass at the Africa Law Tech Festival 2021, which is hosted yearly by the Lawyers Hub. The CIPESA team was represented by Edrine Wanyama and Prof. Anthony Kakooza, who discoursed the effects of COVID-19 on the Justice sector. The session interrogated the various responses by different African States; the challenges faced, and possible recommendations to ensure timely access to justice for all, amidst the pandemic.

While lawyers and courts, including court officials, play an important role in facilitating access to justice, COVID-19 and the ardent restrictions that came with it, fundamentally affected this role. Courts could no longer be physically accessed; clients could not fulfill their obligations and witnesses could not undertake their roles. In the circumstances, technology-based alternatives for enhanced access to justice have emerged.

Over the past year there have been multiple opportunities and initiatives for innovation in the justice sector in Africa. Edrine Wanyama began by pointing out that the advent of COVID-19 has seen a shift from the traditional approaches of administering justice to E-Justice approaches which do not necessarily require physical interface and meetings.

In Kenya, the courts were quick to embrace the use of digital technology with the Practice Directions on Electronic Case Management being gazetted as early as 24th March 2020.[1] The electronic case management system’s interface allows lawyers, law firms and individuals to register through the e-filing portal on the Judiciary website or through e-citizen portal while also allowing judicial officers access to court documents and issue rulings through the portal or email. The use of video and audio conferencing through virtual platforms such as Zoom or Skype has also been integrated into the system.[2]

Nigeria’s National Judicial Council (NJC)[3] issued Guidelines for Court Sittings and Related Matters in COVID19 Period to guide the courts in implementing remote justice systems, amongst other COVID-19 related measures. Rwanda’s judiciary also outlined an Integrated Electronic Case Management System. The Online Cases Division clearly outlines the purpose of the Integrated Electronic Case Management System, benefits, account creation, case filing and follow up, a self-service user manual and video recording on how to access the system.[4].

Prof. Kakooza further delved into the various tech-innovations which have been motivated by COVID-19 to promote access to justice despite the associated challenges. The professor stated that the use of online court systems and videoconferencing to hear and determine cases had narrowed the gap between the courts and the affected individuals who no longer have to travel to courtrooms to have their matters heard. Further, the use of Online Records Management systems has made the process more efficient and accelerated the adjudication of matters and rendering of judgments via email. This has thus cut down on the case backlog and undoubtedly promoted access to justice.

However, the adoption of tech facilitated justice has not come without its challenges. In Kenya, for instance, most people do not have access to the internet and neither are they familiar with the technology in use by the courts.[5] As of January 2021, only a mere 26% of the Ugandan population used the internet[6] and as a majority of the country was unable to access the internet and geographical discrepancies forced courts to transfer cases to those capable of facilitating smooth video conferencing facilities.

While video conferencing has acted as a substitute for physical court appearances, the assessment of non-verbal cues such the defendants’ emotions and eye movements to gauge credibility is limited when compared to physical court appearance.[7] Additionally, virtual court appearances do not allow for proper detection of signs of torture and ill-treatment of accused persons and may also potentially skew the criminal justice system against persons deprived of freedom as they may feel intimidated and lack confidence when they are not able to physically appear before a judge.  This would ultimately lead to a breakdown in the justice process and negatively contribute to access to justice across the region.

Furthermore, due to the digital divide and increased exclusion, access to justice for certain groups has not been possible. Exclusion on the continent is facilitated by factors such as high internet costs,[8] not being able to afford the right technology like a laptop or smartphone, lack of access to information or communication and weak ICT infrastructure[9]. Additionally, unreliable internet connectivity and provision is prevalent in remote localities, resulting in virtual courts being out of reach for rural and marginalized communities in Africa.[10]

In addition to the fore highlighted challenges, data protection and privacy has become a major concern for tech users across the continent with laws falling short of robust protection standards such as for Botswana,[11] Kenya[12], Lesotho[13], Nigeria,[14] Rwanda,[15] Uganda,[16] and Zambia[17] among others.  For instance, there are data security concerns which potentially stem from the use of virtual courtrooms, digital storage of case records and the protection of personal information relating to litigants and witnesses and the evidence they provide in the courtroom.

In spite of the challenges that come with access to justice in the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to build a versatile technological adaptation and resilience of our judicial systems is critical for the promotion of access to justice on the Continent. The embrace of technology is indeed the path towards a digital legal ecosystem. It is also one that will require proactivity from all the stakeholders involved and the strengthening of cross-border interactions that support access to justice in Africa. The adoption of policies that contribute to lower internet costs, and embrace as well as facilitate the use of technology across the internet is indeed no less a venture to embark on. Public private partnerships and the integration of uniform e-justice systems across the Continent also require similar attention if the desired justice system is to be realized.

You can find the session’s recording here.

Data Protection in Africa in the Age of Covid-19

By Boel McAteer and Jean-Benoît Falisse |

As the Covid-19 pandemic spread around the world in the early part of 2020, governments and companies invested substantial resources in gathering data about suspected and confirmed cases, and related behaviours. Learning more about how the virus was spreading was a top priority around the world, and with this came new practices of sharing medical records, tracking people’s movements and tracing their contacts. This has created new norms for data governance in many countries, and in this brave new world of disease surveillance, it is more important than ever to understand data protection and privacy, and where these concepts fit in with the new priorities of managing the pandemic.

The Covid Governance research project has gathered information about country-level data protection and Covid-19 practices across the world. Covering over 200 countries and territories, the project’s Data Protection Explorer Tool provides a snapshot of the legal environment surrounding data protection and privacy, and how it is changing in response to Covid-19. Crucially, it focuses on restrictions on data collection, processing and cross-border transfers.  It also captures digital monitoring measures in place for Covid-19, such as contact tracing, and who owns that data. This will help form a picture of what has changed within data ethics and surveillance during the pandemic, and in the long term what those changes might mean.

So what are some of the key patterns that we can see so far? A joint statement on Data Protection and Privacy in the Covid-19 Response from a number of United Nations (UN) organisations states that any changed practices due to Covid-19 should be legalised and rooted in human rights. However, the information collected via the Data Protection Explorer Tool shows that about a third of Africa’s 54 countries did not have comprehensive data protection laws enforced or in place before the pandemic. During the pandemic, constitutional rights have often been backtracked as a part of the crisis response.

 The Explorer’s data also shows that African countries without specific data protection laws are particularly exposed. Take Namibia for example, whereas no comprehensive data protection law inlaw is in place.  – there is, however, a draft bill in the works and public consultations were conducted in 2020. In the absence of a dedicated data protection framework,  t does not mean data protection is inexistant: as in other African countries, there are provisions in other Namibian laws related to personal data of citizens in specific sectors of the economy such as accounting and  banking (the Banking Institutions Act, 1998 and 2010 amendment) or the legal professions and accounting (Legal Practitioners Act, 15 of 1995 as amended).

The right to personal privacy is also enshrined in Namibia’s constitution as a human right, but this right is limited including in the interests of health and public safety. This allows the government to legally prioritise public health over other human rights throughout the pandemic. Indeed, when Namibia declared a state of emergency in March 2020, many constitutional freedoms were temporarily suspended. For instance, access to education could not be guaranteed anymore and places of worship (constitutive of religious freedom) were closed.

Covid-19 tracing and surveillance mostly occurred offline but the University of Namibia (UNAM) successfully launched a mobile app, named “NamCotrace”, that collects substantial personal information such as the geolocation of users. The app is connected to epidemiological data and the national healthcare system in real time. Whereas it is alleged that “privacy by design” is core to the app, Namibia’s prevailing privacy and data protection legislative environment leaves room for arbitrary abuse. Similarly, Nigeria has developed various Covid-19 apps but with minimal data protection legal safeguards in place, there is ample room for misuse.

The Data Protection Explorer Tool also shows that countries with data protection laws remain vulnerable too. In many instances, the laws have been amended to allow practices that were previously prohibited to take place during the pandemic. In South Africa for instance, the response to Covid-19 has been governed through the Disaster Management Act from 2002 that allows the National Disaster Management Centre to request from individuals or organs of state information it “reasonably requires” and to escalate the matter to parliament in case of failure.

In April 2020 a regulation was introduced to legalise contact tracing in South Africa. This created a tracing database of Covid-19 cases, managed by the National Department of Health, where personal information is gathered from anyone tested for Covid-19. Information collected and stored in the database includes name, residential address, ID and passport number. This means that even though the information is collected legally without consent from the individuals, it would be unlawful to use that data for any other purpose than the one specified in the regulation. Despite these provisions, concerns have been raised that the contact tracing enables government surveillance of the population, since the Director General of Health can track the location of anyone suspected to have Covid-19 through phone service providers.

At the other end of the continent, Iin West Africa’s Burkina Faso, the data protection law prohibits collection of personal data relating to health. It had not, at the time of writing, been amended. However, since 2019, a digital platform for health surveillance has been  is in place.: One Health is funded by USAID and combines data from three ministries concerned with zoonotic disease control.  in the same place. When the first cases of Covid-19 were detected in the country in 2020, however, the platform was adapted to include data on the new virus, tracing cases, and their contacts. This is, obviously, raising privacy (and legality) concerns.

There are also some inspiring examples. The B’Safe app in Botswana was developed as an alternative to a manual Covid-19 tracing system. Described as privacy-friendly and in line with the country’s data protection (and privacy) law that pre-dates the pandemic, the app recorded a decent initial adoption rate. However, without an established data protection authority to enforce the law and oversee the app’s roll out, security vulnerabilities within the app led to private citizens lodging a court case against the country’s Covid-19 task force challenging the apps  its safety. The progress of the case remains unclear to-date. However, it highlights the importance of independent data protection authorities, good examples of which include in Angola and Senegal, and the pandemic potentially being a decisive push in countries where they are yet to be established.

Where are we heading now? Data protection laws in Africa were rapidly developing in the years leading up to the pandemic, with many new laws influenced by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which was adopted in 2016. The examples above show the many ways in which the data protection environment in Africa is changing with the pandemic.

As the general state of democracy and freedoms is deemed to be worsening since the outbreak of Covid-19, it will be important to continue to monitor developments in data protection and privacy: the pandemic could be the opportunity to speed up the process of establishing much-needed laws and enforcement agencies but it could also lead to them being less protective of citizens (and more permissive for government) than in the pre-Covid-19 world.

The Covid Governance Project is an initiative of the University of Edinburgh. It was developed with support from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FDCD), the Global Challenges Research Fund – Scottish Funding Council, and the University of Edinburgh’s Challenge Investment Fund. Explore the Data Protection Explorer Tool.

Cartographie du lien entre Désinformation, Coupures d’Internet, Pandémies et Diaspora au Cameroun et en RD Congo

Par Richard Ngamita |

Le phénomène de la désinformation sur les médias sociaux est devenu une source de préoccupation croissante dans la politique mondiale depuis plusieurs années. Bien plus, ledit phénomène explose maintenant en Afrique subsaharienne, où les campagnes de désinformation via les médias sociaux sont de plus en plus déployées par des entités et des gouvernements étrangers pour influencer l’opinion.

Plusieurs facteurs sociopolitiques et économiques offrent un terrain propice à la désinformation dans les pays africains. L’explosion démographique avec prédominance de jeunes – dont la plupart  se connectent à l’Internet  pour la première fois via les médias sociaux, la disponibilité et l’utilisation croissantes des téléphones portables connectés à Internet, les conflits ethnico-religieux et l’insécurité sont quelques-uns des facteurs qui ont contribué à la prolifération d’informations accessibles via les médias numériques, fournissant ainsi de nouveaux canaux de diffusion rapide et d’amplification de fausses informations.

Cette montée de la désinformation dans la région constitue un nouveau test de solidité pour les nouvelles dispositions politiques et législatives en matière d’Internet. Par exemple, en mars 2020, l’Éthiopie a promulgué la loi sur la prévention et la répression du discours de haine et de la désinformation, pour lutter contre ces deux phénomènes qui ont  troublé  le pays par le passé. Cependant, il s’avère selon plusieurs observateurs que cette nouvelle réglementation gouvernementale, bien que légitime pour lutter contre le discours de haine, constitue  en même temps une menace pour la liberté d’expression et l’accès à l’information en ligne.

Au Cameroun, en vertu de la loi relative à la cybersécurité et à la cybercriminalité, la publication et la propagation d’information en ligne “sans pouvoir en attester la véracité” ou justifier qu’il y avait de bonnes raisons de croire en ladite information est correcte constituent un délit. Lors d’une conférence de presse tenue en juillet 2020, René Emmanuel Sadi, ministre camerounais de la communication, s’est dit préoccupé par l’utilisation “irresponsable” des médias sociaux pour ternir l’image des fonctionnaires ou saboter les actions du gouvernement et a prévenu que ceux qui continueraient à propager de telles informations sur les plateformes de médias sociaux s’exposeraient à de lourdes peines prévues par la loi.

D’autres pays comme le Zimbabwe et la Tanzanie, disposent de lois plus générales sur les médias qui ont été utilisées pour lutter contre les fausses informations. Ces différentes lois ont été critiquées pour la menace qu’elles font peser sur les droits numériques, en particulier lorsqu’elles sont mises en place pour contrer toute opinion critique ou débat contradictoire dans des pays africains présentant des déficits démocratiques.

De nombreux pays africains, dont le Cameroun et la République Démocratique du Congo (RDC), continuent de se débattre contre la désinformation, par laquelle une mauvaise action   en ligne pourrait causer des dommages hors ligne. Ce rapport examine la situation dans ces pays, où – malgré des niveaux de connectivité relativement bas – la désinformation représente une préoccupation considérable.

En 2017, le Cameroun comptait 19,7 millions d’abonnés à la téléphonie mobile, soit un taux de pénétration de 85 %, tandis que la pénétration d’Internet était de 35,6 %. Parallèlement, la RD Congo avait un taux de pénétration d’Internet de 19,2 % en décembre 2019, tandis que le taux de pénétration de la téléphonie mobile était de 42 %.

Compréhension des conflits et désinformation

Les citoyens du Cameroun et de la RD Congo recourent à une gamme variée de sources d’information traditionnelles (notamment la presse écrite et audiovisuelle), ainsi qu’à des sources en ligne pour suivre l’actualité sociale, économique et politique. Cependant, les médias sociaux jouent un rôle de plus en plus important comme source d’informations relatives aux conflits, par le fait que les médias traditionnels sont censurés par les gouvernements respectifs.

Au Cameroun, les tensions entre les régions anglophones et francophones remontent à l’indépendance du pays en 1961. Au fil des ans, des violences mortelles et des actions de protestation ont eu lieu contre la “francophonisation” continue et la marginalisation des anglophones qui affirment que le gouvernement central privilégie la population francophone majoritaire.

En 2015, une vidéo montrant deux femmes et deux enfants abattus par des soldats dans la ville de Zelevet, dans l’extrême-Nord, a commencé à circuler sur les médias sociaux. Selon une enquête de BBC Africa Eye de juillet 2018, le gouvernement a d’abord rejeté la vidéo la qualifiant de fausse nouvelle. Cependant, Amnesty International a révélé avec des preuves crédibles que l’armée camerounaise était responsable, ce qui a poussé les autorités à se rétracter et à déclarer que les 10 soldats représentés dans la vidéo avaient été arrêtés et seraient poursuivis. Cinq ans après l’incident, un tribunal militaire a déclaré les soldats coupables et les a condamnés à des peines d’emprisonnement.

Alors que l’enquête de BBC Africa Eye sur l’incident de la fusillade a révélé que plusieurs personnes n’aimaient pas diffuser en ligne des discours de haine et des contenus graphiques sur les violences, elles reconnaissaient que ces contenus pourraient parfois révéler des informations utiles à la sécurité en particulier pour ceux qui vivent dans des zones de conflit.

Source: Twitter

En RD Congo, la succession de conflits armés a fait des millions de morts et déstabilisé le pays, avec une violence continue perpétrée par plusieurs groupes armés actifs dans la région, notamment les forces démocratiques alliées (ADF : Allied Democratic Forces), les Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) et de nombreuses autres milices. La Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en RD Congo (MONUSCO) opère dans la région depuis 1999 et constitue la plus grande mission de maintien de la paix des Nations Unies dans le monde.

Lors des élections tant attendues de 2018, des irrégularités électorales généralisées ont été signalées, des partis politiques concurrents prétendaient être en tête après que les résultats de divers comptages non officiels aient commencé à circuler sur les médias sociaux. Des contenus sponsorisés produits sur Google et sur Facebook ont faussement prétendu qu’Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, dauphin du président sortant Joseph Kabila, avait remporté le scrutin. Ces annonces ont été publiées avant la proclamation officielle des résultats par la commission électorale, arrivée tardivement. Il y a eu des coupures d’Internet dans les principales villes du pays, ce qui a davantage compliqué la vérification de toute information en rapport avec ces élections.

Source : Twitter

Sachant que les élections avaient été reportées de novembre 2016 à décembre 2017, puis à avril 2018, la propagation de faux résultats électoraux aurait pu prolonger le cycle d’instabilité.

Le rôle de la diaspora

La communauté de la diaspora contribue énormément à attiser les tensions en ligne dans les deux pays, souvent par le biais de faux comptes qui partagent régulièrement des contenus haineux incitant à la violence contre des factions politiques rivales.

Lors des élections de 2018 au Cameroun, il y a eu plusieurs cas de publications sur les médias sociaux en provenance de la diaspora affirmant que le président de longue date Paul Biya était mort. Biya a finalement gagné lesdites élections et deux ans plus tard, le contenu des médias sociaux, souvent en provenance de la diaspora, continue d’alimenter les tensions politiques et ethniques.

Source:  Facebook

Avec le conflit dans les régions anglophones qui provoque des appels à un État indépendant, et les séparatistes qui recherchent activement le soutien de la diaspora camerounaise, il y a un risque permanent que le contenu en ligne qualifiant le gouvernement camerounais de répressif et violent puisse entraîner des dommages hors ligne.

Source: Facebook

Quant aux messages mensongers sur les médias sociaux qui affirmaient que Shadary avait remporté l’élection présidentielle de 2018 en RD Congo, et compte tenu de la coupure de l’Internet à l’époque, tous les indices montrent que les auteurs des annonces sponsorisées et les administrateurs des comptes en question étaient des membres de la diaspora. Le compte Lumumba aime LE CONGO qui figurait parmi les principaux propagateurs des annonces, avait été créé juste avant les élections et misait sur l’héritage de Patrice Lumumba, célèbre héros de l’Indépendance. Outre le contenu revendiquant la victoire de Shadary, la page partageait également des messages provenant de plusieurs faux domaines ou sites web d’agrégation d’informations comme Ceci constitue un autre exemple frappant de désinformation en ligne susceptible de causer des dommages hors ligne dans un environnement politique fragile.


À l’instar d’autres pays africains, le Cameroun et la RD Congo ont connu une recrudescence de la désinformation en ligne à propos du Covid-19, en partie liée aux sensibilités culturelles, politiques et religieuses, notamment la promotion de remèdes à base de plantes, de bains de vapeur, de l’alcool, de commentaires contradictoires et spéculatifs sur les traitements et/ou de conseils confus sur les Procédures Opérationnelles Normalisées (PON).

La propagation de la désinformation autour des maladies peut constituer un danger pour la santé publique, comme cela a été le cas au Cameroun et en RD Congo concernant Ebola et, plus récemment, le Covid-19. La désinformation sur les maladies cultive la méfiance par rapport aux données scientifiques, freine la sensibilisation, politise les actions de santé publique et sème le doute sur les motivations des autorités sanitaires.

La RD Congo n’est pas novice en matière d’épidémie, puisqu’elle a subi de plein fouet l’épidémie d’Ebola entre 2017 et 2019. En mai 2020, France 24 News a fait état d’une campagne de désinformation sur le Covid-19 en RD Congo. Les rapports de France 24 ont ensuite été corroborés par Facebook et le DFRLab, qui ont trouvé un lien entre le réseau avec un homme politique appelé Honoré Mvula. Le réseau a diffusé plusieurs propos sur le Covid-19 faussement attribuées à des personnalités publiques, notamment à l’expert français en maladies infectieuses Didier Raoult, au président français Emmanuel Macron et au président malgache Andry Rajoelina. Ces allégations ont fait le tour des pages Facebook très suivies en RD Congo. Mvula a nié les accusations portées contre lui. Facebook a dû supprimer lesdites pages.

Coupures d’Internet

Le Cameroun et la RD Congo ont l’habitude d’ordonner des coupures d’accès à l’Internet à de multiples occasions lors de protestations publiques et d’élections. En janvier 2017, la connectivité à Internet a été coupée dans la région anglophone du Cameroun suite à des appels à sa sécession de la région francophone. Cette interruption qui a duré plus de 230 jours jusqu’en mars 2018, est connue comme la plus longue coupure d’Internet sur le continent.

De la même manière, l’instabilité en RD Congo a été continuellement caractérisée par des coupures répétitives d’Internet depuis décembre 2011. Après la journée électorale relativement calme du 30 décembre 2018, le gouvernement a coupé l’accès à Internet le 31 décembre, puis a progressivement fermé les médias audiovisuels, tout en expulsant certains journalistes internationaux qui couvraient les élections. Les raisons officielles fournies par les responsables politiques étaient “afin d’éviter la diffusion de faux résultats”.

D’après des analystes, la coupure d’Internet au Cameroun a coûté à l’économie 1,67 million de dollars par jour, tandis que celle de la RD Congo coutait 3 millions de dollars par jour.

Source: Twitter

Les coupures d’Internet pendant les élections sont une tendance courante et croissante de la répression numérique, en particulier dans les pays autoritaires d’Afrique, dont les dirigeants sont au pouvoir depuis de nombreuses années. Lorsque les gouvernements imposent des blackouts médiatiques ou restreignent la libre circulation de l’information en ligne par d’autres moyens, la désinformation se développe car la vérification des faits et le débat contradictoire sont entravés. Dans le cas du Cameroun et de la RD Congo, cette désinformation, provenait en grande partie de la diaspora qui propageait un discours de haine et de fausses informations risquant d’exacerber les conflits civils et de compromettre l’intégrité électorale. À leur tour, les coupures d’accès à Internet et la désinformation propagées par des acteurs étatiques et non étatiques érodent le potentiel de la technologie pour améliorer l’intégrité électorale, l’engagement civique et la lutte contre des maladies telles que le Covid-19.

Source: Twitter

Venir à bout de la désinformation

La création de comptes de messagerie visant uniquement les  périodes électorales est devenue monnaie courante, et ils sont particulièrement inquiétants du fait que leur contenu est souvent mensonger, carrément faux ou incitatif. Cette récente émergence de campagnes en ligne via les plateformes de médias sociaux a donc soulevé d’autres préoccupations quant à la manière dont les données requises sont obtenues, au niveau de vulnérabilité des démocraties africaines face à l’ingérence étrangère, à la façon dont les algorithmes des médias sociaux sont enclins à la manipulation, et à l’éthique du fait que des pays africains soient utilisés comme terrain d’essai pour de nouvelles technologies numériques.

Alors que les efforts visant à légiférer contre la désinformation deviennent des points de pression sur les droits humains, des mesures alternatives prises en collaboration avec les opérateurs de plateformes de médias sociaux s’avèrent prometteuses. En 2020, plusieurs gouvernements d’Afrique subsaharienne ont établi des partenariats avec des plateformes de médias sociaux et d’autres intermédiaires pour lutter contre la désinformation en rapport avec le Covid-19. Plus tôt en 2018, le Cameroun a directement travaillé avec Facebook pour explorer les moyens de lutte contre la diffusion d’informations fausses et mensongères dans le pays. Entre-temps, la promotion du renforcement des capacités dans le domaine de l’utilisation du numérique et de la capacité de vérification des faits, ainsi que la sensibilisation sur ce qui constitue un contenu inacceptable sur les plateformes et à la manière de signaler un contenu répréhensible, restent des actions clés nécessaires. Par conséquent, les efforts et les autres mesures pour lutter contre la désinformation et autres contenus préjudiciables, notamment durant les périodes électorales et la lutte contre le Covid-19, nécessitent une collaboration plus étroite par rapport à celle dont nous avons été témoins jusqu’ici, entre les gouvernements, la société civile et les plateformes.

Richard Ngamita est un chercheur dans le domaine du traitement de données qui travaille actuellement sur les droits de l’homme, la désinformation et l’espionnage. Il a précédemment travaillé chez Google au sein de l’équipe contre les pourriels. Il a également mené des recherches d’investigation dans le domaine de la santé, l’agriculture et les mouvements de réfugiés.