A Partnership to Advance Digital Rights and Internet Development in Africa

By Israel Nyoh |

The Internet Society and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) recently signed an agreement to work together for an open, secure, and trustworthy Internet for Africa.

A digital revolution is transforming markets and societies across Africa. Digitalization is helping governments to generate more income, while enabling e-commerce, e-health, and automation, which is strengthening African economies. But, as is often the case, with each technological promise there is also a threat. Because many African countries grapple with digital literacy and security challenges, digital technologies are being used to foster cyber criminality and cyber surveillance, while governments sometimes deny citizens their digital rights.

The agreement commits the Internet Society and CIPESA to advancing progressive Internet policy, advocating for the Internet way of networking, encryption, and measuring the health of digital infrastructure in the region.

Actions that promote a “trustworthy Internet to every African are of critical importance for the digital transformation plans that many African countries are implementing,” says Dawit Bekele, Regional Vice President for Africa, Internet Society.

The two organizations have further committed to:

  • Share knowledge, ideas, and lessons learned in Internet policy, encryption, and the Internet way of networking in Africa.
  • Pool efforts and expertise in responding to Internet policy issues in Africa.
  • Undertake joint research and stakeholder engagements, and lead advocacy on critical Internet policy and Internet development issues in the region.

CIPESA has a history of advocating for digital rights and building capacity on digital security in Africa, mostly through research, stakeholder engagements, and knowledge sharing. This agreement with the Internet Society will strengthen CIPESA’s efforts while enabling it to also reach new constituencies in Africa.

Wairagala Wakabi, Executive Director of CIPESA, says, “The key to meaningfully promoting digital rights and Internet development in Africa lies in multi-sector partnerships that leverage varied expertise, address the critical and emerging issues, and steadily reach wider constituencies of multiple stakeholders.”

History of Collaboration

The Internet Society and CIPESA have been working together for close to a decade to advance digital rights in Africa.

Their work has focused on strengthening the development of personal data protection guidelines for Africa, fighting against Internet shutdown and restrictions, and growing the community of people advancing digital rights and Internet development in Africa, through the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica).

This article was first published by the Internet Society on August 19, 2021.

Skilling Distributed Digital Security Trainers Amidst Growing Digital Rights Attacks

By Neil Blazevic, Andrew Gole and Ashnah Kalemera |

Amidst increased attacks on digital rights activists, journalists, and human rights defenders (HRDs) during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become crucial to grow the capacity of these actors to operate securely. A key concern is that, in many African countries, skills in digital security and safety are lacking among some of the most at-risk groups, yet trainers and support networks are in short supply.

Without adequate digital security capacity, activists and HRDs are not able to meaningfully continue advocacy and engagements around human rights, transparent and accountable governance, during and in the aftermath of Covid-19. Accordingly, through the Level-Up programme, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has provided security support to 16 HRD organisations in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan and Uganda. 

The initiative helped to strengthen the participating entities’ organisational and information systems security capacity, entailed a Training of Trainers (ToT) component – which benefitted 19 individuals – to grow the network of individuals and organisations that offer digital security training and support to journalists, activists, and HRDs, and organisational security assessments. The training and support were delivered through innovative approaches to geographically distributed individuals that could not meet physically due to Covid-19 social distancing and travel restrictions.

Covid-19 and Digital Attacks

In the wake of the global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and government measures to curb its spread, digital technologies have played a vital role in enhancing disease surveillance, coordinating response mechanisms, and promoting public awareness in Africa. The potential of technology to facilitate containment of the spread of the coronavirus on the continent notwithstanding, concerns over surveillance, violation of rights to privacy, freedom of expression, access to information, and freedom of association and assembly were prevalent. 

Scores of journalists and bloggers in Kenya, Guinea, Uganda, Egypt, among others, were assaulted, detained, and/or prosecuted over their reporting on Covid-19; while some countries such as Kenya, Uganda and South Africa were reported to be conducting cell phone tracking of Covid-19 suspected patients and their contacts. Some others passed regulations and/or invoked laws that criminalised the spreading of false Covid-19 information. Accordingly, there have been fears that in the aftermath of the pandemic, some governments could shift the Covid-19 surveillance apparatus and lessons learnt to undermine digital rights, by surveilling and silencing critics and opponents. 

Meanwhile, hackers and adversaries are capitalising on the increased time spent online and remote working by a large portion of the population by designing new attacks through phishing and hijacking of virtual meetings, among others. Worryingly, despite a large gender disparity in digital access, more women face various forms of online violence than their male counterparts, which continues to undermine their participation online. With Covid-19 resulting in increased incidents of gender-based violence, it is imperative to continue activism and equip activists with digital security and safety skills.

Organisations supported Technologists supported 
Countries: Uganda (8) | Tanzania (4) | South Sudan (2) | Kenya (1) | Ethiopia (1)

Sectors: Sexual minorities (4), Environmental/resource extraction (1) Feminist/women’s rights organisations (3), Information access (1), Journalists/media (1), Human rights, democracy, human rights defenders (6)

Gender: Female (7) |Male (12)

Nationality: Uganda (8) | Ethiopia (3) | South Sudan (1) | Tanzania (4) | Kenya (3)

Assessing Organisational Security

Following an initial training on conducting organisational security assessments, the technologists led assessments to determine the status, challenges, past and potential future threats, and attacks on organisations, as well as the capacity of the organisations. The results of the assessments provided insight into the needs and vulnerabilities of the organisations and served as an opportunity to provide feedback to organisational IT staff on quick fixes and strategies to address some of the challenges or incidents identified. Technology solutions explored included the use of Umbrella for DNS server protection, Automox for patch management, and Microsoft 365 hosted tenants for an organisational management and security suite.

The findings of the assessments indicated a need to bolster capacity, organisational practices, and implementation of security and safety measures related to social media platforms usage by the organisations and staff. Several organisations reported losing access to their brand assets, experiencing hacking, and harassment on social media platforms. To this end, a Social Media Asset Continuity and Security Tool was designed and another  training for technologists conducted focused on 1) Continuity of organisation control of organisational Facebook/Twitter/Whatsapp for Business accounts; 2) Security of individual staff accounts; and 3) Staff ability to deal with harassment and unwanted messaging on platforms. The technologists went on to conduct safety and security on social media training sessions which  benefitted 120 staff of the participating organisations. Other skill-up sessions conducted included on organisational management suites and website security. 

Overall, the programme found that skills and protections (software and hardware) were low and inadequate among many HRD organisations and individuals. Also, there were variable levels of technology integration within the organisations. 

The various gaps identified were rising during the pandemic when many entities could not readily access support networks and training skills due to restrictions on gatherings arising from Covid-19, making the intervention particularly timely. Indeed, the ToT model helped to transfer skills and knowledge among distributed beneficiaries and build support networks in-country.

#WomenAtWebUg Media Masterclass and Reporting Grant Programme

Announcement |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is pleased to announce the Women At Web Uganda (#WomenAtWebUg) Masterclass and Reporting Grant Programme. The two-phase programme builds on research conducted and engagements held as part of the Women At Web project of the DW.

The first phase of the programme will see successful applicants participate in a #WomenAtWebUg Masterclass – a workshop on digital rights and digital security. In the second phase, outstanding participants from the Masterclass will receive guided mentorship and a reporting grant aimed at improving the sometimes biased reporting on the violations of women’s online rights in Uganda.  Meanwhile, the mentorship will explore themes such as affordability, digital literacy, data privacy, digital economy, women and elections, women in the media, censorship, and self-censorship, the impact of COVID-19, and much more, through a gendered lens. It will relate these to current laws and the role that the media plays in addressing perceptions, supporting advocacy, and holding the state accountable to its obligations.

It is expected that the Women At Web Uganda Masterclass and Reporting Grant Programme will contribute to the increased visibility of the dynamics faced by Ugandan women online, and improved balance, quality and regularity of reporting.

Compensation: Successful grantees will be expected to create various outputs, which may include print articles such as features, broadcast content, multimedia content (animations and infographics) and social media content. A modest allowance will be provided to cater for expenses related to the production of the outputs as part of the programme.

Eligibility: Applicants should be early to mid-career print, broadcast, online or multi-media journalists. Individuals passionate about media platforms such as bloggers and social media enthusiasts with relevant skills are also welcome to apply. Applicants must be based in Uganda.

Application process

To apply, email [email protected] with a subject line stating #WomenAtWebUg Media Masterclass and Reporting Grant Programme. Submissions should include:

  • Your CV
  • A short statement of interest (maximum 500 words) that mentions the outputs you intend to produce if selected to proceed past the #WomenAtWebUg Masterclass accompanied with an indicative  budget
  • Two samples of your work (written or other)


  • Apply by: Monday October 26, 2020
  • #WomenAtWebUg Masterclass: November 3-4, 2020
  • #WomenAtWebUg Media Mentoring and Reporting Grant: November 10-30, 2020

Call for Applications: Level Up Your OrgSec!

Announcement |

Are you worried about hackers and phishing? Are you an organisation with digital security concerns?  Do you want to pursue activism and advocacy safely and securely? If these descriptions sound like your organisation, then you shouldn’t miss out on joining this exciting and fast-paced program working with human rights technologists to improve your organisational security!

If you are a technologist, trainer, systems auditor, or IT staffer working with communities of human rights defenders and are interested in applying and developing skills for supporting organisations described above, we are looking for you too!

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is seeking activists and human rights defenders in Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania looking to Level Up their organisational and information systems security capacity.

Organisations engaged will be supported to assess the information security standing of their offices, networks, devices, and assets such as accounts, databases, and websites. They will additionally receive support to establish more robust information systems with strong security safeguards. Organisations will additionally be advised on developing IT Security policies and building internal capacity to maintain security in the long-term.

To indicate your interest, fill in the form for organisations here and individuals here by September 13, 2020

In Search Of Safe Space Online: Research Summary

By WomenAtWebUg |

Efforts to improve digital rights and digital literacy among more women in Africa should be supported by a thorough understanding of the online and offline social structures that influence the extent to which women can be active participants in the digital arena. This is key to realising Goal five of the Sustainable Development Goals which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, who have historically been in a position of disadvantage for various reasons including cultural norms, lack of economic opportunity, and low literacy.

Across Africa, various discussions continue to reiterate how obstacles such as unequal access to finance, education and tech devices inhibit many women from participating in the digital society. However, beyond governments, additional efforts are required by other stakeholders including civil society, the tech community, academia, and the private sector to address these gaps. It is against this background that the Women At Web Alliance was initiated in October 2017 with an aim to improve digital literacy among African women, with a focus on Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda. With support from Deutsche Welle (DW) Akademie, in Uganda an alliance of five organisations is working to strengthen the skills of women through digital security workshops, raising awareness on digital rights, and building digital literacy skills. As part of this work, Chapter Four, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the Defenders Protection Initiative (DPI), Not your Body and Unwanted Witness conducted research into the nature of challenges faced by Ugandan women who are active online, and manifestations of  cyber Violence Against Women (VAW). The results of the study are intended to be used to address these challenges, including through the improvement of digital literacy among more Ugandan women, policy development, and informing responsive safety mechanisms.

Women in Uganda face various challenges that undermine their use of the web and other Information and Communications Technology (ICT). These challenges mirror the impediments which women face in the offline world, be it in access to education and economic opportunities, participation in civic processes, or in claiming their freedom of expression and assembly. 

Despite a large gender disparity in digital access, more women face various forms of online violence than their male counterparts, which has continuously undermined their participation online. The absence of laws designed to specifically address the various forms of digital violence (such as revenge pornography, trolling, and threats) and the lack of sufficient in-country reporting mechanisms, exacerbate these challenges and often result in many women being forced to go offline or resorting to self-censorship. Additional consequences of cyber VAW mentioned included psychological, emotional and the physical abuse.

See the In Search Of Safe Space Online: Research summary.