Disinformation and Hate Speech Continue to Fuel the Conflict in Eastern DR Congo 

By Nadine Kampire Temba and CIPESA Writer |

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) continues to witness an information war, characterised by spiralling incitement, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech on social media. The state of affairs has undermined cohesion between communities and continues unabated due to various factors. 

Firstly, the country’s long history of political instability has created an environment where misinformation, disinformation and hate speech thrive. Over the past three decades, the DR Congo has witnessed cyclic and indiscriminate violence, and internationalised conflict. These have been fuelled by impunity for atrocities, endemic corruption, poor governance, leadership wrangles and differences over the control of an estimated USD 24 trillion worth of mineral resources, pitting the government against neighbouring countries, at least 120 armed groups and other parties. 

The instability has left at least 24.6 million people (one in four Congolese) at risk of food insecurity and a further six million citizens internally displaced, the highest on the continent. Human rights violations have remained commonplace despite years of humanitarian interventions. More recently, the conflict has escalated in Ituri and Kivu provinces in the eastern part of the country. Violence between government forces and armed groups has led to the death of at least 1,300 people since October 2022 and forced about 300,000 civilians to flee their homes and villages. 

Secondly, divisions among the country’s diverse ethnic groups have contributed to the escalation of tensions and hostility, while disputes with neighbouring Rwanda have led to the deterioration of diplomatic relations between the two states. Congo, United Nations experts and western governments accuse Rwanda of backing the March 23 Movement (M23) rebel group which continues to extend its control in North Kivu – accusations Rwanda and the rebel group deny. 

The Congolese government has labelled the M23 a “terrorist movement” and blamed it for committing atrocities, including summary executions and forced enlistment of civilians. In January 2023, Congo accused Rwanda of shooting down its fighter jet and described this as a “deliberate act of aggression that amounts to an act of war”. Rwanda claimed the jet had violated its airspace on three occasions. This came eight months after Kinshasa banned Rwanda Air from its airspace.

For its part, the Rwanda government accuses the Congolese army of utilising proxy armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (Les Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda, FDLR), to contain the M23 offensive and to destabilise Rwanda.

The strained relations between the two countries, coupled with social divisions based on ethnicity, religion, nationality and political affiliation, continue to be exploited by politicians and groups affiliated to both countries to create tension and fuel hate speech and disinformation online and offline. On October 30, 2022, the Congolese government ordered the Rwandan ambassador, Vincent Karega, to leave the country within 48 hours in retaliation for Kigali’s alleged support to the M23. The DR Congo also recalled its top diplomat from Rwanda in a further souring of relations. A day later, on October 31, 2022, thousands of Congolese citizens, mostly in Goma city, attended anti-Rwanda protests to denounce Kigali’s alleged support of the M23, a mostly Congolese Tutsi group and what they called the “hypocrisy of the international community in the face of Rwanda’s aggression.” 

During the protests, names of individuals identified as Rwandans were read out, resulting in attacks and lynching of some individuals. In response, online trolls affiliated to Rwanda have targeted Congolese political leaders, journalists and civil society leaders. The targets of attacks in Congo have included the Banyarwanda (Tutsi) and the Banyamulenge whose citizenship, equal rights and belonging in DR Congo have been constantly questioned. They often face threats, attacks, and dehumanising stereotypes as they are perceived as foreigners or Rwandan implants supporting the M23 rebellion. 

Amidst these tensions is a weak and underdeveloped media environment in both DR CongoC and Rwanda, coupled with low media literacy among the population, which are enabling the spread of false information without being challenged or fact-checked. The situation has been further complicated by the lack of both skills and tools in content moderation and editorial guidance on the part of local media outlets and journalists working from both sides of the border. 

Media houses have to compete with social media platforms where users have found a sense of “community” by connecting with a variety of actors at the national level and in the diaspora who anonymously disseminate and amplify well-scripted radical messages, conspiracy theories and polarising narratives to wider audiences and appeal to ethnic loyalties and sow discord among communities. Some of the rivalling groups have deployed bots and trolls in order to manipulate the public opinion on social media.

According to Congolese journalist Desanges Kihuha, the media that are committed to providing truthful information are struggling to match the speed at which conflict-related disinformation and misinformation are spreading on social media platforms due to limited skills and funding. Thus, any actor intent on spreading false information can publish information online where it can easily gain virality without being fact-checked. “In the current context of war and insecurity in North Kivu province, misinformation continues to spread at a fast rate due to the use of digital and social media. Unfortunately, there is little press coverage of this phenomenon of hate speech and fake news,” says Kihuha.

Related to the above is that a significant part of the population, especially those in rural areas, lack access to accurate, verifiable and reliable information, while at the same time, the youth rely on social media for information. In addition, the social and economic challenges affecting the public, such as high poverty levels and limited access to basic services and infrastructure, create frustration, resentment, anger and distrust of the state, making the public vulnerable to exploitation. 

As a result, politicians, armed groups and their allies exploit these vulnerabilities to create tension by manipulating public opinion to generate support for their extremist political views or groups and channelling the public anger to promote hate speech and disinformation to further escalate the ethnic and regional conflicts. Theogene Magarambe, a Rwandan journalist, describes this as the “instrumentalisation of the M23 insurgency” in order to distract the public from governance shortcomings and the failure to restore peace and rule of law in Kivu. 

The failure by governments on both sides of the border to create an environment to push back against the political polarisation and disinformation online is widely acknowledged. “At the practical level, policies related to content moderation and regulation are currently inexistent, though we are engaging cross-border communities in order to create space for dialogue, hosting workshops and platforms where we exchange knowledge,” says Marion Ngavho Kambale, who is the head of the civil society of the North Kivu province.  Magarambe adds: “Today the true legitimacy test for any credible government is whether it can implement legal safeguards on privately developed technologies and hold platform operators accountable for failure to moderate content.”

Critics point to the challenge of the structural conception of social media platforms, whose business models and algorithms mostly prioritise content based on its engagement value rather than its accuracy or truth. Platforms such as Facebook have been criticised for inaction in the face of online ethnic incitement and massacres in Ethiopia – a potential risk in the DR Congo-Rwanda conflict. As Arsene Tungali, a digital rights and internet governance expert observed, inadequate actions by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp means “the devastating effects of political polarisation, hate speech and disinformation peddled on  social media remain a problem.”

Louis Gitinywa, a digital rights and technology lawyer, says although the internet has offered citizens and private actors in the two countries a robust civic space for organising and engaging with key societal priorities, the “lawlessness and disinformation online … continue to contribute to fighting and killings”. 

Overall, addressing hate and disinformation in the DR Congo-Rwanda conflict will require a sustained and coordinated effort from multiple actors. Looking ahead, there is a critical need to build capacity and expertise amongst all the stakeholders in order to formulate effective strategies for content moderation. This includes building the legal expertise and strategic litigation to hold liable social media such as Facebook and Twitter for failing to effectively put adequate measures to moderate content in native and indigenous languages.

Further, since media literacy is limited, it is important to build the capacity of journalists, media practitioners and civil society reporting on the conflict to be aware of the complex information environment, relevant skills in fact-checking, professional ethics, content moderation as well as building their own professional networks for sharing credible information with counterparts across borders and avoiding sensationalism in reporting. They can also use the available platforms to promote responsible social media use, tolerance and dialogue between different groups in order to build trust. Moreover, the different actors should desist from propagating hate speech and disinformation. 

Nadine Kampire Temba is a journalist and digital rights lawyer based in Goma city, DR Congo, and a fellow with CIPESA. She coordinates Afia Amani Grands Lacs, an online media outlet that undertakes fact-checking and defends press freedom in the Great Lakes Region. You can follow her on Twitter @nadineKampire

Countering Digital Authoritarianism in Africa

By Apolo Kakaire |

The Internet which is viewed as the panacea for democracy, participation and inclusion is increasingly becoming a tool of repression deployed by regimes across the world to stifle rights and voice.  Africa, a continent already replete with poor democratic credentials and practices seems to be rapidly catching up on the new ‘epidemic’- digital authoritarianism.

The use of technology tactics to advance repressive political interests has come to be  referred to as digital authoritarianism. However, the tactics employed by authoritarian regimes have also been deployed by democratic states for purposes of surveillance, spread of misinformation, disinformation, and the disruption of civic and political participation under the pretext of fighting cybercrime, and in the interest of protecting national security, and maintaining public order.

Big technology companies are key drivers of digital authoritarianism through the creation, innovation and supply of repressive technology and related support. Moreover, political parties, interest groups, and smaller private companies have lapped it up too, developing and using tools and strategies of digital authoritarianism.

Digital authoritarianism is a great case study in understanding and appreciating the impact of technology on human rights. While laws legalising surveillance and interception of communications, and widespread data collection and processing may not be a problem in themselves, it is the ambiguity often present within those laws that give governments wide latitude of interpretation to facilitate the rights abuse that is a growing challenge.

At the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2022 (FIFAfrica22), Global Voices Advox, shared findings from the Unfreedom Monitor– a project exploring the political and social context that fuels the emergence of digital authoritarianism in 17 countries. They hosted a panel discussion in which project researchers from India, Nigeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe presented the project findings on the connections between political contexts, analogue rights, and the growing use of digital communications technology to advance authoritarian governance.

The findings paint a grim picture for  freedom of the media, expression, and democracy in general. In Zimbabwe for instance, the Unfreedom Monitor report notes that; “the press walks a precarious line between national security and the professional obligation to report truthfully” on issues that happen in the country. It is an observation that is replicated in the mapping conducted in Morocco, Egypt, and Tanzania 

In Sudan, where internet censorship, bad laws and repressed liberties and network disruptions are commonplace, Khattab Hamad noted that the contours and motives of digital authoritarianism include fear of losing power, protecting the existence of regional or international alliances, and geopolitical motives protecting private and family interests. He added that terrorism and support for terrorist groups was another motive for authoritarianism in the country. 

In Tanzania, researchers found that often, laws are enacted as precursors to enable various methods of digital authoritarianism. For example, the Cybercrime Act which was hurriedly enacted just months before the October 2015 elections. “There were many other such laws, including the amendments to the Non-Governmental Orgnaisations (NGO) Act, that saw NGOs being deregistered and control on them tightened in the lead up to the 2020 elections”, they revealed.

In Uganda, network disruptions in the run up to and during recent elections is another example of digital authoritarianism. “Sometimes the internet is restored after elections. So, the question is what exactly is the purpose? What are you hiding? Why do you deny your people access to information? Internet shutdowns also question the credibility of elections”, said Felicia Anthonio of Access Now. She added that network disruptions affect engagement between voters and political candidates, in addition to limiting  electoral oversight and monitoring by human rights activists and election observers. 

As part of the Unfreedom Monitor project, Global Voices Advox has established a publicly available database on digital authoritarianism to support advocacy in light of the “urgency of a fast deteriorating situation”, said Sindhuri Nandhakumar, a researcher  with the project. 

While applauding the research and database in supporting evidence-based advocacy, digital rights activists at FIFAfrica22 noted that given the behaviour of authoritarian regimes, advocacy at the national level may be met with a lot of resistance. As such, more engagement was called for  through special mandates and periodic human rights review mechanisms at the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Human Rights Council.   

“Advocacy [against digital authoritarianism] at national level will be difficult. Positive results could be registered through Special rapporteurs at the AU and states through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), towards securing accountability”, said Arsene Tungali from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

For African digital rights activists, the Global Voices Advox research and database unravels new  avenues for collaborative advocacy and transnational opportunities for interventions to stem this spread of digital authoritarianism. The findings however also point at the need for a concerted and robust response to its growing traction.

As elections in Africa remain a major flashing point for digital authoritarianism as all manner of manipulation of voters, narratives, even results abound, it remains a key area of transnational cooperation. Ahead of the elections in Zimbabwe, slated for July-August 2023, Advox will come up with tips on awareness raising on voter rights and the role of technology in elections. Zimbabwe provides a good opportunity to pilot, learn and perhaps adopt some interventions to counter this behemoth.

Digital Rights Prioritised at The 73rd Session of The ACHPR

By CIPESA Writer |

Digital rights as key to the realisation and enforcement of human rights on the African continent was  among the thematic focus areas of the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 73rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) held on October 17-18, 2022 in Banjul, the Gambia. Under the theme “Human Rights and Governance in Africa: A Multi-Dimensional Approach in Addressing Conflict, Crisis and Inequality”, the Forum also featured thematic discussions on conflict, the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, the environment, climate change, gender-based violence, post Covid-19 strategies and civic space for human rights and good governance.

The Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the Ordinary Sessions of the ACHPR is an advocacy platform coordinated by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies. It aims to promote advocacy, lobbying and networking among non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa. The Forum allows for sharing updates on the human rights situation on the continent by African and international NGOs with a view of identifying responses as well as adopting strategies towards promoting and protecting human rights on the continent.

A session in which the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) participated alongside Paradigm Initiative (PIN), the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and the Centre for Human Rights-University of Pretoria, discussed the relationship between human rights and technology.

Thobekile Matimbe from PIN observed that internet shutdowns in the region are worrying and a major threat to freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of association and peaceful assembly contrary to article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People Rights (ACHPR) and the ACHPR Declaration of Principles on freedom of expression and access to information in Africa. She  expounded on the profound adverse impacts of internet shutdowns and disruptions on socio-economic rights, including the right to education, housing, health, and even social security. Matimbe specifically called for an end to the now two years internet and phone shutdown in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, while also regretting the continued violation of international human rights standards by States in other parts of the continent. 

Introducing digital rights as human rights and situating the different human rights groups within the digital rights discourse, Irene Petras from ICNL highlighted the technological evolution on the continent and the interrelatedness and interdependence of the internet with various rights and freedoms. According to her, internet shutdowns are an emerging concern that is adversely impacting the digital civic space. 

According to Access Now, in 2021 at least 182 internet shutdowns were experienced in 34 countries across the globe. In Africa, shutdowns were recorded in 12 countries on up to 19 occasions. The affected countries were Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Niger, Uganda and Zambia, which experienced internet restrictions during elections. Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Senegal and South Sudan experienced internet shutdowns due to protests and civil unrest. 

According to CIPESA’s legal officer Edrine Wanyama, given the long-standing authoritarianism and democracy deficits in most parts of the continent, elections, protests and demonstrations and examination periods are  the key drivers of internet shutdowns in Africa. Wanyama also noted that the consequences of internet shutdowns were wide ranging, extending to economic and financial loss, undermining freedom of expression, access to information and access to the internet, aggravating the digital exclusion gap, placing doubt on credibility of elections, facilitating loss of trust in governments and often fueling disinformation and hate speech

Given the social, economic and political benefits of the internet, Hlengiwe Dube of the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria urged states to re-think its availability and access at all times, as opposed to imposing information blackouts and creating situations for litigation.  She noted that meaningful access and creation of a facilitative environment for internet access has widely been advanced as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The session called for active monitoring and documentation of internet shutdowns by NGOs including through collaborative and partnership building efforts, utilising investigative tools like Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and NetBlocks which help to detect disruptions, and engaging in strategic litigation. 

The joint recommendations provided for inclusion in the NGOs Statement to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) 73rd Ordinary Session by the thematic cluster on digital rights and security are to:

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) 

  1. In the event of an internet shutdown or any state-perpetrated network disruption, the ACHPR should condemn in the strongest terms such practices and reiterate the state obligations under international human rights law and standards. 
  2. In its assessment of State periodic reports, the ACHPR should engage States under assessment on issues of internet access including the occurrence of interferences through measures such as the removal, blocking or filtering of content and assess compliance with international human rights law and standards.
  3. The ACHPR should engage with stakeholders including State Parties, national human rights institutions and NGOs to develop guidance on internet freedom in Africa aimed at realising an open and secure internet in the promotion of freedom of expression and access to information online.

States Parties

  1. States should recognise and respect that universal, equitable, affordable and meaningful access to the internet is necessary for the realisation of human rights by adopting legal, policy and other measures to promote access to the internet and amend laws that unjustifiably restrict access to the internet.
  2. States parties should desist from unnecessarily implementing internet shutdowns and any other arbitrary actions that limit access to, and use of the internet and restore all disrupted digital networks where such disruptions have been ordered. Where limitation measures that disrupt access to the internet and social media are inevitable, they should be narrowly applied and should be prescribed by the law; serve a legitimate aim and be necessary and proportionate means to achieve a stated aim in a democratic society. 
  3. The State, as the duty bearer, should create a conducive environment for business entities to operate in a manner that respects human rights. 

Non-Governmental Organisations 

  • NGOs and other stakeholders should monitor and document the occurrence of internet shutdowns including their impact on human rights and development; raise awareness of the shutdowns and continuously advocate for an open and secure internet.

The Private Sector

  • Telecommunications companies and internet service providers, in their response to shut down requests, should take the relevant legal measures to avoid internet shutdowns and whenever they receive Internet Shutdown requests from States, the companies should insist on human rights due diligence before such measures are taken to mitigate their impact on human rights, ensuring transparency.

Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2022 (#FIFAfrica22):  Four Days of Workshops, Exhibitions, Panel Discussions and More!

#FIFAfrica22 |

Since its inception in 2014, the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) has offered a platform for policymakers, government officials, civil society, media, tech companies and technologists to convene and deliberate on various aspects of internet governance and digital rights arenas in Africa. This year’s FIFAfrica marks the return to a physical event following two years of hybrid events in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and will take place in Lusaka, Zambia, on September 26-29, 2022. It will feature two days of network meetings and skills workshops (September 26-27,2022) ahead of a two-day main event (September 28-29, 2022).

The FIFAfrica22 agenda is spread over 21 tracks with speakers and session organisers representing an extensive diversity of national, regional and international organisations, governments, tech platforms and think tanks. The largest agenda to date represents the growth in interest in digital rights as well as the concerns that have emerged and prevail on the continent’s digital landscape.

Tracks at FIFAfrica22
Access to Information Cybercrime
Artificial Intelligence Data Governance
Artivism and Creative Expression Online Digital Economy
Business and Human Rights Digital Health
Child Online Protection Digital Resilience
Digital Sovereignty Internet Rights and Governance
Digitalisation and Access to Justice Movement Building
Disinformation Network Disruptions
Inclusive Access and Affordability Platform Accountability
Infrastructure Strategic Litigation for Digital Rights
Technology and Education Women’s Rights Online

FIFAfrica22 will also feature a dedicated Digital Security Hub will also feature at the Forum with digital security and resilience experts from CIPESA, the Digital Society of Africa, the Digital Security Alliance, Internews, Jigsaw/Google and Zaina Foundation.

FIFAfrica is hosted by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), an Uganda-based technology policy think-tank with a pan-African footprint. CIPESA has previously hosted physical Forums in  Kampala, UgandaJohannesburg, South AfricaAccra, Ghana; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

See the agenda

For more details email [email protected]

Confronting the Challenges to Journalism in the Digital Age

By Edrine Wanayama |

Across the world, journalists face daily affronts physically and online for the work they do. Although the proliferation of technology has come with benefits for the practice of journalism, it has also adversely affected the media landscape to the extent that in some countries journalism has come under siege under the digital era. 

Technology has served to enable major shifts in how journalism is practiced, in addition to enhancing freedom of expression and access to information in addition to  complementing the promotion of accountability and transparency. However,  negative aspects such as digital surveillance are endangering the practice of journalism. The use of sophisticated technologies by governments is fuelling rights violations as it is now easier to track, arrest, detain, persecute and prosecute media professionals whose content is deemed unacceptable to the authorities.

This year, World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) was commemorated under the theme ‘Journalism Under Siege and recognised  how recent developments in technological means of monitoring and surveillance impact journalism and freedom of expression.

Digitisation offers several  benefits for the journalism sector, including the pace at which content can be collected and shared across online platforms. However, the risks and harms that come with digitisation, such as the elimination of professional gatekeepers who also uphold journalistic ethics, fabrication of content, falsification of information, misinformation and disinformation, hate speech, and online harassment, have become major threats to the sector.  

While in the pre-Internet world, freedom of expression and privacy were thought to only interact when journalists reported on public figures in the name of the right to know, the rights have become increasingly interdependent. This linkage reflects digital business models and the development of new surveillance technologies and large-scale data collection and retention. The changes pose risks in terms of reprisals against media workers and their sources, thereby affecting the free exercise of journalism, UNESCO

Even though the digital space offers broad opportunities for the practice of the journalism profession, various  countries in Africa have taken systematic steps to limit the enjoyment of freedom in the digital space. Many states across the continent including Egypt, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have enhanced their surveillance capacities including through enactment of enabling legislation which is often used against state critics and journalists.

Furthermore, mass data collection initiatives such as registration of persons for national identification documents, SIM card registration, voter registration and the creation of interlinked databases by the government for various services, have increased the precision with which state authorities can identify their targets. This is of particular concern for the media and their sources.s.

As such, at the WPFD commemoration in Uganda organised by the Uganda’s Media Sector Working Group (UMSWG) in conjunction with the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the Makerere University Department of Journalism and Communication, the Media Council of Uganda, Uganda Communications Commission, and the Uganda Human Rights Commission, attendees discussed the country’s shrinking digital space, surveillance, arrests and persecution amidst growing digitalisation practices across sectors and the population. 

These concerns were echoed at the Africa Media Convention held  in Arusha, Tanzania around the WPFD and organised by UNESCO and the East Africa Editors’ Guild. The convention discussions were largely informed by a research report by CIPESA and UNESCO on journalism under siege in the digital era. In turn, the discussions resulted in the  Arusha Declaration on Journalism Under Digital Siege, which reaffirms the importance of human rights and freedom of the press and states’ commitments to provide an enabling environment for freedom of expression and the press. 

Journalists should use technology responsibly to guard against counter productivity.  There should be deliberate efforts aimed at guarding against online vices such as disinformation and misinformation, false news and hate speech to ensure reporting events and stories is based on truth and objectivity. 

Similarly, states must take all measures to ensure their compliance with universally recognised human rights standards by repealing all laws, policies and practices that limit journalism practice. They should also progressively enact laws that promote digital rights and freedoms including those of journalists. 

Specifically, recommendations in the 2022 Arusha Declaration on the World Press Freedom Day should be adopted by states, media, civil society, technology companies and development partners  if the media sector is to become better and operate with minimal interruptions.