The ADRF Awards USD 134,000 to 10 Initiatives to Advance Tech Accountability in Africa

Announcement |

The grant recipients of the eighth round of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) will implement projects focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI), hate speech, disinformation, microtargeting, network disruptions, data access, and online violence against women journalists and politicians. The work of the 10 initiatives, who were selected from 130 applications, will span the breadth of the African continent in advancing tech accountability.

“The latest round of the ADRF is supporting catalytic work in response to the urgent need to counter the harms of technology in electoral processes,” said Ashnah Kalemera, the Programmes Manager at the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) – the administrators of the Fund. She added that for many of the initiatives being supported, tech accountability was a new area of work but the various projects’ advocacy, research and storytelling efforts would prove instrumental in pushing for tech justice

Established in 2019 as a rapid response and flexible funding mechanism, the ADRF aims to overcome the limitations of reach, skills, resources, and consistency in engagement faced by new and emerging initiatives working to defend and promote rights and innovation in the face of growing digital authoritarianism and threats to digital democracy in Africa. The sum of USD 134,000 awarded in the latest round, which was administered by CIPESA in partnership with Digital Action, brings to USD 834,000 the total amount awarded by the ADRF since inception to 62 initiatives across the continent.

According to Kalemera, the growth in the number of applicants to the ADRF reflects the demand for seed funding for digital rights work on the continent. Indeed, whereas the call for proposals for the eighth round was limited to tech accountability work, many applicants submitted  strong proposals on pertinent issues such as digital inclusion, media and information literacy, digital safety and security, surveillance, data protection and privacy, access and affordability – underscoring the cruciality of the ADRF. 

Here’s What the Grantees Will be Up To

In the lead-up to local government elections in Tanzania, Jamii Forums will engage content hosts, creators and journalists on obligations to tackle hate speech and disinformation online as a means to safeguard electoral integrity. In parallel, through its Jamii Check initiative, Jamii Forums will raise public awareness about the harms of disinformation and hate speech.

Combating hate speech and disinformation is also the focus of interventions supported in Senegal and South Sudan. Ahead of elections in the world’s youngest nation, DefyHateNow will monitor and track hate speech online in South Sudan, host a stakeholder symposium in commemoration of the International Day for Countering Hate Speech as a platform for engagement on collective action to combat hate speech, and run multi-media campaigns to raise public awareness on the harms of hate speech. Post elections in Senegal, Jonction will analyse the link between disinformation and network disruptions and engage stakeholders on alternatives to disruptions in future elections.

In the Sahel region, events leading up to coups in Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been characterised by restrictions on media and internet freedom, amidst which disinformation and violent extremism thrived. As some of the states in the region, notably Burkina Faso and Mali, move towards an end to military rule and head to the polls, the Thoth Media Research Institute will research disinformation and its role in sustaining authoritarian narratives and eroding human rights. The learnings from the research will form the basis of stakeholder convenings on strategies to combat disinformation in complex political, social, and security landscapes. Similarly, Internet Sans Frontières (ISF) will study the role of political microtargeting in shaping campaign strategies and voter behaviour, and the ultimate impact on the rights to privacy and participation in Mali. 

In South Africa, the Legal and Resources Centre (LRC), will raise awareness about the adequacy and efficacy of social media platforms’ content moderation policies and safeguards as well as online political advertising models in the country’s upcoming elections. The centre will also provide legal services for reparations and litigate for reforms related to online harms.

A study has found that Africa’s access to data from tech platforms, for research and monitoring electoral integrity, was below that in Europe and North America. Increased access to platform data for African researchers, civil society organisations, and Election Management Bodies (EMBs) would enable a deeper understanding of online content and its harms on the continent, and inform mitigation strategies. Accordingly, the ADRF will support Research ICT Africa to coordinate an alliance to advocate for increased data access for research purposes on the continent and to develop guidelines for ethical and responsible access to data to study elections-related content.

The impact of AI on the information ecosystem and democratic processes in Africa is the focus of two grantees’ work. On the one hand, the Eastern Africa Editors Society will assess how editors and journalists in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia have adopted AI and to what extent they adhere to best practice and the principles of the Paris Charter on AI and Journalism. On the other hand, the Outbox Foundation through its Thraets initiative will research the risks of AI-generated disinformation on elections, with a focus on Ghana and Tunisia. The findings will feed into tutorials for journalists and fact checkers on identifying and countering AI-generated disinformation as part of elections coverage, and awareness campaigns on the need for transparency on the capabilities of AI tools and their risks to democracy. 

Meanwhile, a group of young researchers under the stewardship of the Tanda Community-Based Organisation will research how deep fakes and other forms of manipulated media contribute to online gender-based violence against women journalists and politicians in the context of elections in Ghana, Senegal, and Namibia. The study will also compare the effectiveness of the legal and regulatory environment across the three countries in protecting women online, hold consultations and make recommendations for policy makers, platforms  and civil society on how to promote a safe and inclusive digital election environment for women.

Past and present supporters of the ADRF include the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the Ford Foundation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the German Society for International Cooperation Agency (GIZ), the Omidyar Network, the Hewlett Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Skoll Foundation and New Venture Fund (NVF).

Governments Urged to Adopt Specific Policies Addressing Tech-Facilitated Violence Against Women in Politics

By Asimwe John Ishabairu |

As part of events to commemorate this year’s International Women’s Day, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) hosted a webinar under the theme ‘InspireInclusion: African Women in Politics are Pushing Back Against Tech Facilitated Online Violence’. The webinar highlighted the importance of increased political inclusion of women, which  is undermined by rising affronts to women’s presence and participation in political narratives both online and offline.

“As women, we indeed face a lot of online abuse, and it’s really unfortunate that whatever is happening now may hinder those who would want to be politicians, especially women. Because of online abuse, most women who want to join politics will be afraid of putting their life in the public eye,” said Susan Dossi, Member of Parliament (MP) representing Chikwawa West Constituency in Malawi. She added that Malawi is working on strategies to ensure that the country has more women in parliament.

Tanzania’s MP representing Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Neema Lugangira, acknowledged that she had on several occasions been a victim of online abuse.

“When we are talking about online abuse, it’s not just on the social media platforms where you don’t know the people who are doing these abuses. It is from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all the way to WhatsApp groups where you actually know the people’s [contact numbers]. It is not an easy situation to be in,” said Lugangira.

She added that abusers often  hide under the guise of exercising their freedom of expression to critique female politicians, but in reality  “they are using their freedom of expression to limit us from using our own freedom of expression.,”

Lugangira said that as a result of the abuse they are subjected to, many women parliamentarians choose not to be online and instead opt to self-censor.

She added that online abuse of women in politics is diminishing democracy and hampering African countries’ efforts  to increase the number of women and girls who want to join politics.

The webinar also cast a spotlight on how women in active politics in African countries are working to protect the rights of women online, including through legal frameworks and engaging technology platforms to address Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence (TFGBV) associated with political spaces and discourse.

As a possible solution to this, Modestus Amutse, the Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology in Namibia, said more African countries need to develop policies with specific provisions to protect women against gender-based violence, especially online, so as to give women confidence to use the internet without fear.

He added that while countries have laws that regulate the use of the internet in terms of data protection or cyber security, in many cases such legislation is not gender-specific.

“They are just there to protect, perhaps the security of everyone on an equal basis,” said Amutse. “I would have loved to see policies that have provisions targeting the protection of women so that they are free when they use the internet.”

Meanwhile, Adedolapo Adegoro, a Technology Policy Analyst with Tech Hive Advisory, noted that Nigeria has one of the lowest levels of women’s representations in parliament or holding political positions, in Africa.i She said the country had failed  to implement laws that seek to protect women from online bullying.

“The Nigerian Cyber Crimes Act has the highest provisions that sort of protect women from online bullying. These provisions have been there for quite a while, however, the first time it really received definition of interpretation from the courts was about four or five years ago,” Adedolapo noted.

She cited a need to adopt a multi-stakeholder approach where all actors are involved in putting together policies and procedures geared towards protection of women online.

Sylvia Musalagani, Head of Safety Policy for Africa, Middle East and Turkey at Meta, said that their organization believes that women have a right to participate in the online environment and a right to find economic opportunities.

“We do recognise the place that our platforms play in women’s participation online and we are committed to continue having direct conversations with parliamentary initiatives and share ideas on how to improve,” she said.

The panelists appealed to social media platform operators to improve their content moderation practices regarding TFGBV. They observed a need for Meta to engage legislators through the African Parliamentary Network on Internet Governance (APNIG) so as to strengthen the safety of online space and enable more women  to join  politics.

“For more women to retain political seats, we need to be visible… If we are not online, it limits our visibility,” said Lugangira, who also heads APNIG.

According to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on Gender Equality, digital technologies have the potential to increase women’s inclusion, participation, and engagement in politics, providing them with a platform to have their voices heard.

Over the years, women in politics have increasingly relied on various digital tools, especially social media platforms, to connect with their constituencies. However, they have also become the targets of online threats and abuse. It was observed that TFGBV not only impedes women’s equitable and meaningful participation in public offices but also their long-term willingness to engage in public life.

2024 the Year of Democracy: African Electoral Authorities Release Guidelines for Social Media Use

By CIPESA Writer |

Over the last couple of years, digital and social media have come to play a central role in elections in Africa. That role has many bright sides, such as enabling swift voter education by electoral bodies, efficient campaigns by candidates, as well as monitoring and reporting malpractice. For the bigger part, in many African countries, the focus has centred on the negative impacts of digital platforms that often threaten social cohesion and electoral integrity, so much so that social media and sometimes all of the internet have been blocked at crucial times of the electoral cycle.

Concerns about ‘not throwing out the baby with the bathwater’, as some countries have appeared to do with drastic measures such as network disruptions, elicited a need for guidelines on how digital platforms, including social networking sites and private messaging applications, should be utilised during elections. Such guidelines would nurture the great potential that these media can deliver to candidates, political parties, and Election Management Bodies (EMBs), and to electoral integrity, while combating disinformation, hate speech, Technology-Facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV), and other harms that they can enable.

This is the spirit behind the development of the Principles and Guidelines for the Use of Digital and Social Media in Elections in Africa, which were launched in South Africa on  February 27-29, 2024 at an event where the country’s deputy president, Paul Mashatile, was guest of honour. The Guidelines are the brainchild of the Association of African Election Authorities (AAEA), whose General Assembly endorsed them in November 2023 in Cotonou, Benin. The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) coordinated the development of the Guidelines, with support from the African Union Commission, the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (EAD), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and various African experts and civil society groups including the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

The stated objective of the Guidelines is to enhance the capacities of EMBs and other relevant electoral stakeholders to harness the advantages of social media and tackle the adverse effects of new and emerging digital technologies.

The Guidelines could help to stem the growing use of social media, including by state officials, opposition parties and “paid influencers” to sow disinformation and undermine electoral integrity, prompt platforms to do more to moderate harmful content, pave way for regulating political advertising, hopefully deter such antics as Cambridge Analytica played in elections in Kenya and Nigeria, and discourage internet disruptions that create an information vacuum and undermine electoral credibility.

Launching the Guidelines represents a major step in developing a crucial normative framework which entities around the continent should embrace. Indeed, in this crucial year in which up to 16 African countries will hold national/presidential elections, electoral authorities and other stakeholders would do well to adopt the use of the guidelines. Popularising the Guidelines will be critical for their uptake.

The adoption of the Principles and Guidelines signalled a new era for EMBs in the quest to reap the benefits of digital and social media while also investigating ways to mitigate the inherent harms that could jeopardise the credibility of electoral processes. Paul Mashatile, South Africa’s Deputy President.

The Guidelines encourage African EMBs to develop a clear and comprehensive plan for responsible social media use during election campaigns. They also lay down guidelines for various stakeholders, including the media and civil society organisations.

Furthemore, as noted by the IEC, they encourage African member states and regulatory authorities to refrain from imposing measures that might disrupt access to the internet, and to digital and social media. They call on social media operators to treat political parties and candidates equitably and ensure that their online messaging, including that of their supporters, does not undermine electoral integrity or contravene human rights.

On Responsibilities of Social Media Companies: In line with the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), digital and social media must put in place processes for human rights due diligence and human rights impact assessment to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on human rights during the electoral cycle, and disclose these processes for transparency and accountability.

In sum, these timely guidelines, if implemented, could help combat digital harms and enhance electoral integrity across the continent.

Empowering Journalists to Deescalate Conflict and Hate Speech at Election Times

By CIPESA Staff |

Elections are an essential democratic process during which citizens need access to a range of credible information in order to participate meaningfully and to make informed choices. But elections can also be highly charged affairs and, with the increasing proliferation of digital technologies, there is always a danger of rising cases of online hate speech.

This scenario requires that the media – particularly in conflict-prone communities – have the skills for conflicting-sensitive reporting, are able to identify and call out hate speech online and offline, counter misinformation, and develop comprehensive plans for election coverage. Yet, the pressures which the Covid-19 pandemic has exerted on the budgets of media houses, and the restrictions some governments have increasingly placed on media freedom, all undermine the ability of the media to play the role of peace mediators, agenda-setters, and watchdogs.

That is where the role of civil society becomes crucial in ensuring the media to play its needed role at such important democratic processes as elections. It is against this background that, ahead of Uganda’s January 2021 elections, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) conducted a series of training workshops to equip journalists with the relevant skills, knowledge and tools to aid them to report on the elections in a more professional and balanced manner.

“In the 2021 general election, since public rallies were limited to a small number of people, or banned altogether in some districts, there was a heavy reliance on the media by the candidates to reach out to the electorates. It is important that media workers are up to the task of delivering information to citizens in a balanced and neutral manner,” said Paul Kimumwe, Senior Program Officer for Research and Advocacy at CIPESA.

Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, the government initially suspended all public gatherings, among other restrictions although these were progressively eased to allow political rallies in some districts provided they did not exceed 200 attendees.

As part of efforts to discourage mass rallies, the communication regulator, Uganda Communication Commission (UCC), in November 2020 issued the Guidelines on the Use of Media during the General Elections and Campaigns 2021. According to the guidelines, all media stations shall not discriminate against any political party or candidate or subject any political party or candidate to any prejudice in the broadcasting of political adverts.

On the other hand, all private media stations are required to ensure that all their advertising space and airtime was not bought out by one party. Yet, leading opposition candidates were barred from accessing some radio stations and campaigning in several towns.

In the lead up to the elections, journalists had fallen victim to arrests and assaults, there was an attempted block to media outlets running online – the state requested Facebook to block mainly opposition owned YouTube channels, reports of denials of accreditation to cover the elections emerged, thus threatening the plurality of the media.

With the media and digital platforms including social media providing key campaign platforms, there were concerns about the proliferation of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech online. Earlier in March 2020, UCC had issued a public advisory notice against individuals (including journalists) misusing digital platforms to publish, distribute and forward false, unverified, or misleading stories and reports. In September 2020, the regulator issued a renewed order for online publishers and broadcasters to apply for operating licences.

According to Kimumwe,  the training was structured to provide the trainees with both knowledge and skills-based competences to help them cover elections more effectively and professionally.

“The curriculum included topics such as the role of media in electoral democracy, technology and journalism, electoral media-related laws and policies, peace journalism, how to prepare for and cover election day and the post-election period, and how journalists can ensure their safety,” noted Kimumwe.

He said it was important to include conflict-sensitive reporting given Uganda’s past history of a violent election process and the proliferation of hate speech during the campaigns, especially online. “We believe that the media could help in de-escalating the tensions through reporting as well as providing the much needed context and fact-checking certain utterances by politicians on the campaign trail,” he said.

Ahead of the training, there were various incidents of attacks against journalists on the campaign trail by security forces. It was important therefore that the trainees were equipped with safety and security skills as they covered the elections.

The training included editors and reporters from more than 50 media houses in the Acholi, Bukedi, Busoga, Elgon, and Teso  sub-region benefited from the training,  of whom 36% were female.

“The training helped me acquire skills to report on the elections as well as knowing my role and rights as a journalist” – Julius Wasike, Apex FM reporter, Jinja

“The training awakened my conscience and alertness towards safety and conflict-sensitive reporting” – Gerald Matembu, NBS reporter, Mbale

“I have learnt how to write stories that do not ignite the emotions” – Agnes Aromo, Radio Pacis journalist, Gulu

The campaign period was characterised by high levels of violence, including beatings of journalists, arrests of presidential candidates, and the killing of more than 50 people during a riot. Whereas this created fears that the election day and its aftermath would be marred by violence, the election day and the post-election period have been calm.

Nonetheless, there are allegations that the winning candidate, incumbent Yoweri Museveni, was fraudulently declared winner with 59% of the votes, and the runner-up, Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, has petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn Museveni’s victory. The blockage of the internet ahead of the elections undermined electoral transparency, severely hindered the work of journalists, and denied citizens’ access to badly needed information.

In November 2020, CIPESA partnered with Media Focus on Africa to bring together 80 key media practitioners and stakeholders including media support organisations, media houses, journalists’ associations, government bodies, independent content producers, civil society, and security organs to deliberate on challenges and opportunities for media during elections in a digital era. Conducted in Kampala, the engagement also gave journalists tips on digital security and fact-checking.

Besides the journalists’ training, CIPESA conducted other engagements that brought together key actors including Members of Parliament, Electoral Commission (EC) officials, election observer groups, and human rights organisations. A December 2020 roundtable saw officials from Facebook and WhatsApp present their efforts to combat cyber violence, harassment,  incitement, bullying, misinformation, fight hate speech and other objectionable content. Political party leaders and the EC officials explained how pivotal digital platforms had become in an election where physical meetings were heavily curtailed.