Participant Reflection on #FIFAfrica22: Effective Engagement in the UPR Process for Digital Rights Promotion

By Murungi Judith |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and Small Media held a workshop on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process as part of  Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica 22), which was held in Lusaka Zambia from September 26-29, 2022. The workshop is a product of the UPROAR project aimed at advancing the cause of digital rights globally by supporting engagement in international advocacy at the UPR. 

The 32 participants at the workshop represented a diverse array of backgrounds including  civil society, digital rights activism and advocacy, legal, journalism, and academia.  A total of  20 countries were also represented -Benin,Burundi, Botswana,  Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria,  Senegal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania,Uganda,United Kingdom, United States of America, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The workshop entailed an overview of the UPR, its  purpose and the processes. Also included were in depth  discussions on international and regional normative frameworks on digital rights. Specific attention was drawn to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the first normative framework on freedom of expression. The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was also explored under the core tenets of the right to hold opinions without interference (freedom of opinion), the right to seek and receive information (access to information) and the right to impart information (freedom of expression).

It was noted that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and that the three-part test is key in determining the circumstances which potentially justify limitations. Under Article 19 (2) of the ICCPR, limitations are specifically listed as ( i) it must be provided for in law (ii) it must pursue a legitimate aim (iii) it must be necessary for a legitimate purpose.

The three-part-test formed the basis of heated debate related to electoral democracy and internet shutdowns in countries like Cameroon and Tanzania when compared to Kenya where the government did not impose an internet shutdown during their recent elections. As a result of the comparative discussions, participants reached  the conclusion that there are still actions of governments that are a threat to internet freedom such as arrests, detention and assassination of some journalists. It is the responsibility of civil society, activists and human rights defenders to hold governments accountable through the use and increased participation in the UPR process. 

The presence of Hon. Neema Lugangira from Tanzania, a member of Tanzanian Parliament and the Chairperson of the African Parliamentary Network on Internet Governance in the sessions was priceless and a beacon of hope in bridging the gap between civil society and policy makers towards promoting digital rights through the UPR.

The workshop also explored various case law on freedom of expression in Africa including precedent such as in Lohé Issa Konaté v Burkina Faso. Participants deliberated on the relevance of evaluating and critically assessing the law and ensuring that cases are framed in a manner that is in line with the jurisdiction of the particular court of law approached without which matters could be thrown out. This session gave the participants a clear understanding of the link between offline and online rights and specific laws that apply to minority and marginalised groups such as children, women, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable communities. 

The session on campaign and advocacy planning aimed at equipping participants with the necessary tools required to engage partners on how to carry out campaigns and to execute advocacy strategies through the UPR. It highlighted the eye-catching and precise advocacy materials that could be used in social media as well as other platforms for the UPR at local level. It led to discussions on the critical role played by local stakeholders in leveraging the UPR for digital rights development in their various contexts. The session helped the participants understand how to engage with local partners and to ensure that there is effective implementation of recommendations made to their respective countries. This involved fact sheets and how to use them during the UPR process. 

Participants engaged in a practical lobbying session where they had to appear before a UN delegate and present the issues affecting digital rights in their respective countries and recommendations for reform. This practical group exercise was very beneficial and informative because it gave the participants a chance to apply what they had learnt in regard to the UPR process. It gave them an opportunity to experience the review process at Geneva. 

Through the UPROAR Website, participants were guided on how to leverage research and social media platforms online for effective design and branding as part of UPR engagements  related to digital rights. The workshop also entailed guidance on what stakeholder mapping is and its importance.

In a subsequent panel entitled ‘Stemming the Tide: Has the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism Contributed to Changes in the Digital Rights Landscape of States Under Review?’ panelists shared experiences from Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and many others. This gave the participants in the workshop an understanding on how to prepare for stakeholder engagements and how to conduct evidence-based advocacy at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

It was noted that the Covid-19 pandemic led to the imposition of travel restrictions which caused difficulties in traveling to Geneva to physically participate in the UPR process. Online opportunities were a welcome alternative but the lack of reliable internet access among civil society on the continent during the sessions presented an additional barrier

Beyond making submissions and engaging during review sessions, participants were urged to also take part in monitoring recommendations. Experiences were shared about governments such as that of Uganda which rejected all the recommendations that were given in regard to digital rights. In such instances participants were encouraged not to give up and draw back due to such government response but to keep doing the work of advocacy in line with digital rights since the same is also a notable step in the right direction. They were also encouraged to collaborate with law and policy members to ensure that they know about the UPR process and that they are able to positively respond to the recommendations given. They were also encouraged to ensure that there is in-country pressure from civil society to ensure that governments act on the recommendations given to them. It was noted that in Tanzania there has been a significant increase in the acceptance of recommendations after there has been collaboration between civil society and parliamentarians.  

The UPR sessions at FIFAfrica22 were very informative and intriguing as it engaged well-equipped workshop trainers. Experiences from those who had participated in Geneva engagements on digital rights stirred the urge for proactive engagement and participation by those coming up for review like Botswana.

FIFAfrica22: Recognising Access To Information As A Fundamental Digital Right

Greetings from #FIFAfrica22 |

On September 28 the International Day for Universal Access To Information (IDUAI) will be commemorated globally. The day was proclaimed by the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) General Conference in 2015, following the adoption of the 38 C/Resolution 57 which recognised the significance of access to information. The 2022 edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) will also commemorate this day through a series of discussions pertaining to access to information as a fundamental digital right.
Since its inception, FIFAfrica has coincided with  IDUAI commemorations every September 28 during which it has endevoured to create awareness about access to information offline and online and its connection to wider freedoms and democratic participation. These engagements have drawn consistent partnerships from UNESCO, among other global and regional actors.

In 2017, the African Commission Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, addressed FIFAfrica, where she received special recognition for her contributions to promoting access to information.

The theme for IDUAI 2022 is “Artificial Intelligence, e-Governance and Access to Information” which echoes various sessions that will feature at FIFAfrica22.

The opening of FIFAfrica22 will feature Honourable Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo, the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) Commissioner on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. Further sessions like Building Resilient Access to Information Legislation in the Digital Age; The Internet as a Tool for Promoting Information Integrity, Addressing Information Pollution Online and Offline; Artificial Intelligence Policy and Practice: Towards a Rights-Based Approach in Africa; Data Protection Trends and Advocacy in Africa; and Digital Inclusion: Acces, Data Governance and Ethical Innovation in Africa which resonate with this year’s global IDUAI theme will form part of the discussions at FIFAfrica22.

Speakers at the sessions will represent a diversity of actors working on advancing the free flow of information,  each of whom brings new insights and approaches to addressing practice and policy gaps affecting the realization of access to information in Africa.  The speaker lineup includes representatives from  Panos Institute, Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), Bloggers of Zambia, International Training Programme on Media Development in a Democratic Framework (ITP), International Centre for Non-For-Profit Law (ICNL), ALT Advisory, Center for Intellectual Property and Information Technology (CIPIT), Paradigm Initiative, Lawyers Hub Kenya, World Benchmarking Alliance, Development Initiatives, Data Science for Health Discovery and Innovation in Africa (DSI-Africa), Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network, Internews, and Access Now.

Be part of the online conversation using #FIFAfrica22 and share your vision for #InternetFreedomAfrica! | Follow @cipesaug on FacebookTwitterLinkedInVisit the event website

About FIFAfrica
The Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) is an annual landmark event which convenes a spectrum of stakeholders from across the internet governance and digital rights arenas in Africa and beyond. Hosted the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the Forum will offer a platform for government representatives, civic actors, journalists, policymakers and technologies to come face to face.

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]