Emerging Challenges and Data-driven Solutions for a Connected Future at FIFAfrica18

By Netblocks’ Writer |

At the 2018 Forum for Internet Freedom in Africa in Accra, Ghana, NetBlocks is demonstrating new tools and methodologies to defend human rights, empowering local communities and creating a space for open and progressive policies for internet access and telecommunications.

In a joint panel on data-driven advocacy on Friday, NetBlocks along with partners Access NowCIPESA, the GNI and ISF, soft-launched the Cost of Shutdown Tool, an initiative supported by the Internet Society which enables participants to calculate the economic cost of internet shutdowns, network disruptions and platform blocking in sub-Saharan Africa. Economic arguments have proven to be an effective means to bolster the case for human rights online with a view to development and prosperity, a trend which is being recognised and made accessible to internet freedom campaigners by way of the new initiative.

The panel explored how communities have been adopting new tools and developing new workflows as part of the KeepItOn initiative to support internet freedom across the continent, documenting recent incidents of network disruptions during elections in Mali and in Chad, as well as collecting bodies of technical evidence around disruptions in Ethiopia and Cameroon at critical moments for democracy and society.

Thursday saw the launch of the latest edition of The Internet Measurement Handbook, which provides civil society organisations and human rights defenders with practical technical and policy advice on managing internet disruptions, with a copy provided to each FIFAfrica participant.

NetBlocks director Alp Toker and advocacy manager Hannah Machlin demonstrated new internet freedom measurement techniques which present a more accurate, live view of emerging network incidents. Demonstrations and workshops provided a hands-on introduction to real-time internet freedom monitoring, web probes and internet-scale visualisation, which are now being adopted across the continent and globally as part of the internet observatory project.

Working with other civil society groups, the team explored issues around internet governance, internet protocols and their impact on human rights, free expression and trade, producing a series of new alliances and partnerships to strengthen digital rights and protect the integrity of elections regionally and worldwide.

Connecting data and human rights

Sessions over the course of three days have helped build a bridge between technical work to track restrictions on free expression online, connecting the personal experiences of victims of human rights violations with policy makers, governments and ICT industry stakeholders.

About FIFAfrica

Organised by the Collaboration for International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in partnership with the Media Foundation West Africa (MFWA) the 2018 edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa  takes place on 26-28 September 2018 in Accra, Ghana.

The Forum is a landmark event that convenes various stakeholders from the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa and beyond to deliberate on gaps, concerns and opportunities for advancing privacy, access to information, free expression, non-discrimination and the free flow of information online on the continent.

With strategic linkages to other internet freedom forums and support for the development of substantive inputs to inform the conversations on human rights online happening at national level, at the African Union and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the African Internet Governance Forum (IGF), subregional IGFs, the global IGF, Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF), the Internet Freedom Festival (IFF), the Internet Freedom Forum (Nigeria) and RightsCon, among others, FIFAfrica provides a pan-African space where discussion from these other events can be consolidated at continent-wide level, drawing a large multistakeholder audience of actors.

Advancing Internet Policy Research in Africa

By Juliet Nanfuka |
The conversation and actions on internet related policy in Africa have grown in recent years as has the appreciation of its impact on internet users. However, research to support advocacy for improved internet policy development on the continent remains relatively low despite a growing internet penetration and its resultant impact on the continent’s social, economic and political scenes. This has led to the need to train, connect, and build collaboration between researchers, policy makers and internet freedom advocates across the region.
Accordingly, between February 26 and March 3, 2018, an intensive African regional training on Internet policy research methods will be held in Kampala, Uganda. Hosted by the Annenberg School for Communication’s Internet Policy Observatory and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East (CIPESA), along with several partners from across Africa, the six-day program is aimed at building collaborative possibilities across sectors, expanding research capacity within the practitioner and digital rights advocacy communities, as well as providing the skills to strategically use research and data to advance advocacy efforts. Ultimately, it aims to improve working synergies between emerging African networks of civil society organisations, academic centres, technologists and think tanks.

The workshop is designed as an intensive practicum, covering both quantitative and qualitative methods as well as offering case studies which illustrate how to strategically use research for advocacy and policymaking. It will also entail theoretical and practical sessions on a range of topics including legal analysis, survey methods, social network analysis, strategic communication, data visualisation, and network measurement.
Past workshops in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America were successful in equipping a diverse group of participants with the skills needed to understand how to frame research questions, understand various qualitative and quantitative research methods, and collaborate across disciplinary and professional silos.
Following a public call for applications which was launched at the Forum on Internet Freedom Africa 2017, over 400 applications were received from across Africa. A total of 40 applicants – representing 17 countries – with diverse skills and professions including journalists, lawyers, researchers, technologists, academics and government representatives were successful. The represented countries include Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Among the participants is South Africa based Yolanda Mlonzi, co-founder of the Southern African Emerging Leaders in Internet Governance (SAELIG), who notes that, “We find ourselves in an exciting yet critical time, where we have the opportunity to set our own standards and shape internet policy for the better. The workshop presents a great opportunity for learning, to stretch my current positions on internet policy in Africa and most importantly, to start thinking of ways to contribute to quality research that seeks to advance the notion of understanding internet policy through the human and digital rights framework.”
Gambian Demba Kandeh, a journalism and digital media lecturer at the University of The Gambia, echoed Mlonzi’s sentiments on research-driven policy development, noting: “Making impact with research is key but often difficult … there is an opportunity for relevant stakeholders across the continent to seize the opportunity to advance well-researched policy options for the region.” Meanwhile, Namibian researcher and journalist, Frederico Links, pointed out the current gaps affecting strong policy formulation stating that, ”the African internet-related policy space is woefully underdeveloped and weak, and reflects both a severely limited state sector understanding of internet and technology related matters, as well as significant cross-sectoral capacity constraints.”
The workshop will include faculty from the Annenberg School for Communication –  University of Pennsylvania, Alliance for Affordable Internet – World Wide Web Foundation, CIPESA, DefendDefenders, Department of Media Studies at University of Virginia, Human Rights Network for Journalists (Uganda), Internet Policy Observatory, Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), Lynchburg College (USA), Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences (Uganda), Medic Mobile, Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), Open Observatory of Network Interference, Open Technology Fund, Paradigm Initiative, Pollicy, Research ICT Africa, Social Media Exchange (SMEX), Small Media and Unwanted Witness.
Follow the #InternetPolicyAfrica hashtag for updates on the workshop. Remember to follow the organiser Twitter accounts too – @InternetPolicyO and @cipesaug
You can also share your vision for the future of internet use in Africa using the #InternetFreedomAfrica hashtag

Disruptions To Digital Communications Persist In The Democratic Republic Of Congo

By Edrine Wanyama |
Internet access and Short Message Services (SMS) were interrupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) on January 20, 2018 ahead of a peaceful protest march organised by the Catholic Church to compel President Joseph Kabila to step down following the expiry of his final term in office. The country remains caught in a cycle of instability since the postponement of the November 2016 elections to December 2017, and then to April 2018.
The first interruption of digital communications in the vast central African nation occurred in December 2011 in the aftermath of general elections, before the announcement of the election results. The shutdown affected SMS, and lasted 25 days.
In the seven years since then, DR Congo has experienced at least five communication disruptions amidst growing concerns about surveillance of the digital communications of opposition leaders, journalists, and activists.

See: The Evolution of Internet Shutdowns in DR Congo

Affronts to internet access hurt human rights, and undermine political stability and economic growth. According to the new framework for calculating the economic impact of internet shutdowns, DR Congo loses at least USD 1,936,911 per day of an internet disruption.
The regular communication disruptions bring into focus the role of intermediaries in advancing internet freedom in the country. Specifically, telecom companies and other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are being challenged to dissociate themselves from censorship, by declining to effect the government’s orders to cut off communications. Such a move would arguably be in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which require businesses to proactively address all adverse human rights impacts directly linked to their operations, products or services. However, many telecommunications services providers fear reprimand and termination of their licences for failure to comply with directives from the state to interfere or block digital communications.
Government directives to shut down the internet or interrupt communications are usually issued under the guise of “national security” or “public order”. In a letter ordering network disruptions in August 2017, an official of the national communications regulatory body, the Autorité de Regulation des Postes et Télécommunications du Congo (ARPTC), instructed service providers to take preventative measures to reduce the capacity to transmit “abusive messages.”
Internet penetration in DR Congo remains low at 4.2%, supported by a 55.7% mobile penetration. To-date, there are two primary laws governing the telecommunications sector, both of which were passed in 2002: the Framework Law 013/2002 on Telecommunications, and the Law 14/2002 on the Regulations – the law that established the national regulator. However, rather than advance internet access and usage, these laws have often been used against the media and critics of the state. Meanwhile, there are limited meaningful avenues for citizens to provide inputs to proposed new laws related to the telecommunications industry.
President Kabila’s government should boldly work to stop the abuse of rights which the country’s 2005 constitution guarantees . Abuse of free expression and access to information has continued in Congo despite the recognition of access to the internet as a human right by African and International Human Rights instruments. The UN Secretary General has previously called and continues to call upon the Congolese government to uphold her citizens’ freedoms to speech and peaceful assembly.
It is thus imperative that Congo government authorities desist from interrupting digital communications and guarantee citizens’ access to the internet and to the full enjoyment of their digital rights. Further, the Congo government should recognise the relationship between access to the internet and citizens’ livelihoods and work to grow the number of its citizens that meaningfully access and use digital tools and services.