How the ADRF is Building Capacity and Traction for Digital Rights Advocacy in Africa

By Apolo Kakaire |

Three years since it was launched and with USD 649,000 disbursed to 52 beneficiaries across 39 African countries, the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) is powering digital rights policy advocacy and engagement across the continent. According to several beneficiaries, the ADRF is a unique funding initiative that has broken ranks with traditional funders’ structures, and to considerable effect.

The Fund is lauded for adopting a simple application process, allowing for flexibility in implementation, breaking barriers for little-known actors, enabling grantees to build on previous initiatives to ensure greater reach and impact, and supporting local context-specific and responsive projects. This, according to grantees and collaborators who were part of a June 2022 virtual convening on ADRF advocacy experiences which was aimed at promoting learning and best practice.

The ADRF was launched in April 2019 in recognition of the growing role of technology in fostering democracy and promoting equity on the African continent amidst rising arrests of activists, network disruptions in several countries, and restrictive legislation that stifled innovation and human rights online. Moreover, assessments at the time had found that many digital rights interventions were limited in scope, thinly spread across the continent, faced resource limitations, and were often inconsistent in their engagement with digital rights work. 

“The situation called for partnerships to bring together different competences to advance digital rights on the continent through seed funding,” said Ashnah Kalemera, the Programme Manager at the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the administrators of the ADRF.  Those partnerships required provision of flexible and rapid response funding to a range of entities that did not have the ability to attract funding from traditional funders, who have stringent application requirements and lengthy grant application processing times. 

With grants ranging between USD 1,000 and USD 20,000,  ADRF beneficiaries have undertaken various initiatives focused on technology in society, the public and private sectors. Besides the funding, grantees have also received capacity building in data-driven advocacy and impact communication and media relations. Across the continent, the Fund has helped to strengthen capacity in evidence-based research, collaborative advocacy and impactful policy engagements responsive to regulatory and practice developments that affect the internet freedom landscape.

At the June convening, select initiatives in Kenya, Namibia and Somalia supported by the Fund shared their advocacy experiences. In Somalia, the ADRF-supported work of Digital Shelter has seen a major breakthrough in stakeholder dialogue and engagement on hitherto undiscussed digital rights subjects such as digital inclusion, online civic space, gender-based violence online, digital entrepreneurship, civic participation and data protection and privacy

“Prior to ADRF’s support, people in the country had no appreciation for digital rights and the consequences of internet shutdowns. The Fund helped us to engage the government to talk about policies and legislation and when the conversation started, the Minister [of Communications and Technology] was very open and he was surprised that there was a local group addressing these issues,” said Ayaan Khalif, Co-founder of Digital Shelter. “The ADRF was an eye opener and helped us partner and link with other organisations and to understand what works in other countries.” 

Aayan added that applying for the ADRF funding was an easy process. She said: “We were almost giving up on donor funding after so many rejections. The ADRF process was simple. Some donors complicate things. The [application templates] are in English but sometimes it is as if it is in another language.”

The inroads made by Digital Shelter underscore the importance of collaboration and partnership in advancing digital rights in the region. Zakarie Ismael, the eGovernment Implementation Advisor in Somali’s Ministry of Communications and Technology, stated that the government of Somalia, through the ministry has responded to the appeals of Digital Shelter and other actors by prioritising the technology sector, including through the ICT Policy and Strategy 2019-2024. That government responsiveness has been crucial to the work of digital rights activists. As Ayaan noted, “It makes it easy to make inroads when you have people backing you up in policy advocacy. Our partnership with the government has been very practical in this regard.”.

As legislative and oversight bodies, national parliaments have a key role in advancing  digital inclusion and rights-respecting digital policies and practices. Indeed, some grantees, including Mzalendo Trust in Kenya, have dedicated efforts to promoting citizen-parliamentary engagement on digital rights. With the suspension of parliamentary proceedings in Kenya at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ADRF supported functionality upgrades to the Dokeza and Bonga Na Mzalendo platforms. The upgrades enabled citizen participation through remote annotation and submission of memoranda on bills including on the controversial Huduma Initiative

Mzalendo Trust has also worked to promote an inclusive digital economy in Kenya. Like Ayaan, Slyvia Katua, a Programme Officer at Mzalendo Trust, lauded the ADRF for using a simple and straightforward application process. “The application requires you to outline what issues you are targeting, what solutions you offer and what impact you foresee,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Josephat Vijanda Tjiho, from the Internet Society (ISOC) Namibia Chapter, appreciated the ADRF grant process for allowing them to build from one project to another. “We organised forums on digital media and elections, then stepped up to privacy and data protection especially around the Covid-19 pandemic and thereafter a campaign against online violence against women and children. Our ideas [which the ADRF supported] were building from one to the other and this made our application process quite smooth,” Tjiho said. 

ISOC Namibia conducted research and convened engagements with different stakeholders on data protection, gender-based violence online and access to information. “Based on our engagements, the Namibia Access to Information (ATI) Act was passed in June 2022 and this was partly made possible through support from the ADRF,” stated Tijho. For its campaign against gender-based violence, ISOC Namibia successfully collaborated with prominent personalities including a technologist, musician and pageant as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The campaign fed directly into work on research and workshops on gender-based violence in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region for which ISOC Namibia partnered with CIPESA, Meta, Pollicy, Genderlinks and University of Pretoria Centre for Human Rights.

According to Neema Lugangira, a Member of Parliament (MP) in Tanzania, undertaking digital rights advocacy without involving parliament has created huge gaps in ensuring that policy and legislation around digital rights are rights-respecting and are effectively implemented. She faulted civil society organisations seeking policy reforms for concentrating on other arms of the government and ignoring parliaments yet they play a key role in policy formulation and oversight. She urged ADRF grantees and other digital rights actors to actively engage MPs as part of their programming. “We should prioritise capacity building for MPs because they are ignorant about digital rights,” said Lugangira.

The experiences of ADRF grantees indicate the potential of rapid response and flexible funding in positively shaping the digital rights landscape in Africa through targeted research, advocacy and movement building.

How Digital Activism Is Helping African Languages Be Part of a Multilingual Web

By Evelyn Lirri |

The United Nations declared 2022-2032 the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, with the hope of creating a pathway for promoting mainstream linguistic diversity and multilingualism, including in the digital sphere. Currently, there are an estimated 7,000 languages and dialects in the world, of which only 10 dominate the internet ecosystem. Many indigenous, minority and low-resourced languages are excluded from the benefits and opportunities of the digital world.

Main Languages of the internet: English, Chinese, Arabic, Portuguese, Indonesian/Malaysian, French, Japanese, Russian and German. 

Across Africa, language digital activists are now playing a pro-active role in advocating for a multilingual web that aims to ensure that the information available on the internet is as diverse as the languages that exist on the continent. Using a do-it-yourself approach, language activists are making use of a variety of digital tools to tweet, localise software, create audiovisual materials and contribute to Wikimedia projects in their mother languages.

At the eighth edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2021 (FIFAfrica21), held on September 28-30, 2021, language activists promoting the isiZulu, Dagbani, Ibo and Gã languages were part of a panel discussion where they shared insights on the initiatives they are undertaking to  promote African languages on the internet. 

In Ghana, Sadik Shahadu, co-founder of the Dagbani Wikimedians User Group, is spearheading a project to increase visibility of the Dagbani language on the internet. Dagbani is spoken by approximately three million people in the north of Ghana, including some two million indigenous speakers. To-date, 4,000 Dagbani words have been recorded and uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons. The team works with language experts to ensure correct spellings and to verify the meanings of the words. 

Shahadu hopes to be able to create a platform with digital dictionary words that will be usable and freely available to Dagbani speakers. “We are looking for ways not just to improve the language on the internet. We realised we can leverage on platforms such as Wikimedia to create articles and build tools that are going to support our work,” said Shahadu.

In Nigeria, Blossom Ozurumba is working with the Igbo Wikimedians User Group to promote Igbo language and culture. “We started off as a few women that came together to improve the presence of notable Igbo women on Wikipedia,” says Ozurumba. 

Despite Igbo being one of the most widely spoken languages in Nigeria – with an estimated 34 million speakers – there was dismal information on women on the Igbo Wikimedia platform compared to what was on the English platform. 

It is critical that languages and cultures of African people get amplified on different digital platforms as a way of preserving them and making online content more accessible and relevant to African audiences. Currently, the internet is constructed to suit the interests of the dominant language groups found online, thus excluding some communities from online representation and discourse. However, this linguistic gap is an extension of existing offline language inclusion gaps.

South African Siya Masuku, a writer and illustrator in indigenous languages, has been promoting isiZulu through illustrated alphabet books and comics that target primary school age children. “I came up with the idea after learning that books coming into primary schools were not in the children’s mother tongue and the pictures did not represent them,” explains the founder of Siyafunda online. Masuku developed an illustrated book called Siyafunda in isiZulu, with the isiZulu alphabet.

In Ghana, activists are turning to schools to promote the implementation of mother tongue-based bilingual education in policy and classrooms with the hope that this extends into online spaces.  Mama Adjetey-Nii Owoo, founder and lead researcher at Afroliteracies Foundation, a think tank for indigenous African Languages, has developed bi-lingual e-learning resources and curriculum materials, e-books and instruction books for use in primary schools with their flagship programme based on Akan, the most widely spoken language in Ghana.

Globally, there are over four billion active internet users, with the dominant languages of communication being European and Asian languages in addition to Arabic. This, according to advocates of inclusion, creates an unfair realm in the digital sphere.

During a  session that focused on linguistic and cultural diversity as an integral digital right, the role that language plays in enabling expression and engagement in online spaces was highlighted. Wilhelmina Ndapewa Onyothi Nekoto, a natural language processing (NLP) researcher, stressed that language is an important aspect of freedom of speech. Nekoto is currently part of an open source NLP project called Masakhane, that is aimed at addressing native African languages representation online. 

Despite the numerous positive initiatives, there remain various challenges to creating digital resources in more African languages. These range from some languages not being supported by keyboards, absence of android support, through to volunteers not having the necessary devices such as computers for contributing or editing content on platforms such as Wikimedia. Further, financial constraints hinder the growth of more African native languages online. As Ozurumba noted, one of the pressing challenges for the Igbo Wikimedians User Group is the struggle to retain editors as much of the work is done on a voluntary basis.

CIPESA Submits Comments on Tanzania’s Proposed Amendment to The Online Content Regulations 2021

By Edrine Wanyama |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has made a submission on the proposed amendments to Tanzania’s controversial Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2020 that regulate online content service providers, internet service providers, application services licensees, and online content users.

On August 24, 2021, the government made a public call for comments on proposals to amend the 2020 Regulations, which entrenched the licencing and taxation of bloggers, online discussion forums, radio and television webcasters, and repressed online speech, privacy and access to information. The move towards amending the Regulations follows a series of concerns expressed in 2017, 2018 and 2020 over the regressive and repressive nature of online content regulation in the country, and its detrimental effect on freedom of expression, access to information, and the right of establishment of media.  

The proposed 2021 regulations largely reflect the previously issued regulations. While they have  some positive elements, they largely fail to address the threats posed to human rights defenders, political dissidents, journalists, academics, civil society organisations and actors.

On a positive note, the proposed regulations reduce licence application fees, as well as annual and renewal fees charged for online media content services and online content aggregators. Thus, online media content service providers will pay application fees of TZS 50,000 (USD 22) down from TZS 100,000 (USD43), initial licence fees of USD 217 from USD 433, annual licence fees of USD 217   from USD 433 and renewal fees of USD 43 from USD217.

The regulations also remove some ambiguous specification of obligations of service providers, such as the proposed deletion of the current regulation  9 (d) which potentially censors a broad variety of content by imposing on service providers the obligation to filter what is considered “prohibited content.” Regulation  9 (d) of the EPOCA Regulations of 2020 requires online content service providers to, “use moderating tools to filter prohibited content.” 

Furthermore, under regulation 3, some level of certainty in the scope of definitions is provided especially for “online media content services” and “online content aggregators”, which are lacking in the current regulations. The proposed regulations also make attempts to define and narrow the scope of categories of licences by removing all fees that were earlier imposed on online content relating to education and religion, and fees chargeable for the provision of Online Content Service Licence Category B (Simulcasting radio and television). 

However, the proposed regulation maintains broad and vague definitions, such as of “hate speech”, which could potentially be misused against individuals, media and private sector players.

Moreover, the licensing requirements under Part II of the EPOCA regulations of 2020, which have not been proposed for amendment, are still prohibitive with very heavy penalties of not less than five million shillings (USD 2,157) or  12 months imprisonment, or both, for operating without a license from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA). 

Further, the process of applying for a licence under regulation 6 remains tedious, requiring the applicant to furnish TCRA with extensive information including personal information. This comprises certified copies of certificate of incorporation or certificate of registration, tax identification number, tax clearance certificate, national identity cards, and list of owners and management teams, curriculum vitae of staff, editorial policy guidelines and any other documents required by the authority. 

The proposed amendments do not make any attempt to address the wanton restrictions laid down in the Third Schedule to regulation 16 on prohibited content.  This  includes content in paragraph 1 on sexuality and decency, content on personal privacy and respect for human dignity which extends to insults, slander and defamation or exposes news related to a person’s privacy under Paragraph 2(b)

Further, there are restrictions on content  on public security, violence and national security (Paragraph 3), content that is considered to be disrespectful of religion and personal beliefs (paragraph 7), public information that may cause public havoc and disorder (paragraph 8), use of bad languages and disparaging words (paragraph 9) and false, untrue and misleading content (paragraph 10). 

The scope of prohibited content under the Third Schedule is wide and ambiguous, and the provisions facilitate curtailment of freedom of expression and access to information. 

Additionally, the schedule prohibits publication of “content with information with regards to the outbreak of a deadly or contagious disease in the country or elsewhere without the approval of the respective authorities.” The penalty for breach of regulations is a fine of not less than five million Tanzanian shillings (USD 2,174), imprisonment for not less than 12 months, or both. This prohibition undermines freedom of expression and access to health information as it provides room for suspension of content.

Regulation 9(g) maintains  the status quo of the obligations of online content service providers to ensure that prohibited content  is removed immediately upon being ordered by TCRA. This ultimately means the sweeping powers of the authority to determine what content is available for public consumption are still on the statute books. Such powers are also a potential tool for censorship of content and hinder free expression and access to information.

The proposed amendments to the regulations come a few months after the death of Tanzania’s former president, John Magufuli. His reign was characterised by systematic clampdown and curtailment of freedoms including of expression, access to information, assembly and associations. The period before Magufuli’s death was also  characterised  by a lacklustre response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The analysis concludes that the proposed amendments provide some ray of hope especially in providing some degree of certainty in definition of key terms and reduction of application and licensing fees. However, the proposals are not sufficient to tackle the deep concerns in the 2020 regulations. 

You can read the full submission here.

CIPESA, AIRA Stand Against Twitter Ban In Nigeria

Statement |

The African Internet Alliance (AIRA) is concerned about the indefinite suspension of Twitter in Nigeria. This ban is part of a growing trend that curtails freedom of expression and hampers online economic activity. AIRA urges the Nigerian Government to rescind this decision, which is arbitrary, and instead should seek alternative ways of dealing with Twitter.

CIPESA alongside alliance members including Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, BudgIT, the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT), the Co-Creation Hub (CcHub), the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), the Legal Resource Centre (LRC) and Paradigm Initiative.

The Africa Internet Rights Alliance (AIRA) undertakes collective interventions and executes strategic campaigns that engage the government, private sector, media and civil society to institute and safeguard digital rights.

Chad Lifted the 16-Months Social Media Shutdown But Concerns Remain

By Simone Toussi |

In July 2019, the Chadian government lifted a 16-month blockage on access to social media, which it had imposed in March 2018. While connected citizens are now able to access social media with ease, various concerns remain. Digital communication costs are prohibitively high, the media are routinely muzzled, the country is still autocratic, and President Idriss Déby – in office for 29 years now – is not in a hurry to relinquish power. The prospects of enjoying a greater range of digital rights are low, the likelihood of another internet disruption high.

Chad has one of the world’s lowest Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) penetration rates, with internet penetration of 11.4% and mobile penetration of 46.9%. It is ranked 174th out of 176 countries worldwide and 36th out of 38 surveyed countries in Africa by ICT Development Index (IDI).

The low internet penetration did not deter the government from ordering a social media blackout when citizens staged widespread public protests against constitutional changes that could see President Déby rule until 2033. The blockage was only lifted 16 months later in the face of severe national and international pressure. While the blockage lasted, it hampered ICT uptake, denied citizens access to information, hurt their livelihoods, cost the national economy over USD 200 million, and constrained innovation.

Is Chad then ready to harness and to reap the dividends that a digital society delivers? The landlocked central African country has recently launched a 1,200 km fibre optic network linking the capital N’Djamena to the border with Sudan, a large step in broadband coverage extension since international fibre reached the country in 2012. The World Bank-supported Central African Backbone (CAB) project is also expanding ICT infrastructure. But affordability remains a huge problem, and the affronts to freedom of expression and the free flow of information online have slowed ICT uptake in the country of 16 million people. In this article, we provide a rundown of the country’s ICT sector.

 ICT Legal and Regulatory Framework

The key regulations in Chad’s digital space are the law N° 014/PR/2014 on eCommunications, the law N° 009/PR/2015 on Cybersecurity and the fight against Cybercrime, the law N° 007/PR/2015 on the Protection of Personal Data, and the law N° 008/PR/2015 on eTransactions.

At the institutional level, the National Agency for Computer Security and eCertification (ANSICE), established by law N° 006/PR/2015 and under the tutelage of the Presidency, designs and implements policies to combat cybercrime, regulate and control national information systems’ security and  eCommunication networks. It coordinates national cyber security actions to ensure the security of government systems and critical state infrastructure. The Regulatory Authority for eCommunications and Posts (ARCEP), which is supervised by the Ministry of Post and New Information and Communications Technologies, is the industry regulator. The ICT Development Agency (ADETIC) develops and monitors the implementation of the national ICT development strategy. However, while its establishing Law N° 12/PR/2014 provides for formation of a national ICT strategy, to-date, a strategy has not been put in place.

 Access and Affordability

Article 90 of the eCommunications Act  provides for good quality and affordable, universal ICT services across the country. At the July 2019 inauguration of the 1,200km national optical fibre network, President Déby stated that “operators and the State must make efforts to further support the lowering of the internet connection rates, while ensuring quality of services”. However, these aspirations remain a pipedream, as infrastructure is thinly spread and taxes make access unaffordable to many. According to the 2018 ARCEP Telecommunications Market Observatory report issued in May 2019, the average cost of one GB of data per month is currently 7,000 FCFA (USD 12), representing about 12% of the monthly minimum wage which is 60,000 FCFA (USD 101) in Chad. This means only a fraction of Chadians can afford to consistently purchase data and use the internet.  In addition, speeds are low – 5KBps in 2018 as reported by ARCEP –  making it hard for companies and start-ups to provide digital-based development solutions. According to Sidick Bachir Lougouma, the director general of ARCEP, with the new optical fibre network, “Chad will be able to provide national operators with a capacity of 100 gigabits of which 40 gigabits are already available.

Meanwhile, high taxation rates also undermine affordability and uptake. Excise duty tax on mobile operators rose from 4% in 2014 to 7% in 2016. In 2017, the excise duty shot up to 18%, before falling to 9% in 2018 to-date, according to the 2019 Finance Law. In addition to the excise duty tax, Article 27 of the Finance Law states, “Subscription contracts for post-paid and fixed mobile phones are subject to a stamp duty equal to 10% of the amount of the invoices sent to the customer.”

The ACERP’s 2018 report estimates the number of mobile subscribers at seven million – equivalent to a mobile penetration rate of 46.9%. Airtel Chad, Tigo Chad, Salam, and Sotel Fixed-Tawali are the leading telecom operators, with the lion’s share of the market held by Tigo (51.1%) and Airtel (48.5%). The number of internet users was estimated at 1.74 million, representing a penetration rate of 11.4% in 2018, compared to 1.5% in 2009.

While the ongoing infrastructure investments might improve internet speeds and expand access, including to broadband, to larger parts of the country, the high and multiple taxes will keep telecommunications prices high and undermine growth in subscriber numbers.

 Safety, Personal Data and Privacy

The Constitution of Chad provides for the protection of privacy in Article 49, stating: “The privacy of correspondence and communications is guaranteed by law.” Article 182 establishes the High Authority for Media and Broadcasting – an independent administrative body responsible for promoting freedom of the press, and access to information “within the framework of deference for national cultural values, public order and citizens’ privacy.

The above constitutional provisions are reflected in the 2015 law on the Protection of Personal Data, which aims to regulate the collection, processing, transmission, storage and use of personal data. It defines personal data as “any information relating to a natural person identified or identifiable directly or indirectly, by reference to an identification number or to one or more elements, specific to his physical, physiological, genetic, psychological, cultural identity, social or economic” (Section 5).

The application of the law is ensured by the ANSICE, following a framework defined by the law N° 006/PR/2015. It guarantees respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons, the state, local and regional authorities, civil society, and aims to ensure that the use of ICT does not  infringe on individual or public liberties, especially on private life (Article 1, Paragraph 2). The law is considered  a good step towards protecting personal data and promoting users’ digital rights.

 Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press

Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are guaranteed by the Chadian Constitution as follows: “The freedoms of opinion and expression, communication, conscience, religion, press, association, meeting, movement, events are guaranteed to all. They can only be limited by respect for the freedoms and rights of others and the imperative to safeguard national unity, public order and morality“ (Article 28).

However, the country is ranked 122nd out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index 2019. Arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, closure of media outlets, a restrictive operating environment for human rights defenders, threats, intimidation and assault of reporters – have led to a culture of self-censorship online.

In addition, the government has ordered long-lasting disruptions to social networks, thus muzzling citizen participation in decision-making and the democratic process through the internet. Following the controversial re-election of President Déby in 2016, over 10 websites were blocked and the whole country experienced an internet shutdown for several weeks, followed by an eight-month disruption to social networks. At the time, authorities acknowledged that SMS services were restricted “as a security measure” but denied any interference with internet services, instead citing technical challenges.

There were reports of another government-ordered internet disruption on January 25, 2018, to thwart an anti-austerity protest. The planned “peaceful march” against “bad governance, injustices of all kinds and anti-social measures taken by the government” was organised by several civil society organisations in major cities across the country. The Minister of the Interior and Public Security banned the march, before the internet disruption occurred.

In the same way, following protests against constitutional changes, the Chadian government blocked access to social networks including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and YouTube for 16 months – from March 2018 to July 2019. While lifting the blockage, President Déby confirmed that his government had ordered the restriction of access to social networks to preserve national security. Without citing any law, he added: “For a country like Chad which has had dark hours, it is not acceptable for the internet to be diverted for malicious purposes by some individuals with fatal intentions for peace and national unity.


The ICT sector in Chad remains under-developed and there is a lack of a clear roadmap to a vibrant digital society. The culture of ordering network disruptions, negligible efforts in bridging the digital divide and ensuring universal access, as well as multiple and high levels of taxation, censorship of online and traditional media by the government, remain bottlenecks to an accessible and affordable internet and undermine the contribution of ICT to Chad’s socio-economic development.

Revisions to restrictive laws  and the passing of implementation regulation for existing laws is thus crucial. As in the adoption of a national strategy for ICT development.