Telcos in Nigeria and Kenya Should Address Exclusion of Persons With Disabilities

By CIPESA Writer |
In January 2019, after nine years in the making, Nigeria signed into law the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018. In Kenya, a similar framework had been signed into law in 2003. Both laws were aimed at promoting a more inclusive society for persons with disabilities.
Sections 24 and 25 of the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act 2018 require the government to ensure that persons with disabilities are given special considerations, including provision of special communication emergencies.
On the other hand, Kenya’s constitution outlaws’ discrimination on the grounds of disability, under article 27(4). Under article 54, it emphasizes that a person with a disability shall be entitled to treatment with respect and dignity, access to educational institutions and facilities, reasonable access to all places, public transport and information, and access materials and devices including for communications. Additionally, Kenya’s National ICT Policy of 2016 outlines, under article 13, strategies for “an accessible ICT environment in the country in order to enable persons with disabilities to take full advantage of ICTs.”
However, despite these constitutional and other legal provisions, telecom operators in the two countries have largely failed to address the digital communication needs of persons with disabilities.
At least 7% of Nigeria’s (25 million people) and 3.5% of Kenya’s population (1.3 million people) are recognized by countries’ national census as persons with disabilities. Yet major operators – with the exception of Safaricom in Kenya – have failed to make their services accessible to a large section of this customer segment.
Section 15(1) of the Consumer Code of Practice Regulations 2007 issued by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) requires telcos to ensure that the interests of consumers with disabilities are fully taken into account in developing and providing their services. However, leading telcos MTN Nigeria and Airtel Nigeria, which jointly have a 75% share of the telecom market share, have done little to fulfil this requirement.
In both countries, whereas the outlets of the telecom companies assessed were physically accessible to persons with disabilities, there was a stark lack of training for sales and customer services staff in serving persons with disabilities. In total, ten companies in five countries were assessed, including Safaricom and Wananchi Telecom (Kenya), Airtel Nigeria and MTN Nigeria, along with others in Botswana, South Africa, and Uganda. The assessment was guided by a tool that drew assessment criteria from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Model Accessibility Policy 2014, the Web and Mobile Content Accessibility Guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The telecom companies were assessed on various facets of promoting digital accessibility, such as availability of accessible handsets and other mobile devices embedded with accessibility features; physical accessibility of sales and customer service outlets of the telecom operators; and whether the operators trained their staff to serve customers with disabilities.
In Nigeria, despite its high population of persons with disabilities, the Joint National Association of Persons Living with Disabilities (JONAPWD) reported that there were barely any accessible and affordable devices offered for sale by telecom companies. Equally, the telecom companies had not made any efforts to offer accessible services.
In contrast, Safaricom in Kenya had put considerable effort in sensitivity training and upskilling its staff in the provision of services to persons with disabilities. Further, it created a database of its customers with visual impairment and once they call its customer service numbers, they are connected to customer care agents trained to cater to them.
In December 2017, Safaricom introduced the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) that enabled visually impaired customers to manage their M-Pesa transactions; and in November 2018, it launched the DOT Braille Watch, which displayed SMS notifications in braille, enabling the visually impaired to use M-Pesa services without having to seek assistance from third parties. Safaricom had also committed to employing more persons with disabilities and as of April 2019, it reported that 2.1% of its employees were persons with disabilities (up from 1.7% in 2018), with ambitions of reaching 5% in coming years.
Given the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to make significant improvements in the lives of persons with disabilities, telecom operators need to address their concerns regarding the operators’ services and products. They should provide public information or communication in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, visual and audio formats; understand the numbers and needs of their customers with disabilities so that they build focused products and services to suit these customers; ramp up sensitivity training for staff, including in basic sign language; and improve availability for sale of affordable mobile telecommunication devices with accessible features.
Further, telecom companies should form partnerships with academia, civil society, disability rights organisations, tech developers and innovators as well as device manufacturers to develop accessible mobile communication solutions. Finally, operators in Kenya, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa should look to Safaricom and Vodacom South Africa for learning examples on how to proactively and consistently work to improve digital accessibility and build partnerships that improve service provision to persons with disabilities.
See the full report here.

Calling Out the African Union and Telecoms Associations to Prioritize ICT Access for Persons with Disabilities

By Edrine Wanyama |

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been observed every December 3 since 1992. The annual event aims to “promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.”

The theme for 2020 was “Building back better: towards an inclusive, affordable, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world by, for and with persons with disabilities”. This is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which pledges to leave no one behind, and five of whose goals outline inclusion of persons with disabilities.

In the past year, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has highlighted the need to remove barriers to ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Likewise, it has called for greater access to information for persons with disabilities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, CIPESA has pointed out the need for telecommunications service providers, governments and donors to do more to promote ICT accessibility for persons with disabilities in Africa.

CIPESA is now shining the spotlight on the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and the East African Communications Organisation (EACO) as critical regional bodies with  mandates to promote inclusive, affordable, accessible and sustainable information and communications technology (ICT) for persons with disabilities.

In separate  letters addressed to the  three organisations on International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), CIPESA acknowledges their critical roles, and that of their respective members, in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in the digital sphere.

Specifically, the letters recall these organisations’ obligation to protect and advance the rights of persons with disabilities in line with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, the Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (the Marrakesh Treaty); the SDGs; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa (the Protocol).

The Protocol is critical for the promotion and effective protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. However, it is yet to be ratified by any African Union (AU) Member State and only has nine signatoriesAngola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Mali, Rwanda, South Africa, and Togo.

The Protocol  calls upon AU Member States to take “effective and appropriate measures to facilitate full enjoyment by persons with disabilities of the right to access “information, communications, sign language and tactile interpretation services, braille, audio and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.” Further, the Protocol calls upon States to ensure that persons with disability have access to quality and affordable mobility aids and assistive devices or technologies.

Despite states’ obligations in regional instruments, the letters point to continued inequality in accessing assistive technologies such as screen readers, screen magnification software, text readers, and speech input software; and  digital inaccessibility of websites mobile applications and services. e.

In the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the digital exclusion of persons with disabilities has deepened, as many cannot access vital information on the pandemic, lack access to education and remote working opportunities, which increasingly require the use of ICT..

The recommendations made in the letters include the following:

  • Ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Africa as a matter of utmost priority, and promote awareness on its content and the rights it protects.
  • Provide incentives for innovation and investment in accessible ICT products and services, such as software solutions and accessible handsets and mobile devices.
  • Offer tax exemptions on handsets and mobile devices tailored to the needs of persons with disabilities.
  • Support the implementation of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Resolution 175 on Telecommunication/information and communication technology accessibility for persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs.
  • Ensure that information on COVID-19 is inclusive and provided in accessible and appropriate formats and languages.
  • Support the development, implementation and enforcement of relevant and enabling national policies and legislation on accessible communication products and services such as disability laws, Codes of Practice, consumer rights regulations, and ICT and disability policies.
  • Promote awareness on, and access of persons with disabilities to specialist devices and technologies such as manual Perkins Brailler, hand-held magnifiers, hand frames/slates and communication boards, screen readers, text-to-speech software and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
  • Promote the participation of persons with disabilities in decision-making and policy development processes at national and regional levels.
  • Ensure the systematic collection, analysis, storage and dissemination of national statistics and data covering disability to increase the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable disaggregated data by disability, in order to facilitate the protection and promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities.
  • Promote multi-stakeholder cooperation between governments, the private sector, civil society and other relevant actors to incorporate diverse perspectives and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in accordance with the Protocol.

The detailed letters can be found here: African Union Commission (AUC) letter, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) letter, and the East African Communications Organisation (EACO) letter.

In Search of Local Knowledge on ICTS in Africa

By reviewing and comparing literature on the role of ICTs in statebuilding and peacebuilding in Africa, with a particular focus on neighboring Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, this paper examines whether the claims of the transformative power of ICTs are backed by evidence and whether local knowledge – e.g., traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution – is taken into consideration by ICT-based initiatives. Several key findings emerged, including: 1) empirical evidence on the successful use of ICTs to promote peacebuilding and statebuilding is thin; 2) few differences exist between scholarship emanating from the Global North and from Africa; and 3) the literature exhibits a simplistic assumption that ICTs will drive democratic development without sufficient consideration of how ICTs are actually used by the public.
Download the full paper here. New Portal on ICTs, State and Peace Building Research in Africa

Although the use of Information and Communication Technologies by citizens and governments in Africa is growing exponentially, there is limited evidence of how these technologies are affecting statebuilding and peace building on the continent. Where such evidence exists, it is often in diverse locations and hard to reach for researchers, practitioners, the media and government bodies.
In order to increase access to information on ICTs in Africa, the Centre for Global Communications Studies (CGCS) at the University of Pennsylvania has launched a new website that offers news and updates on research and events related to ICTs, peace building and governance. The portal features a repository of reports and articles with empirical evidence on the role of ICTs in peace building and governance.
In addition, the website offers access to articles typically blocked by journal paywalls by obtaining pre-print versions of articles from authors.
As a partner in CGCS’s project titled “Reframing Local Knowledge: ICTs, State building, and Peace building in Eastern Africa”, CIPESA undertook a review of literature on the role of ICTs in governance, peace-building and state-building in Africa, with a focus on three neighbouring countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.
An increasing number of Africa’s estimated one billion people are accessing modern communication technologies. According to the International Telecommunications Union, as of 2013, internet penetration stood at 16% and mobile access at 63% of Africa’s population.
It follows that online service provision, placing a wide array of information in the public domain, an empowered citizenry that holds leaders to account and smartly embrace ICT, could potentially catalyse peace, democracy and good governance in Africa.
There is a considerable amount of research by scholars, government agencies, civil society, development partners and many more on the use of ICTs in governance in Africa, covering a broad range of definitions and dimensions. A central place to find this research has hitherto been lacking, which is why scholars, practitioners and public officials will find the new portal a vital resource.
The work for the project is being carried out in collaboration with the Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy (PCMLP) at the University of Oxford, the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology at Strathmore University (Kenya), the School of Journalism and Communication at Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia), CIPESA, The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies and SIMAD University (Somalia).
Read more about the project here.

Transition to Digital Broadcasting: Africa’s State of Unreadiness

By Ashnah Kalemera
With three years to the global deadline for shifting from analogue to digital broadcasting as set by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), some African nations are falling worryingly behind schedule. Among countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, and Uganda, there are variations in implementation progress, policy frameworks, service cost and offerings, funding availability, and consumer awareness.
The region’s regulators in April met in Kampala, Uganda to promote cooperation and share experiences so as to make the June 17, 2015 deadline. Organised by ITU, the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) and Uganda’s telecommunications regulator, the ‘Workshop and Frequency Coordination Meeting on the Transition to Digital Terrestrial Television and the Digital Dividend’ was held April 16–20, 2012. Participants were drawn from at least 19 countries, and included government officials, regulators, broadcasters and mobile operators.
Abdoulkarim Soumaila, the ATU secretary general, said digital migration was vital to the enhancement of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in Africa because it would allow Africans to access quality radio, television, and broadband services.
Digital migration is the move from analogue to digital broadcasting. It provides for, among others, a variety of high quality audio and visual programmes, interactive services, supports new services such as high definition television, transmission of more content per channel, supports mobile/portable reception and ultimately releases frequency spectrum (“digital dividend”) for other uses, such as broadband provision after full switchover.
The transition requires the development of consumer devices known as set top boxes, and broadcasting and mobile telecommunication standards by key players. The key players are content providers, technical operators, signal distributors, and policy makers and regulators.
Country state of readiness reported at the workshop
Ghana has more than 20 licensed terrestrial, satellite, and mobile broadcasters. The current analogue regime is faced with challenges of high industry management costs, poor infrastructure sharing and weak signal reception. Government and a digital broadcasting migration committee are spearheading the country’s strategy for transition to digital broadcasting. Working with other stakeholders, the committee is tasked with policy implementation, planning, budgeting, performance monitoring, and liaising with the public.
The proposed analogue switch off date is December 31, 2014. However, implementation is running four months behind schedule. Low public awareness, for one, could affect the uptake of services and lead to ‘panic’ in the run-up to the switch over deadline. There is also uncertainty about funding for implementation, and consumer incentives for the poor. Furthermore, no legal framework exists for analogue switch off.
Migration started with government establishing, in 2007, a taskforce on digital migration hosted by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK). Soon after, a multi-stakeholder committee was set up to guide development of a migration plan.
The first broadcast signal distributor, Kenya Broadcasting Cooperation (KBC), was licensed in 2007 and its pilot digital broadcasting signal was launched in December 2009 in the capital Nairobi. KBC is expected to roll out digital services in eight other towns during 2012. A second broadcast signal distributor, Pan African Networks, was licensed in October 2011. It was expected to go on air in Nairobi in May 2012 and 12 other towns by the end of this year.
Consumer awareness campaigns on television and radio commenced in April 2012. With an original transition deadline date of June 2012, CCK anticipates 70% roll out coverage of the current viewing population by the end of 2012. Amongst the challenges faced are financial constraints – “the required funds are in direct competition with other government obligations such as emergency food supplies and the implementation of the new constitution,” said one government official. The lack of tax incentives or subsidies by government has also had an impact on consumer issues of set top box affordability and development of appropriate local content to populate the channels. The setting of a new transition deadline is subject to progress review at the end of this year.
South Africa
The South African Department of Communication gazetted the final Broadcasting Digital Migration Policy Amendment in February 2012. The set top box equipment standards are due to be finalised at the end of May 2012 and the first batch of boxes are to retail by September 2012. Digital services are due to be launched at the end of 2012 through to 2013. However, final analogue switch off – in line with the ITU resolution date – is yet to be announced. The precise date shall be determined in consultation with the cabinet and broadcasting industry.
The structure of South Africa’s proposed implementation plan is the division of the country’s provincial boundaries into “allotment areas” to allow for cost effectiveness and promote efficient and effective citizen uptake. The digital migration Policy Amendments has a provision for the establishment of the Digital Migration Office to project management of the transmission program.
Uganda is faced with challenges similar to the other countries – funding, local content, affordability of set top boxes and lack of a regulatory framework. The government is yet to pronounce itself on a clear implementation plan. However, the work of the digital migration steering committee and digital taskforce in conjunction with the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is on-going.
The country has one licensed signal distributor, the Uganda Broadcasting Cooperation (UBC), and four pilot digital broadcasting projects are underway in three districts – Kampala, Jinja and Masaka. The projects are pay TV services with some free-to-air channels by firms not licensed as signal distributors. According to UCC, these investment firms will automatically qualify for signal distribution licensing in the near future.
Workshop recommendations

  • In order to achieve economies of scale and development of an African-wide market for digital television set-top boxes, hence minimum cost for this equipment, consideration be urgently given by African States to the possibility of harmonising the digital TV transmission and definition standard, at sub-regional or regional level.
  • The following timeline be adopted in order to meet the deadline specified by ITU for the cease of analogue transmissions. The dates indicated are the latest possible dates to meet this deadline and it is preferable that they be anticipated, where possible:
  1. December 2012: adoption of a common digital TV standard at sub-regional or regional level in Africa.
  2. June 2013: Finalisation of the establishment of national legislative and regulatory frameworks for the transition to digital TV and the allocation of the digital dividend.
  3. June 2013: End of frequency planning activities (national and international) for the deployment of digital TV and analogue switch off.
  4. September 2013: Start of deployment of digital TV.
  5. June 2014: start of analogue switch off in the UHF band.
  6. 17 June 2015 : end of analog switch off in the UHF band
  • African states make available all necessary human, structural and financial resources to ensure that the above dates are met.
  • Concerning the information to consumers on set-top boxes, it was recommended that member states implement labeling of equipment which are compliant with the standards adopted to ensure that consumers are not mislead into purchasing non-compliant equipment.