The Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) Awards USD 63,000 in New Advocacy Grants

By Ashnah Kalemera |

Eight current or previous grantees of the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) have been awarded grants to scale their digital rights policy advocacy efforts. Across six countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal and Somalia – the thematic focus of the advocacy intervention areas includes women’s rights online, digital accessibility for persons with disabilities, social media regulation, and digital entrepreneurship. One initiative, with a continent-wide focus, will explore digital authoritarianism. 

The grants, totalling USD 63,000 were awarded under the fourth round of the ADRF which sought to deploy six-months policy advocacy campaigns that further the conversation on internet freedom in Africa. 

In Somalia, the Women in Media Initiatives in Somalia (WIMISOM) will conduct three roundtable engagements – in Garowe, Mogadishu and a nationwide one – to further raise awareness about women’s digital rights issues and push for policy and practice reforms that contribute to the development of a safe and empowering online environment for women and girls. Targeted stakeholders will include government institutions mandated to address gender inequality and development of women and girls’ rights, ICT ministries and regulatory bodies, women’s associations and networks, social and human rights activists, technologists and innovation hubs, telecommunications operators and digital financial service providers. These efforts will build on previous ADRF-supported advocacy campaigns as well as skills and knowledge building on women’s safety and security online in Somali territories. 

Similarly in Namibia, the local chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC) will run a nationwide campaign on gender-based violence online with the aim to inform the review of the Data Protection and Cybercrime bills, as well as amendments to the Combating Domestic Violence Act 2003. The campaign will feature surveys alongside analysis of the bills, which will feed into multi-media survivor stories, safety and security tips, and a citizens’ call to action/endorsement on the need for safe spaces online. Under the inaugural round of the ADRF, ISOC Namibia was supported to work with women parliamentarians, political activists and various other actors in a campaign to tackle politically motivated gender-based violence online during the November 2019 elections.

In Mozambique, the continued push for digital inclusion through web accessibility campaigns will see  Forum de Organizacoes de Pessoas com Deficiencia (Mozambique Disabled Persons Orgazations Forum) – FAMOD – engage disability rights organisations (DPOs), web developers and the government to create an open source, open access library of reusable code for accessible web components to support online entrepreneurship, eLearning and access to eServices. 

Still on digital inclusion, in Cote d’Ivoire, Action et Humanisme will build on previous ADRF-supported stakeholder dialogues on internet accessibility for persons with disabilities to further engage with DPOs, entrepreneurs, activists, and telecommunications operators to develop policy recommendations on internet accessibility and affordability for persons with disabilities.  The recommendations will be tabled before policy makers and government entities. 

Building on from the success of the “protect our online space” series of dialogues supported by the ADRF under Round 2, Digital Shelter went on to host monthly coffee meet ups to promote engagement on digital rights in Somalia. In continuation, Digital Shelter will engage key stakeholders including journalists, women’s rights groups, ICT ministry officials and the Office of the Prime Minister on the need for legal and regulatory frameworks that promote safety and security online. Specifically, Digital Shelter will advocate for building mechanisms to combat cybercrime including bullying, trolling and harassment. Furthermore, Digital Shelter will engage the Ministry of Trade, innovation hubs and academia on skills and knowledge building in digital rights and digital entrepreneurship targeting youth. 

Despite having in place a Digital Economy Blueprint whose vision is a “digitally empowered citizenry living in a digitally enabled society”, Kenya introduced an inhibitive digital taxation regime in 2020. In this regard, Mzalendo Trust will convene forums on challenges faced in the country’s digital economy. The first forum will bring together key stakeholders from the ICT sector, including private sector alliances and associations, civil society organisations, economic think tanks, the Kenya Revenue Authority, academia, the Ministry of ICT, the Ministry of Trade, and the business community to deliberate on inclusion in the digital economy. 

The second forum will convene policy makers including Committees of Parliament and the recently established Office of the Data Protection Commissioner on policy frameworks for consumer protection in the digital economy. Wider awareness raising within the project will take the form of social media chats, publication of policy briefs and commentaries. 

Many countries on the continent are moving towards social media regulation. The Senegalese government is among those that have initiated steps to put in place a regulatory framework for social media. Jonction Senegal will analyse the draft bill on social media regulation and engage stakeholders through targeted convenings and online campaigns on the proposed law’s provisions on  free speech and censorship. 

Lastly, leveraging its wide cross-national network of individual contributors and partners in the journalism, not-for-profit, legal, private sector, academia, tech, policy, innovation and activism spaces in Africa, Global Voices – Sub-Saharan AfricaMiddle East and North Africa will convene a design workshop to explore the impact of digital authoritarianism on the African continent and make recommendations that foster an online space that promotes digital rights and an inclusive digital economy. The recommendations will form the basis of a white paper for wider policy advocacy on issues including access, affordability, infrastructure, safety and security online.

The ADRF is an initiative of Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), established in 2019 to offer flexible and rapid response grants to initiatives in Africa to implement activities that advance digital rights, including advocacy, litigation, research, engagement in policy processes, digital literacy and digital security skills building. The ADRF’s supporters have included 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), and the Omidyar Network.

A New Interception Law and Blocked Websites: The Deteriorating State of Internet Freedom in Burundi

By CIPESA Writer |

 The state of internet freedom in Burundi continues to decline as the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza tightens control over independent media and critical online publishers. Of recent, frivolous sanctions have been slapped against media houses, access to some online publishers’ websites restricted, and last May, an obnoxious law was enacted that makes it easier for security agencies to conduct surveillance on citizens’ communications with little judicial oversight.

The deteriorating situation follows a May 2015 coup attempt which saw the physical destruction of five private radio and televisions stations by loyalist forces and pro-government militia, and the arrest of several journalists. The events were preceded by a government order to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Viber, so as to curtail demonstrations against Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a new term in office.

On May 11, 2018 Burundi’s president assented to Law No 1/09 of May 11 2018, which amends the Code of Criminal Procedure of 2013. Under Article 47 of the new law, government agencies carrying out investigations can intercept electronic communications and seize computer data. Further, Articles 69, 70 and 71, permit the public prosecutor to issue a written order to start interception of electronic communication of a person under investigation.  Moreover, the public prosecutor has the right to instruct service providers and “any qualified agent” from a department or agency under the authority or supervision of the telecoms minister to install any device to facilitate interception.

On the issue of seizure of computer data, Article 72 grants the public prosecutor, without notifying a person under investigation, the right to order the use of technical tools to access data on the suspect’s device (wherever it is located), to save that data, and transmit it. The tool also has the aim of real time capture of data being received or transmitted by the suspect’s device or being typed on the device. The initial duration of this order is a maximum of six months but this period can be extended for another six months if needed. The seized data has to be destroyed after trial. Articles 73 to 79 provide details of conditions in which the technical tool is used.

The new law, which was introduced on April 28 and passed within two weeks, is deemed to be in contravention of the constitution. A human right activist has stated  that the law is “clearly a wish to legalise the illegal and arbitrary practices that the forces of law and order have already resorted to for the last three years.” On the contrary, the justice minister defended the law, arguing that the amendments were necessary to give the prosecutor and other government organs powers to address new forms of criminal activity that have emerged in the last few years.

The amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure come into place when online news media is under attack. Since October 2017, the websites of independent local news publishers,, and cannot be accessed from Burundi except through use of circumvention methods such as proxies. Tests using the network measurement tool, Ooni probe  indicate that the websites are blocked from access within Burundi.

In interviews, Iwacu officials confirmed that access to their website was blocked but the Conseil National de la Communication (Burundi’s media regulator) denies any hand in it. Some experts believe the blockage was effected at the level of the Burundi Backbone System (BBS), the primary bandwidth carrier from which most Burundian ISPs purchase bandwidth. Representatives from BBS denied this allegation and advised the news sites to work with ISPs to resolve the matter. Meanwhile, an October 2017 letter to the CNC from the Ikiriho group, an independent online press group (, requesting that its website be unblocked has never received a response.

Interestingly, Isanganiro’s radio station still operates from within Burundi, as is Iwacu’s weekly print newspaper. Online access to the electronic version of Iwacu’s weekly newspaper is charged at USD 27 for a three months subscription, or USD 95 yearly, which means the challenges in accessing its website is affecting the publisher’s revenues. Iwacu accordingly announced an alternative website where readers can access news and has been assisting readers, particularly paying customers, to access its main site using virtual private networks (VPN).

On April 10, 2018, in what seemed like an additional sanction against the online portal, the CNC issued its decision No 100/ CNC/005 ordering Iwacu to ban the comments section of its online news website. The ban followed comments made by the website readers referring to Burundi as a “Banana Republic” while another called the National Police a “presidential police” due to its partisan actions. According to the regulator, the comments violated Article 17 of the Burundi press law No 1/15 of May 9 2015, which requires media groups to rigorously cross-check sources of information before publishing. The three months ban on readers’ comments, is the second slapped on Iwacu by the CNC, the first having been issued in 2013 for similar reasons.

In sanctioning Iwacu, the CNC cited article 55 of the press Law, which gives the communications regulator “the right to suspend or prohibit the use of a press pass (journalist pass or press card), the distribution or the sale of a printed newspapers, a periodical, or any other information medium, the broadcast of a show, the operation of a radio or television station or a news agency, when they do not comply with the law.”

The Iwacu director expressed his sadness at what he deemed an “unfair decision” that would close a “democratic space” where all opinions, both critical and supportive of the Burundi were shared. Nonetheless the comments section was promptly shut down, and currently under each news item there is a message reading: “Due to the CNC’s decision, you cannot react nor add any comment to this article.

In another worrying development, on May 4, 2018, the CNC issued warnings to three radio stations – Radio Isanganiro, Radio CCIB FM+, and Radio France International (RFI, and suspended the licences for BBC and Voice of America (VOA) for six months on allegations of not verifying sources and  broadcasting unbalanced news. The BBC was faulted for interviewing Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a Burundian human rights defender who fled Burundi after an assassination attempt in 2015. The regulator claims that, in the interview which aired on April 24, 2018, the activist who is now based in Europe made “defamatory statements against the head of state” and incited “hatred”.

The VOA was accused of publishing unverified news on three occasions during April 2018. In addition, the VOA was accused of broadcasting through the Online Radio Box application used by Radio Bonesha, a local station whose frequency license was withdrawn by the media regulator last September. Radio Bonesha is among the media houses whose premises were destroyed in 2015 following the coup attempt but it has continued broadcasting via Online Radio Box.

The various developments in the online sphere reflect a similarly worrying rights situation offline. Nkurunziza’s government has continued to face criticism at home and abroad, including accusations by a United Nations committee of inquiry of extrajudicial killings of civilians, including supporters of the opposition, in what could amount to crimes against humanity.

Some observers believe that all criminal code amendments and measures against online and traditional media aimed to silence dissonant voices at a time the country was about to hold a May 17, 2018 referendum on a new constitution. Majority of voters – 73% – voted in favour of the new constitution but opponents say the poll was full of irregularities.

The Burundi government needs to respect the constitutional rights to free speech, access to information and privacy of the citizens and desist from enacting laws and taking other actions that undermine digital rights. Moreover, it should desist from passing laws and regulations without giving citizens the opportunity to meaningfully provide their views.


Analysis of Tanzania’s Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017

Policy Brief | The proposed Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2017 join the catalogue of legislation related to online content in Tanzania that threaten citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to seek, receive and impart information. The regulations were developed pursuant to section 103(1) of the Electronic and Postal Communications Act, 2010 (EPOCA), which empowers the Minister of Communications to make regulations on content related matters. Enacted in March 2010, the EPOCA aims to keep the communications sector abreast with developments in the electronic communications industry by providing for a comprehensive regulatory regime for electronic communications and postal communications service providers.
The regulations specify obligations of service providers and users of online platforms including social media, discussion forums, and online broadcasts (radio and television). They also confer powers upon the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to regulate online content, including through registration of users and platforms, and taking action against non-compliance with the obligations, such as ordering the removal of “prohibited content.”
The regulations have some important provisions and set minimum standard requirements with regards to the protection of children online, fighting hate speech and extremism online, and promoting user responsibility and digital security practices. However, the regulations should to reviewed and amended to have clear, unambiguous definitions and wording, and quash the requirement for registration of bloggers and users of similar online platforms. It is also essential that not too much power is vested in TCRA with regards to content take-downs and that diversity in content availability online is promoted. The obligations set out should not turn content service providers and publishers into monitors, by handing them responsibility such as use of moderating tools to filter content, conducting content review before publication, and undertaking mechanisms to identify sources of content.
Moreover, there should be a clear appeal mechanism against orders to remove or block content, and such remedial measures should also be applicable once an order for blockage or removal has been issued but not yet been effected. Overall, the regulations should uphold citizens’ rights to privacy, access to information and free expression. Furthermore, TCRA, pursuant to EPOCA’s objectives of promoting a developed telecommunications sector in Tanzania, should ensure that the regulations foster internet access and affordability without placing undue requirements on service providers or making costs prohibitive, which would act as a barrier to market entry, including for public access facilities such as internet cafes.
Read CIPESA’s analysis of the implication on access to the internet, intermediary liability, user privacy, censorship, surveillance and freedom of expression of the proposed regulations in Tanzania.