FIFAfrica21: Stronger International Cooperation Key to Advancing Digital Rights in Africa

By Apolo Kakaire |

Constructive international cooperation will be key to shaping digital rights in Africa and creating a path towards an inclusive, safe and secure internet on the continent. This observation was at the heart of the eighth  edition of the Forum for Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica21) as it kicked off on September 28, 2021. 

In a keynote panel discussion, Ambassador Tadej Rupel, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, Presidency of the Council of European Union (EU) 2021, reiterated the need for a comprehensive partnership between the European Commission and the African Union (AU) to address the challenges that come with the wider advances in the  digital sphere.

He noted that many political actors view digitalisation through the lenses of the digital economy and yet there are more critical aspects to it. Accordingly, the Slovenian EU Presidency would work to raise political awareness and attention about the significance of digital rights. He called for policy dialogue as a precursor to addressing and reinforcing a human-centric agenda through sharing experiences, such as in regulatory expertise and frameworks, and underscored the need for cooperation in building cyber security, promoting cyber resilience, and increasing responsible state behaviour.

Ambassador Rupel said: “We are trying to solve similar challenges and we can all benefit from dialoguing on these issues. We cannot allow ourselves to pursue some things in isolation. We cannot talk about increased connectivity without talking about responsibility and safety. The partnership between AU and EU can play a big role in balancing sustainable, safe and a human-centric agenda for digital services.” 

Among the growing challenges that are key for EU-AU cooperation is safe and secure use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), which calls for streamlining the regulatory landscape and public sector policies in regulating AI governance, autonomous intelligence systems, and privacy/safety issues. “It is urgent that the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence prioritises bridging the gap between the theory and practice of AI,” said Ambassador Rupel. He said the Slovenia-based International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) could be developed into a centre of excellence on AI to drive multi-disciplinary research in the field. 

The keynote panel also noted that states were variously stifling citizens’ digital rights including the right to free expression and access to information. Samira Sawlani, a journalist, called for the establishment of mechanisms to ensure enforcement of guidelines and laws on access to information because, while many countries have legal and constitutional guarantees, the practice leans more towards impeding information disclosure. “One way to stop journalists from doing their work is to deny them information, and when a journalist is blocked then others also do not get this information and it is something we have seen before and even during the pandemic,” she said. 

Donald Deya, the Chief Executive Officer of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), underscored the importance of stronger commitment from states to establish civil rights and digital rights standards at national, regional and continent level. So far, the commitment has been lacklustre. He cited the African Union Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection, which requires only 15 countries to ratify it for it to come into force, yet currently only eight states have ratified.

Moreover, he noted, there is selective application of laws that has seen action taken against critics on such allegations as money laundering and terrosim. “The laws have issues but the culture of rule of law is a bigger problem – with laws being applied wrongly. We should cultivate the culture of doing what is right for the majority,” said Deya.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern that states are increasingly responding to criticism with draconian measures, such as internet shutdowns. According to Michèle Ndoki, a Cameroonian lawyer and activist, “there is a shift in muzzling dissenting views, which has the net effect of cutting off masses and also has widespread economic ramifications for individuals and the economy, and activists must respond to this growing threat”.

Digital taxation is another threat to the realisation of digital rights across the continent, which speakers indicated should be addressed under the proposed cooperation. As observed by one participant, “digital taxation has become a low hanging fruit for governments [in Africa] to tighten control of the digital space.” Deya said it was essential  to establish a fair global digital taxation formula, which could be pursued through the involvement of the United Nations (UN) Tax Committee.

Initiatives that could inform international cooperation include the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020-2030) which was launched in 2019, as well as human rights mechanisms such as the UN Human Rights Council, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

‘People With Disabilities Left Out in ICT Jamboree’

By Marc Nkwame |
As more Tanzanians join the digital world of Information Communication Technology (ICT), the majority of people living with disabilities have been left out, according to stakeholders.
It has been observed that in their quest to optimize profits, equipment suppliers, content producers and mobile communication service providers skip the needs and rights of persons with disabilities wishing to access such services.
Speaking during a special awareness workshop for Information Communication and Technology accessibility among persons with disabilities, the coordinator, Paul Kimumwe from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) pointed out that it is high time countries formulated special laws to ensure that marginalized groups are also catered for when it comes to such services.
“And if countries have such policies in place, there is the need for legislators to push for their execution, as it seems mobile service providers cater only for a physically able clientele,” he specified.
His observation was also reflected in an assessment tool for measuring mobile communication accessibility for persons with physical disabilities deployed among participants during the just ended workshop on how ICT development side-lined people with special needs.
Dr Eliamani Laltaika, a lecturer from the School of Business Studies and Humanities at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), said the society’s mentality and personal stigma contribute in how ICT establishments view the needs of disabled persons.
“Unlike in the past, people should now realize that in the modern era, all is needed for a person to be useful is a healthy brain not peculiar appeal,” he cautioned.
According to the Don, it is usually the persons with physical disabilities that can prove to be extremely good intellectually and especially in Information Communication Technology (ICT), which means once empowered they can perform better than their physically fit counterparts.
Participants realized that mobile handsets are designed for people with hands and those with strong eye sights, while traders and phone service providers are yet to import gadgets that can cater for people without sight or hands.
Ndekirwa Pallangyo, representing the regional chapter for the Federation of Disabled Persons’ Associations in Tanzania (SHIVYAWATA), admitted that people with disabilities have been left out in ICT development.
“And the worst part of it is that even persons with disabilities themselves are unaware that they have been side-lined,” he said, underlining that when it comes to attending to the needs of the physically handicapped, it is important to consider individual requirements.
“There are those who are physically fit except for their sight. Others have impaired hearing, some can’t walk while there are those with no hands, etc. therefore each group need to be handled according to needs,” the activist added.
Originally published on IPP Media 

CIPESA Submits Comments On The Uganda Data Protection and Privacy Bill, 2015

Official Submission |
Article 27 of Uganda’s constitution provides for citizens’ right to privacy, however, there is no law to protect an individual’s data privacy despite the large amounts of citizen data collected by government departments and private entities on a regular basis. More concerning, is that this data is collected with no guarantee of its protection and privacy.
Some existing legislation, for instance the Computer Misuse Act, 2011 (section 18); Access to Information Act, 2005 (section 26); Uganda Communications Act, 2013 (section 79); Electronic Signatures Act, 2011 (section 81); and the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010 (section 2) prohibit unauthorised access and disclosure of information. However, the provisions in these laws are not elaborate and do not adequately protect personal data.
The publication of the draft Data Protection and Privacy Bill 2014 was therefore a milestone. Accordingly, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) submitted comments to that version of the bill. Various concerns were raised including vague wording which left the bill open to misinterpretation, unclear procedural processes for collection and retention, as well as the costs associated with accessing personal data.
More recently on , CIPESA welcomes the Parliament of Uganda’s call for submissions on the Draft Data Protection and Privacy Bill, 2015. It once again gives opportunity for stakeholders to provide input to ensure that the law, when enacted, measures up to internationally acceptable standards of data protection.
In our latest submission, we highlight some of the positive principles and provisions of the Bill. Furthermore, we indicate areas of concern and suggest amendments to ensure that if the bill is passed into law, there are sufficient safeguards to regulate the collection, storage and use of data towards upholding citizens’ right to privacy.
See the full submission made on the Uganda Data Protection and Privacy Bill, 2015 presented to the Committee on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the Parliament of the Republic of Uganda

Building Africa’s Capacity on Internet Governance

By Juliet N. Nanfuka
The growth of the internet has seen numerous efforts to ensure its equitable and sustainable use. A key outcome is  the concept of Internet Governance (IG)  based on the principle that no single entity owns or controls the internet but rather a range of players who reflect the diversity of users globally participates in its governance.
Over the years, IG has gained prominence through platforms such as the Internet Governance Forums which are hosted annually at national, regional and global level.
In 2013, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) through its e-Africa Programme and the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) established the African School on Internet Governance. The school seeks to address IG issues from an African perspective while at the same time equipping more players from the continent to contribute and participate more meaningfully in the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance.
This year, CIPESA alongside participants   and faculty members from over 20 countries collectively shared unique insights, experiences and understanding of internet governance at the school which took place between 21 and 25 November in Mauritius. The participants, from backgrounds including government, academia, civil society and the private sector, explored the complexities of internet governance with interactive talks and presentations. They mapped out the course that internet governance has taken to-date, the various institutions and policy processes, emerging human rights issues, and what different African countries are doing with regards to IG.

“As it often happens, Africans have not been at the forefront of the internet and its related issues, but gradually we are realising the potentials of the internet and the need to make our voices heard in its governance. With platforms such as AfriSIG building capacities of Africans from different stakeholder groups and the worth of information available on the internet, I see a brighter future for Africa in IG issues both at the continental and global levels.” Dora Mawutor of the Media Foundation for West Africa – Participant at the African School on Internet Governance

Central to the school was that participants garnered an understanding of the roles of the different internet stakeholders, the varied interests they have and how all this impacts upon outcomes at an IG multi-stakeholder meeting when trying to reach consensus on an issue.
While initiatives like the Africa IG school demonstrate movements to better equip more people from the African continent to drive IG locally and at international IG fora, in many countries local factors such as poor access, limited local content, low literacy and high costs remain areas that require more focus and locally driven solutions.
However, facets of IG in Africa especially where it applies to security, privacy, surveillance and intermediary liability still require further scrutiny. As seen in the State of Internet Freedoms in East Africa 2014 report, these issues are increasingly impacting upon human rights, freedom of the press, critical opposition and equality, among others, on the continent.
It is also essential that building Africa’s capacity in IG is tailored to also accommodate the unique needs and requirements of its internet users such as the availability of non-Latin script African languages online to contribute towards local content and cultural preservation.
It is, however, worth noting that despite existing challenges, many African governments and civil society actors are making progress in strengthening internet related frameworks that support the fundamentals of a free, open and secure internet. Helping shape the continent’s approach to protecting internet rights are initiatives such as the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms.
Similarly, the NetRightsNG initiative of Paradigm Initiative Nigeria  is collaborating  other players to champion a Digital Rights and Freedom Bill  in Nigeria. In Uganda, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (MoJCA) and National Information Technology Authority, Uganda (NITA-U) have developed a Draft Data Protection and Privacy Bill (2014) which is currently going through a process of review and commentary by citizens.
As more African countries map the way forward for the information age, there remains the need to ensure that valuable contributions are made to global Internet Governance as it is this very participation that will define the further adoption of internet governance principles in Africa.

What does the future hold for the Internet Governance Forum?

By Juliet N. Nanfuka
As the dust settles following the ninth Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which was held in Istanbul, Turkey between 2 and 5 September, many questions remain lurking. The biggest being whether the IGF has made a strong enough case for its continued existence. The IGF currently has a mandate that takes it until 2015. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly is due to take a decision about its renewal at the beginning of December 2014.

Lillian Nalwoga (third from left), Policy Officer at CIPESA makes a comment during a panel session at the 9th IGF in Istanbul, Turkey.
Lillian Nalwoga (third from left), Policy Officer at CIPESA makes a comment during a panel session at the 9th IGF in Istanbul, Turkey.

In keeping with the IGF’s core principle of multi-stakeholder engagement, the 9th Internet Governance Forum brought together an assortment of internet policy stakeholders including multinational organisations, state representatives, civil society and internet enthusiasts. The theme of this year’s IGF was “Connecting Continents for Enhanced Multi stakeholder Internet Governance” and was explored through the lens of net neutrality, multilingualism, youth and social media, gender, policy development, stakeholder roles and other related issues.
In a series of workshops, book launches and open sessions, internet policies were discussed and how they relate and impact upon society, development, business, governance and democracy. While there was agreement on some issues, divergence remained when it came to discussions on where monetising the internet clashed with big data, privacy, surveillance, intermediary liability and net neutrality.
This year’s meeting saw over 3,000 delegates from across the world convene in a country currently battling with some of the controversial internet related issues such as surveillance, censorship, privacy and data protection under discussion at the IGF. According to the 2013 Freedom on the Net report, nearly 30,000 websites and social media accounts are blocked in Turkey for social or political reasons. But Turkish bureaucrats deftly skirted these issues in their opening and closing speeches. While mention was made of the state of Turkish internet freedom by delegates, it mostly remained a rumbling in the underbelly of the meeting. However, some light on Turkey’s internet freedom status was heavily discussed at the Internet Ungovernance Forum organised by Turkish civil society organisations to protest the country’s hosting of the meeting given their government’s internet rights violations record.
For many participants, NetMundial was still a key talking point and formed the basis of some of the IGF’s discussions including promoting multilingualism, collaborative multi-stakeholder models, gender and internet rights, minority rights online, child online protection, privacy and surveillance and developing relevant local content. NetMundial demonstrated that multi-stakeholderism is possible and consensus can be drawn even on the most contentious internet governance topics (see NetMundial statement).

NetMundial sought to deliberate on the Future of Internet Governance by crafting Internet governance principles and proposing a roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem.

Even though the IGF has for the past nine years provided a platform for the debate and deliberation on the very issues that NetMundial dealt with, there have been limited discernible outcomes and impact measurements due to the nature and complexity of internet governance and its actors.
However, much like the constantly transforming internet, the IGF will have to re-asses its financial sustainability model to ensure its survival and position itself as a driver of best practices on internet governance. Part of this includes the production of outcome documents such as policy recommendations for voluntary adoption – a suggestion put forward by the European Commission – a key funder of the IGF. Such actions could help shake off the ‘talk shop’ cloak that has shadowed the IGF and position it as a platform for deliberation on global internet governance concerns with more discernible outcomes.
The Tenth IGF is scheduled to take place in João Pessoa, Brazil on 10 to 13 November 2015.