Strengthening Africa’s Conversation and Actions on Internet Freedom

By Juliet Nanfuka |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) with the support of Facebook, the Ford Foundation, Google, Hivos, Open Technology Fund (OTF) and Small Media will assemble an audience in Kampala, Uganda for the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2016. Set to take place on September 27–29, the Forum has become a crucial convening for actors on online freedom of expression and association, and the free flow of information in Africa.
Panel discussions at this year’s Forum will explore the growing trend of internet shutdowns, the increasing presence of violence against women online, the intersection of open data and human rights, African frameworks that protect online rights and their conflicts with outdated laws, amongst others.
“Recent events across various African countries make the Forum as indispensable as it ever has been in discussing challenges to online rights and the opportunities for collaborative efforts by state and non-state actors to meaningfully protect and advance internet freedom on the continent,” says CIPESA Executive Director Dr. Wairagala Wakabi. “We are glad to be facilitating growing awareness of online rights in Africa and are keen to continue contributing towards building this awareness amongst different stakeholders.”
Indeed, one of the pre events at the Forum will be the training of journalists and human rights defenders on human rights and internet policy. The training will be hosted by CIPESA, together with Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Uganda.
The Forum, set to coincide with the International Day for Universal Access to information (September 28), will also serve as an opportunity to delve into the current trends on access to information on the continent. In partnership with the Africa Freedom of Information Center (AFIC) and Office of the Prime Minister (Uganda), a public dialogue on access to information as a driver to achieving the 2030 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will also be held.
A key highlight of the Forum since its inception is the launch of the annual State of Internet Freedom in Africa regional reports. Previous editions of this report have focused on seven African countries – Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda,  Tanzania and Uganda – with a stand-alone report produced on South Africa. This year’s report has been expanded to include 10 countries. The countries featured in the 2016 State of Internet Freedom in Africa report are Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Dr. Wakabi adds, “Access to information and the state of internet freedom are closely interlinked. Countries with higher levels of information access tend to have more online liberties than those without, and they also generally have a healthier democratic culture. The power of public information, open data and a free and open internet should not be undermined if we are to achieve effective civic participation, respect for human rights, transparent, accountable and democratic governance, and realisation of the 2030 Development Agenda.”
The Forum serves as an opportunity to gather insights from the different stakeholders in the information society ecosystem towards promoting a free and safe internet, hence the key themes that emerge from the Forum are widely disseminated. The 2015 outcomes and recommendations were shared in spaces such as the Internet Governance Forum (Brazil), the Africa IGF (Cameroon) and the Stockholm Internet Forum, and in various national convenings.
The Forum has confirmed participants from at least 23 countries and speakers from over 46 organisations including the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, Panos Institute Southern Africa, BudgIT (Nigeria), Article 19 (Kenya), Digital Society of Zimbabwe, the Web Foundation, Association for Progressive Communications (APC), iAfrikan, Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), Access Now, Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANET), National Information Technology Agency (NITA) Ghana, and Research ICT Africa. Others include Hivos, Nation Media Group, Africa Media Institute, Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe Chapter, Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), Privacy International (PI) , Uganda Police, Zambia Police Service, University of Malawi, Communications Regulators Association of Southern Africa (CRASA) and the Ministry of Information, Communications and National Guidance (Uganda).
Follow the conversation at #FIFAfrica16.

African Women's Safety Online in the Sustainable Development Goals Era

By Ashnah Kalemera |
On March 8, the world will commemorate International Women’s Day under the  theme  “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality”. According to the United Nations, the theme is a reflection of the Sustainable Development Goals related to gender equality and empowerment of all girls and women. However, affronts to women’s rights over the years have leaped from the offline into the online arena.
An estimated one third of all women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime – mostly by an intimate partner. According to a 2015 report, the proliferation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools such as mobile phones and social media platforms are fuelling digitally enabled violence against women (VAW). In particular, the ICT tools which are easily accessible facilitate abuse through enabling anonymity of the perpetrators who could be located anywhere and without physical contact with the victim.
In Europe, one in 10 women have been victims of cyber harassment, including having received unwanted, offensive sexually explicit emails or SMS messages, or unwarranted inappropriate advances on social networking sites.
In Africa, the extent of online VAW remains unknown, mostly due to inhibitions including a culture of silence, and lower levels of access to the internet and related technologies. However, cases of revenge pornography, cyber stalking and cyber bullying are becoming rampant. In many instances, these cases go unreported and victims have limited legal recourse or resources to  seek justice.
See for instance: Kenyan teenager commits suicide after a man she met through Facebook threatened to publish her nude photos; Online VAW victims in Uganda further subjected to threats of prosecution; and Blogging against an ex partner in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
During the 2015  Women’s Day Celebrations, there were calls for greater protections for women’s rights both online and offline. But many women remain uninformed of their rights online and are also unaware of the tools available to secure their online communications and information.
In commemoration of Safer Internet Day, popular social media service Facebook launched the first in a series of global roundtables to promote women’s safety online. Participants at the roundtable, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya, called for more research into the online VAW phenomenon in Africa and advocacy for laws which specifically address the vice. “Influencing policy on online violence against women requires evidence. Not only research but experiences,” noted one participant.
The availability of support mechanisms for victims was also emphasised with participants noting that offensive content takedowns “are not enough” and different kinds of responses were required depending on context. “First line responses need more capacity and awareness around technology. This should trickle down from intermediaries and service providers to law enforcement,” said another participant.
Meanwhile, consensus around definitions of the crimes including across diverse languages and colloquialisms must be agreed to inform advocacy and activism. It was recognised that online VAW is not “a new form” of violence against women, with participants noting that the online issues should be framed alongside issues of domestic violence and freedom of expression.
Furthermore, participants noted that women are not homogenous and efforts to address VAW both online and offline should be multi-lensed. In this regard, consideration should be made for class, ethnicity and religion, among other demographics. As noted at the 2015 Forum on Internet Freedom in East Africa, there are moral, cultural and legal distinctions of instances of violence against women in Africa, for instance genital mutilation.
The roundtable also called for more partnerships at local and international level between tech innovators and human rights organisations to develop tools and services that offer women protection against VAW.