Gender Digital Divide Persists in Africa

By Juliet Nanfuka |

Last month, the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) released its Affordability Report 2017 which indicated that while the world will this year mark a significant milestone of 50% global internet penetration, large numbers of women in developing countries remain offline because “they cannot afford to connect.”
The A4AI report’s findings echo earlier reports on the longstanding gender digital gap that is the result of prevailing social and economic barriers including illiteracy, gender roles and various forms of discrimination. In 2013, a report by the Broadband Commission estimated that 200 million more men than women accessed the internet. Similarly, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), in 2016 the difference between the Internet user penetration rates for males and females was largest in Africa (23%) and smallest in the Americas (2%).

Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
The A4AI report cites slow policy development and implementation in many of the poorly performing countries as contributors to high access costs and low internet access, furthering the digital divide. Based on a study of 58 countries globally, the report also shows that only half of these countries have public access policies that are backed by financial support for implementation. Universal Service and Access Funds (USAF), aimed at supporting last mile connectivity, either do not exist or are dormant in over a third of countries. Meanwhile, in 41% of countries studied, key frameworks such as national broadband plans to guide policy reforms needed to achieve universal access are outdated or have never been developed.
In its study, A4AI ranked countries based on an Affordability Drivers Index (ADI) which is calculated based on ICT infrastructure deployment, existing policy frameworks to encourage infrastructure expansion, current broadband adoption rates, and existing policy frameworks to enable equitable access.
Latin American countries occupy the top three spots in the ADI ranking, with Columbia leading, followed by Mexico and Peru. The top five ranked African countries were Mauritius (8th), Morocco (11th) and Nigeria (13th). Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire and Rwanda followed in 15th, 18th and 21st positions, respectively.  The lowest ranked were Sierra Leone (56), Ethiopia (55), Burkina Faso (54), Sudan (53) and Cameroon (52).
Table of African Country Ranking

Africa Ranking Rank out of 58 countries Country ADI Score
1 8 Mauritius 61.7
2 11 Morocco 57.75
3 13 Nigeria 56.58
4 15 Botswana 55.37
5 18 Côte d’Ivoire 53.25
6 21 Rwanda 51.48
7 22 South Africa 51.2
8 26 Ghana 50.01
9 29 Benin 48.95
10 30 Kenya 48.82
11 31 Namibia 48.24
12 32 Uganda 47.93
13 34 Tunisia 47.23
14 36 Egypt 45.07
15 37 Zambia 44.95
16 38 Gambia 44.94
17 39 United Republic Of Tanzania 43.73
18 44 Mali 40.81
19 45 Mozambique 40.16
20 47 Senegal 39.07
21 50 Zimbabwe 34.97
22 51 Malawi 34.64
23 52 Cameroon 33.71
24 53 Sudan 32.16
25 54 Burkina Faso 29.68
26 55 Ethiopia 22.22
27 56 Sierra Leone 21.76

Of the 27 African countries studied, all but three (Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone) had broadband policies. Meanwhile, USAF were found to be inactive or not disbursing funds in Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. Active and funded USAFs were reported in Benin, Botswana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ghana, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gambia, and Malawi had no USAF at all.
Nonetheless, the A4AI report recognises efforts by some African governments in pushing for affordable access and wider penetration for lower income groups, including through deploying universal access funds towards last mile connectivity projects, flexible operator licensing regimes, infrastructure sharing and enforcement practices.
Even then, the monthly price of 1GB mobile broadband in many African countries averaged 13% of monthly income. Only Mauritius, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan had data plans of less than 2% of average monthly income. Sierra Leone, Malawi and Uganda had the most expensive plans relative to income, at 51.89%, 45.53% and 21.71% respectively.
The Web Foundation’s Gender Gap Audit (2016), based on research conducted in 10 countries (including Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria and Egypt in Africa), also raised concerns about the gender digital divide. It stated that, “without a major escalation of policy effort and investment, most of the benefits of technological change in all 10 countries will be captured by men — making gender inequality worse, not better.”

Even when women own mobile phones, there is a significant gender gap in mobile phone usage, which prevents them from reaping the full benefits of mobile phone ownership.
Connected Women Report, 2015

Despite the promise of inclusion offered by ICT, several African women remain on the lower rungs of internet access and use. While some national strategies attempt to address increased gender equality in internet access, this cannot be achieved where progressive policies are not being implemented.

Zimbabwe’s Digital Activism Amidst Disproportionate Government Control of the Internet

By Juliet Nanfuka |
In 2016, activism in Zimbabwe took on a new persona through various social media campaigns that also transformed into offline activity.  In a move which critics believe is intended to suppress activism on social media, the national telecoms regulator known as the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) recently drove up internet access prices by up to 500% but following online uproar, the information ministry moved to reverse the decision.
As at the third quarter of 2016, Internet penetration in Zimbabwe stood at 50%. However, increased online use is threatened by a state keen to control online narrative similar to how it has controlled traditional media. Intimidation and arrests are likely to hurt internet freedom in a country where citizens are increasingly using online platforms to criticise the political and economic malaise in the southern African state.
Like many other African countries, internet access remains costly in Zimbabwe. The presence of a Universal Access Fund (USF) meant to reduce internet access costs and fund infrastructure across the county has not helped matters. POTRAZ manages the USF and has been criticised for under-utilising the fund and lacking transparency about its expenditures.
Increased  access at lower cost  has  partly been enabled by  service providers  offering mobile internet data bundles accompanied with subsidised or “zero rated” access to social media applications such as Whatsapp and Facebook.  However, in August 2016, at least three service providers  discontinued various promotions  following a directive from POTRAZ .  The directive was issued shortly after the regulator warned against increasing “abuse” of social media.

“Government is literally, deliberately or accidentally, suffocating the digital revolution by cutting off the lifeblood of the revolution, which is affordable digital and social media access to give citizens an alternative voice.”

TechZim News Blog

According to the 2016 State of Internet Freedom in Zimbabwe report, recent activities by state agencies have breached citizens’ rights guaranteed by the constitution. Proposed laws such as the Data Protection Bill and the Electronic Transaction and Electronic Commerce Bill could further undermine citizens’ rights to free expression and privacy. In addition, the draft Computer Crime and Cybercrime Bill provides for mass surveillance of citizen communications.

In the absence of a cyber law, the Criminal Law and Codification Act (CODE), popularly known as the “insult law”, has been the government’s weapon of choice against critics both online and offline. The law was widely used during the protests in 2016 to invoke harassment and arrest of “trouble-makers”, namely those who oppose or criticise President Mugabe.
Extracted from State of Internet Freedom in Zimbabwe | 2016 report

The report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) narrates cases of Zimbabweans arraigned before the courts over their online activities. Among the stated trumped-up charges are “criminal nuisance“, “insulting and undermining the president’s authority” and issuance of “treasonous” communiqué criticising Mugabe’s leadership.
Section 61 of the Zimbabwe Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression: “Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes … freedom to seek, receive and communicate ideas and other information.” While Zimbabwe has no specific law related to internet rights, the constitution also provides for access to information and privacy without explicitly mentioning the online domain.