CIPESA Advances the Digital Rights Debate at re:publica Accra

By Simone Toussi |

The first African edition of Europe’s largest internet and digital society festival – re:publica – was held in Accra, Ghana, December 14-15, 2018 and drew in hundreds of participants to showcase and discuss how politics, the arts, innovation, and digital rights have been affected by an increasingly digitised society.

Co-organised by Impact Hub Accra, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and with the support of several partners including the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), re:publica Accra aimed to strengthen Afro-German dialogue about digital issues, and to explore the intersection between digitalisation and collaborative developmental efforts.

CIPESA hosted a Digital Rights Lounge throughout the duration of re:publica, organised workshops on civic participation and online content regulation, and also participated in sessions on the work of investigative journalists and activists, among others.

The Digital Rights Lounge

To reflect its multi-disciplinary nature, re:publica Accra featured four lounges on health, digital creation, digital rights, and hardware innovation. CIPESA hosted the Digital Rights Lounge which featured organisations sharing experiences and showcasing work related to advancing digital rights in Africa.

The lounge featured an exhibition on the state of digital rights in Africa including visuals on press freedom, the gender dynamics of internet usage, access to information, data protection and privacy, affordability, non-discrimination, and network disruptions. This was complemented by research publications and videos on the ongoing efforts to engender progressive internet policies and practices that support human rights, innovation, and development.

Also presented at re:publica were key action areas that emerged from the 2018 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), which was held in Accra, Ghana, at the end of September 2018. Since 2014, CIPESA has held this annual forum that brings together various stakeholders to deliberate on gaps, concerns and opportunities for advancing privacy, free expression, non-discrimination and the free flow of information online on the continent. Previous FIFAfrica editions have been held in Uganda (2014-2016) and South Africa (2017).

Sessions held around the lounge included conversations on involving more girls in tech, privacy challengesregulating emerging technologies, hands-on skills session on steganography, and online content creation. There was also a session on the work of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC), which groups 30 governments who have committed to work together to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms online.

Advancing Civic Participation through Digital Technologies

Re:publica served as a platform to also share insights on the role of technology in social accountability, civic engagement, transparency and accountability, during a session titled ‘Advancing Civic Participation through Digital Technologies’. The session explored the opportunities and gaps in responsive solutions/platforms for civic participation and for transparency and accountability. Panellists presented cases studies on technology in governance including political mobilisation through print, broadcast and online media in Kenya; public finance tracking in Nigeria; parliamentary monitoring in Ghana; creating an enabling environment for civic technology in post-conflict Somalia; and service delivery monitoring and human rights reporting through ICT in East Africa.   

The session also interrogated how the legislative landscape affects access and infrastructure, cybercrime, and access to information; and how, content regulation and taxation in the respective countries weaken the potential of technology-based initiatives to advance democratisation.

Impact of Online Content Regulation on Digital Rights in Africa

In this session, panellists discussed the online content regulation landscape in Africa with a focus on countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, DR Congo, Burundi and Zambia which in 2018 proposed or passed laws and regulations that undermine freedom of expression and access to information online.

These controls are undermining public confidence in the use of online platforms, and could lead to self-censorship and complete withdrawal from online discourse by ordinary citizens and by vocal bloggers and other social media enthusiasts. They are also leading to arrests of some journalists and social media users, including those that express legitimate.

The session comprised digital rights experts and researchers from Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe who shared ideas on alternative approaches aimed at enhancing adoption and use of online platforms as well as content generation for advancing digital rights in Africa.

The panel noted that there was limited citizens’ consultations in coming up with the laws and regulations around internet control and online content regulation, and stressed the need for campaigns to have internet regulation that promotes individuals’ rights and livelihoods and not just the narrow interests of powerful actors such as governments and ruling party officials.

However, for such campaigns to work, it is crucial for civil society and other actors to conduct research to generate evidence to inform advocacy and decision-making; and to proactively offer alternative positions to governments rather than only offering criticism. In addition, the need to involve more actors in promoting digital rights – not least traditional human rights organisations, women’s rights organisations, and private sector actors – was emphasised. The need for digital security training and digital literary campaigns, and for increased use of tools of anonymisation and circumvention tools, was also emphasised.

With the support of the Germany international cooperation agency GIZ, CIPESA enabled the participation at re:publica of 13 individuals from 10 African countries.

How Nigeria and Uganda are Faring on the Right to Information

By Tomiwa Ilori |

Transparency and accountability in governance are key tenets of participatory democracy. To this end, Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce a right to information (RTI) law back in 1766. Finland followed in 1919, and to-date, over 100 countries across the world have enacted laws that give citizens the right to access information in the hands of government.

In Africa, 21 countries have passed Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, while 16 have proposed laws. Most countries have constitutional provisions for the right to information, pursuant to obligations under various international and regional instruments. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression. A model law on access to information for Africa was prepared by the African Commission to serve as a template and encourage more countries to adopt legislation embodying international, regional, and sub-regional standards.

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Reflection: Government Responsiveness in The Age of ICTs

By Nasubo Ongoma |

On this post, I will share key insights from our research on Government responsiveness in the Age of ICTs.

In 2013, the Kenyan government started an ambitious plan to digitise public services by adopting ICTs. On paper, the setup is perfect for democracy to be upheld, we read digital strategies and guides that would transform Kenya into a digital nation. Democracy calls for responsiveness from all stakeholders, manifesting in two way communication. Is this the case on all the digital platforms? Ourresearch question was, how has Kenya fared over the years after the adoption of digital tools?

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Bridging the Digital Divide: Internet User Journey

By Nasubo Ongoma |

Digital divide is mostly linked with access, the means to bring more people online. The Merriam Webster dictionarydefines it as “the economic, educational, and social inequalities between those who have computers and online access and those who do not”. To bridge the gap, requires a proper interpretation of what it means to go online and what prevents one from going online. Economic inequalities involves the cost of access, devices used, pricing and network availability. Educational inequalities are the skills needed to go online and how to communicate it. Social inequality entails how different populations differ in their ideologies. According to ITU, there are several factors to consider to bridge the digital divide, 1) readiness in terms of the network infrastructure, 2) intensity, measuring the level of ICT usage and 3) impact, which are results and outcomes.

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Reimagining iTax – Key Findings and Outcomes of the Design Sprint

By Kennedy Kirui |

With that done, we called it a day.

Tuesday 17th – Generating solutions

We kicked off the second day of the sprint by reviewing the activities from the previous day. From this, we quickly realized we couldn’t solve the four problems we had identified during the sprint. The first exercise was to decide on the challenge to focus on for the remainder of the sprint. Using the voting dots, each participant selected a challenge they felt if solved would have the most impact. With just one voting round, we identified iTax’s usability as an issue that would be tackled during the sprint.

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