Monthly Archives

February 2019

Digital rights are human rights, even during elections

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Uncategorized

By Babatunde Okunoye

In the context of Africa’s socio-economic challenges, elections are a high stakes process where heinous atrocities have been committed. The list includes mass killings, abductions, rape, arson and assassination. At the onset of the digital age, as the power of digital media became apparent by events such as the Arab Spring uprisings, the free flow of information during elections has also come under attack.

In Africa, Internet shutdowns or even limited social media blackouts have mainly occurred around elections or other political events. And we don’t need to look far behind to learn how, because in 2019 already we’ve had Internet shutdowns or social media shutdowns in Congo DRC, Chad, Sudan, Gabon and Zimbabwe – all politically motivated.

In Nigeria, we say ‘’there is no smoke without fire’’. When a few weeks ago the Nigerian Guardian, perhaps Nigeria’s most authoritative news source carried a report citing fears of an Internet shutdown in the country implemented by the government, there was clear concern among civil society activists. Hence our relief was palpable when the government later came out to deny such plans. We hope they keep to their word, unlike the authorities in Zimbabwe did after similar assurances. (See tips here to stay online in the event of internet restriction) 

As Nigeria chooses its President and other national leaders starting this Saturday, we urge the authorities to recall that elections are servants of national development. They serve as a vehicle to usher in new leaders and drivers of development for a nation. Their coming must never be heralded by the dark episode of an Internet disruption.

Internet shutdowns are human rights violations. They do not serve the purpose for which they’re implemented – usually to avoid the spread of violence or other trouble. Rather, the information blackout they occasion can be deadly in numerous humanitarian situations such as emergencies. As we all go out to vote to start on Saturday, we urge our leaders to also vote to keep the Internet on.

 

Babatunde Okunoye leads research at Paradigm Initiative. 

 

  

 

On Zimbabwe’s Approval of a Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill

By | Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

The government of Zimbabwe has approved the Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill of 2017 according to IT Web Africa . The Bill which has been under review for over two years is a merger of three draft Bills, namely the Data Protection Bill, the Electronic Transactions and Electronic Commerce Bill, and the Computer Crime and Cybercrimes Bill.

Coincidentally, the legislation’s approval comes a few weeks after an internet shutdown was experienced during January 2019 public protests over rising fuel and other commodity prices. While many factions challenged the legality of using the Interception of Communications Act 2017 to effect the internet blockage, the Cybercrime and Cybersecurity Bill was met with similar criticisms. Critics have pointed out its inability to appeal to a wider purpose other than criminalisation of cybercrimes and computer crimes, without giving provision for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

The move to approve the Bill is widely viewed as a means, by the government of Zimbabwe, to fast track laws that will stifle freedom of expression, access to information, promote interference of private communications and data, and in severe cases, search and seizure of private devices.

Paradigm Initiative agrees with the position of the Zimbabwe Democratic Institute that the crafting of the Bill was driven by government’s fear of citizen power and its will to protect itself from civic pressure unveiled by unrestrained internet freedoms rather than the need to improve citizen’s security online.

The internet in Zimbabwe has played a critical role in mobilizing people for demonstrations calling for democracy, justice and accountability. If the law comes into effect, people will face up to 5 years in prison, a fine or both for inciting violence using social media pages. In January 2019, activist and Pastor Evan Mawarire was detained for two weeks for encouraging citizens to turn up in large numbers to participate in a planned peaceful protest using a YouTube video.

The Cybercrime and Cybersecurity  Bill which aims to address ‘cybercrime and increase cybersecurity in order to build confidence and trust in the secure use of ICTs’, will also facilitate the establishment of a Cyber Security Committee. The multi-stakeholder committee will act as a policy advisory body and as a national contact on cybersecurity issues.

Zimbabwe has been a hotbed for internet related disruptions and arrests in Southern Africa, with a record of multiple social media blocks and a total internet shutdown in 2016 and 2019 respectively.  The Deputy Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services defended the country’s recent internet blockage stating that he would not hesitate to shut down the internet again.

There has been no official communication from the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services regarding the Bills approval and the official document has not been made available to the public as of publishing this article. Paradigm Initiative calls on the government to cease all attacks on digital rights.

CSOs, Nigerians Urge President Buhari to Sign Digital Rights Bill

By | Digital Rights, ICT Policy

Abuja, Nigeria

The National Assembly on Tuesday February 5 transmitted the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent. The Bill, which had been in Parliament since 2016, was passed by both chambers of the Parliament in 2018.

Paradigm Initiative, a social enterprise that has led the advocacy campaign in support of the bill, commended the National Assembly and urged President Buhari to immediately sign the Bill into law. This is according to a statement signed by its Communications Officer, Sodiq Alabi.

According to ‘Gbenga Sesan, Paradigm Initiative’s Executive Director, “We are happy the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill has now been transmitted to President Buhari. Mr President now has a unique opportunity to position Nigeria as a leader in rights-respecting laws in Africa by signing the Bill into law.”

Yemi Adamolekun, the Executive Director of Enough Is Enough Nigeria, said, “It is significant that the gesture is happening on a day globally celebrated as the Safer Internet Day. There is now global attention on Nigeria to finish the important work it started by signing the Bill into law.”

The Africa Regional Coordinator of Web Foundation, Nnenna Nwakanma also added, “As the World Wide Web turns 30, Nigerians can not wait any longer for digital rights, freedoms and opportunities. The President’s Assent is urgently needed to secure fundamental rights, to support a stronger digital economy, and to build a more secure internet.”

The President will have 30 days from the day it receives the communication from the National Assembly to assent to the Bill.

Speaking on the development, Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights Program Manager, Boye Adegoke said, “To its credit, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has signed some landmark Bills such as the Not too young to run Bill and the Disability Bill.”

“If signed, the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill will add to what appears to be a forward-looking disposition of the Administration to policymaking. What President Muhammadu Buhari does with the Bill will go a long way to define the administration’s disposition towards technology and its viability in improving the economic base of Nigeria,” Adegoke said.

A digital rights advocate and lawyer, Tomiwa Ilori characterised the bill as a potpourri of protected freedoms in the digital age. “Nigeria will be at the cusp of history for being the first country to pass such comprehensive law with respect to securing human rights for the future. We have a golden opportunity of resetting digital policy across the board for human rights, we should take it,” Ilori said.

Commenting on the importance of the Bill, Angela Quintal, Africa program coordinator with the Committee to Protect Journalists said, “this Bill shows that it is possible for African governments to write regulations and laws that work for, not against, journalists. President Muhammadu Buhari should prove his commitment to Nigerian leadership on digital rights in Africa by signing the bill into law before the election on February 16.”


For more information on this statement, please contact Sodiq Alabi, Communications Officer, via media@paradigmhq.org.

New Year, New Internet Disruptions

By | Uncategorized
By Bulanda Nkhowani
As the New Year dawned, conveying with it the promise of new things to come, an unprecedented new wave of internet shutdowns and disruptions hit Africa. On the 21st December 2018, the Sudanese government ordered for restricted access to social media sites in an effort to prevent the free flow of information and communication.This was during countrywide protests against soaring food and fuel prices, and human rights abuses that have existed for many years.

This was not the first time that Sudanese faced an internet disruption during a protest, and the impact of this particular shutdown smeared the arrival of a new year.

On 30th December 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo faced yet another government ordered internet shutdown and disruptions on mobile and fixed line services, hours before the country could head to the polls. The shutdown progressed into a full blackout that lasted several days.

Barely a week later, internet services in Gabon were suspended on 7th January 2019 during an attempted Coup.

Fast forward to 14th January, amid protests against rising fuel and food prices, Zimbabweans woke up to a throttled internet, mostly affecting social media sites, which later led to a complete blackout in the early hours of 15th January.

The unique aspect of this incident was the transparency of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to notify customers of service disruptions.

A leading ISP, Econet Wireless, confirmed the shutdown in a statement and SMS broadcasts, notifying customers of a government written warrant, under section 6 of the Interception of Communications Act, requesting ISPs to suspend all internet services.

A directive that they obliged because it was supposedly within the law and non- compliance would attract a fine or three-year jail term for local management.

Although, many factions have challenged the legality of the written warrant because the Act speaks to the interception of communication services and not to the complete blocking of internet connectivity.

Last year, Paradigm Initiative tracked at least eight countries in Africa that experienced government-ordered internet disruptions.

Thus far, January 2019 has seen three internet access restrictions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon and Zimbabwe with one forgotten case of Chad, where prolonged internet disruption has been in effect since March 2018.

Consequently, the question that comes to mind is why are we experiencing so many cases of internet disruptions?

A significant aspect to consider is governments will to control public access to information and communication within a country and to the outside world.

A common trend to be noted is that most, if not all documented cases of internet blocks occurred during times of social and civil unrest.

For instance, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the government confirmed that they were enforcing internet and SMS restrictions to prevent misinformation through the circulation of fake election results, which could lead to chaos and protests.

In other nations, social media disruptions have been used as a tool to restrict people’s ability to broadcast human rights abuses to the outside world.

Due to its transboundary nature, the internet and social media alike have empowered citizens as national watchdogs with the capacity to broadcast to a wider audience at a click of a button.

On the other hand, members of the press who largely depend on the internet experience a limited ability to gather information and contact sources, let alone broadcast their stories.

All the above mentioned examples highlight direct violations on individual’s freedom of speech and right to access information online as envisaged in the UN Resolution on the ‘promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet’ and the African Commission’s Resolution on the ‘right to freedom of expression and information on the internet in Africa’.

The blatant attacks on people’s rights to access information and express themselves freely online, particularly during fragile times, clearly demonstrates government’s fear of the role of the internet and social media on people’s ability to mobilise for change.

Aside from social and political impacts, internet and network disruptions pose significant economic losses.

A report by Brookings Institution estimates a global loss of over US$2.4 billion between June 2015 and June 2016. While CIPESA estimates losses of up to US$237 million in Africa since 2015.

If the current wave of shutdowns so early in the year is anything to go by, we can expect a lot more internet disruptions as the year progresses.

This presents an opportunity for a coordinated multi-stakeholder approach towards combating internet blackouts and strengthening existing digital rights advocacy efforts that will yield tangible policy and legislative shifts.

Free speech and press freedom continue to be under attack in Tanzania.

Is Tanzania Moving Towards Totalitarianism?

By | Digital Rights, Press Release

By ‘Gbenga Sesan

Last Wednesday, January 30, Tanzania moved decisively closer to becoming a one-party state when parliament approved proposed amendments to the Political Parties’ Act that was first passed in 1992. That was the year that the country adopted multi-party democracy, after 31 years of maintaining its one-party status that it nearly started with as an independent nation in 1961 and made official through a 1963 announcement by the then President, Julius Nyerere.

The man whose leadership influenced the Tanganyika African National Union’s landslide win of all but one seats in the 1960 Legislative Council elections, President Julius Nyerere, admitted that the system brought about “slackness and indifference”. Why is Tanzania now undoing, in 2019, a problem it fixed 27 years ago? There was more than one reason why a move to a multi-party system was necessary; not only to keep the competing parties on their toes but also to avoid muting authentic dissent. It was also necessary to modulate the voice of the party which then had great significance.

In a report by the 1991 Presidential Commission set up to ensure a smooth transition to multipartyism, they stated that surveys showed that the multi-party system gave voters a wider choice of politics, parties and candidates than the one-party system. The Nyalali Commission recommended the formation of the office of the Registrar of Parties whose function as suggested was to register political parties. Since the advent of multipartyism in 1992, Tanzania has seen the opening of the political arena which represented every citizen and brought more competition to how the government accounted for its responsibilities. Opposition parties took up their roles as expected in a democracy, bringing diversity and critical scrutiny of government. A vibrant opposition started gaining more ground during the turn of the new century when they exposed the gray areas that the ruling party needed to address.

However, since 2016, there has been an effective, if largely illegal, ban on political parties carrying out public meetings and rallies. Many opposition leaders, including Zitto Kabwe, have been arrested for violating the ban as well as making “anti-government” comments. While this ban has been strongly opposed, social media has been serving as a public space for the discussion of political and urgent matters of concern. At times, issues are taken up directly with political leaders on social media platforms such as Twitter. When online activist Mange Kimambi defied the ban and made a call for protests, several police commissioners and the minister of Home Affairs ensured the protests did not hold.

The government intensified the clampdown on freedom of expression, following the emergence of the 2015 Cybercrime Act that criminalized criticizing government officials online. In May 2018, the Electronics Postal Communications Act came into play with vague regulations and sanctions to further stifle online rights. Not only are provisions of these law enablers of human rights violations, but they have also gone a step further into shrinking civic spaces.

In late 2018, a bill proposing to amend some provisions of the Political Parties’ Act was brought to Parliament. The proposed amendments include giving enormous power and immunity to the political parties’ Registrar, who is an appointee of the ruling parties’ government, to act as a regulator and police all political parties. In these new amendments, the Registrar has the power to deregister, dismiss and request information at any time. While activists and the opposition have put up a fight to speak out against the draconian amendments, the ruling party has maintained an unsurprising silence. The bill also proposes jail time and hefty fines for breach of the law, still giving the Registrar the powers to manage internal affairs of political parties. A coalition of political parties approached the  courts to block the government from bringing the political parties bill to the parliament but the coalition was turned down by the High Court, and was also asked to pay the government for inconvenience!

The government of President Magufuli appears to be in a sworn fight against freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – online and offline – and its stifling of opposition voices clearly contravenes the principles of democracy. As with many African governments, including that of my home country, Nigeria, the government of Tanzania is so afraid of criticism that any such voice is targeted through restrictive legislation. It is now unlawful to openly criticize through traditional media, online or even as members of opposing political parties. Is Tanzania heading towards totalitarianism, away from the democratic principles it has been identified with over the years?

The Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs has questioned some of the legislative provisions that pose a threat to the country’s political diversity. At a press conference on January 27, 2019, members of the opposition commended the Committee for rejecting provisions such as granting the Registrar, Deputy Registrar and other officers immunity from prosecution. The committee also asked that section 6 of the bill be reworded to correspond with the current Political Parties’ Act and called for the removal of the provision that bars political parties from operating as pressure groups. Unfortunately, when Parliament resumed this week, the bill was passed into law.

This infringes on real democracy. Online and offline activities of political parties, and citizens will be restricted. We have seen the silencing of online voices through the legislation that called for an annual $927 registration fee for bloggers and the victimisation of civil society voices, and while I wonder what the reaction of affected political parties and civil society in Tanzania would be, it is important for us to shed light on the clampdowns on digital – and other forms of – rights in Tanzania.

From Nigeria to Tanzania, and Angola to Zimbabwe, Africa must stop this trend of clampdowns that have created a climate of fear online. The continent needs the Internet as a platform for innovation and economic opportunities, along with its natural role as a civic space, instead of a space where young people – who are the continent’s resource hope – look over their shoulders.

‘Gbenga Sesan is the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, the pan-African digital rights and inclusion group.

Paradigm Initiative Celebrates Safer Internet Day

By | Advocacy, Press Release

As the world commemorates the 2019 Safer Internet Day, Paradigm Initiative has urged Nigerians to adopt safer internet practices. The pan-African digital rights and inclusion advocacy organisation made this call at a media parley held Monday, February 4, at its office in Lagos.

 

According to Sodiq Alabi, the organisation’s Communications Officer, “The Safer Internet Day is a day set aside to raise awareness of emerging online issues, and leverage this to help improve the safety of internet users, especially children and youth. Paradigm Initiative has been empowering youth with digital skills in Nigeria for over a decade, and we have always been conscious of the need to train internet users on the responsible use of the tool.”

 

The organisation has embarked on a digital literacy campaign targeted at young people in Abia, Lagos and Kano, the three states where it currently runs training centres dedicated to information and communication technology skills acquisition among underserved youth.

 

The digital literacy campaign includes classes on digital security for youth, media outreach and roadshows. The campaign is aimed at encouraging internet users in the country to make positive use of the Internet.

 

According to Tosin Abolaji, Paradigm Initiative Digital Inclusion Program Manager, “This is a crucial time to embark on this campaign as Nigeria heads to the polls in a matter of days. Young people are especially impressionable. We want them to recognize that issues of false news, hate speech and cyber harassment are phenomena that can negatively affect peace and security, but also the integrity of an election.  We believe internet users education is one of the ways to combat these phenomena.”

 

“Our message to youth is to be more discerning in how they consume content on social media and other platforms. That something is online does not make it true. We encourage all users to acquire fact-checking skills so they don’t fall prey to misinformation campaigns and they don’t themselves unwittingly spread misinformation,” Abolaji added.

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