Category

Internet Freedom

Human Rights online, Violations and Government Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, DRIMF, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

In Zimbabwe, there are an estimated 4.81 million internet users with 980 thousand social media users as of January 2020. The circulation of fake news regarding the pandemic is a key concern, and this has been met with a strong response from African governments. In Zimbabwe, the president has warned that a penalty of 20 years in jail will be leveled against anyone circulating fake news on social media. The penalty is excessive and criminal defamation laws are discouraged in the protection of freedom of expression. 

The Covid 19 pandemic saw a flood of information being published online. Print media moved online and the period saw a rise in citizen journalism as many people were home with plenty of time. News on politics and corruption were broken online, which gave the news more reach than it had before the pandemic, and this to some extent rattled those in power and state authorities.

Many African countries, Zimbabwe included while grappling with containing the virus in its early days were involved in activities that violated online and digital rights of citizens. The internet has for example been used to share information  through contact tracing, surveillance, collecting information and contact details of people via mobile telephone networks.

Nigeria for example attempted data surveillance with mobile applications, and announced flight details of people whom they had difficult tracking. In Kenya, nude photographs of COVID-19 patients were posted and shared on social media. 

In South Africa, cell phone operators agreed to release customers data to the government of South Africa and also set new regulations criminalising disinformation on the COVID-19 outbreak.

In Zimbabwe some of the fake news circulating on social media includes statements such as, “drinking alcohol will kill the coronavirus’ , it’s ok to share facemasks’, ‘Africans cannot get Covid 19’ and also that exercise will protect people from COVID-19.

Other false information which circulated on social media include statements like, COVID-19 thrives  in winter, and people saying taking a hot bath will prevent them from contracting Covid 19 all which are mythical and therefore untrue. Another myth which was circulating on social media is that ‘mosquito bites spread corona virus’ and that during seasons when mosquitoes are not there the disease doesn’t spread that much. Pamela from Mbare, one of the old suburbs in Zimbabwe said, “blacks rarely die due to coronavirus’. It’s just a disease that infects them, just like a common cold and then it disappears. 

Organisations such as Zimfactcheck are playing a watchdog role by fact-checking news and information on the public sphere so that the general public can receive verified news, information and related facts in the wake of the rise in misinformation.

Also within the pandemic period many countries witnessed a collection of sensitive data for example in Zimbabwe, the government was able to access people’s mobile telephone numbers and share updates and related information on the corona virus pandemic.   

In Zimbabwe, people’s right to access information online was further restricted by the digital divide. In rural areas for example  very few people have smartphones and know how to use the internet to access information. 

In urban areas, the constant power cuts limits the time that people can access internet services as electricity power cuts affect internet connectivity. 

The activities of most governments during the pandemic violated citizen’s right to privacy, and their right to freedom of expression and access to information as well as the right to dignity of persons. 

Respecting and fulfilling human rights is primarily the responsibility of state authorities and those who feel violated should seek remedy through their local legislation, courts and international responsibility.

Governments should ensure continuity and expansion of community based services so that people will have options close to them in terms of remedies.

As has been highlighted they are many violations with data privacy in many countries and these have been enabled by laws and policies governing online media. In Ghana for example emergency laws were used to collect data from telecoms for contact tracing purposes. 

 

By Patience Shawariran | PINs 2021 Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow

E – GOVERNANCE IN GHANA BY LUKMAN MAHAMI ADAMS.

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, DRIMF, Internet Freedom

The American Library Association defines digital literacy as the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information. A person is considered a digital literate when he / she can efficiently use digital devices such as laptops, phones, tablets in the exchange of information. As a result of the advent of internet and social media, digital literacy has shifted from the use of technological devices in the sharing of information to the use of internet and social media in the sharing of information. The internet and social media are inextricably connected. One cannot share information on social media without having access to the internet. The internet has had a significant influence on many industries such as education, governance, marketing just to mention a few. The prefix ‘e’ signifies electronic which is synonymous to online has been widely used to represent the internet in diverse industries. Typical examples include e-commerce, e-learning. e-governance, and e-voting. 

The purpose of this article is to examine how governments and institutions in Ghana have leveraged the internet and social media to bring their services closer to the citizens. This analysis will contribute to bridging the information gap that exits between traditional / legacy and new media users in Ghana. This is necessary to be examined because of the widespread appreciation of internet and social media in Ghana. According to Datareportal (2020), internet penetration stood in Ghana at 48% in January 2020 with a total number of 14.76 million internet users in Ghana. The common social media platforms in Ghana include WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat among others. Issaka (2015) indicated that Facebook was the most visited site in Ghana. He further indicated that Facebook was the most visited social media platform ahead of local news sites and even the search engine giant, Google. In a recent survey conducted by NapoleonCat, there were 8,197, 000 Facebook users in Ghana as at February, 2021.  This eight million plus Facebook users accounts for 26% of the entire population.

Electronic governance / e – governance can simply be defined as the virtual or online form of decision making or making decisions on the internet. The key characteristics of governance are transparency and accountability. Government institutions must not only use traditional media such as television, radio and print to keep the citizens informed on happenings in their respective institutions but should go beyond traditional media to include new media that is internet and social media to mitigate the information gap between the offline and online audiences. 

Institutions have physical offices in which they conduct operations, so there is the need to create online offices as well to ensure equity in executing mandates such as accountability and transparency. We are in a globalized world hence the use of advanced technology and new media, when leveraged, would attain maximum human capital, specifically time and money. It is expected of every institution to have global visibility especially when it is mandated to serve the interest of an information consuming public. Social media platforms provide opportunities for not just individuals but organizations and institutions as well. Notable state institutions have seen the need of online inclusion and have included it in their operations. The institutions that engage in active e-governance include the Office of the President of Ghana, Ministry of Information, Ministry of Health, Parliament of Ghana, Ghana Health Service Ministries, few Departments and Agencies and some Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies in Ghana. 

The Parliament of Ghana is an active user on the internet and social media.  Parliament of Ghana has a verified account on Facebook with a following in excess 9 million. The platform engages the public by providing verbal and nonverbal content of the activities of Parliament.  https://m.facebook.com/Parliament.of.Ghana/ The platform also broadcasts live parliamentary proceedings to keep the online community abreast with information on bills, debates, voting among others. The just ended presentation of the 2021 Budget Statement and Economic Policy was transmitted live on Parliament’s Facebook platform. Ministerial vetting as well as the President’s State of Nations Address (SONA) have all been made available through Facebook. This provides the listeners who had no access to traditional media an opportunity to be part of the information society. Social media can be accessed at all places and all times and thus admired for its mobility. The weakness associated with the online inclusion by parliament is that, its inclusion is limited to Facebook users leaving out the users of Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. This can be attributed to the fact that Facebook has the highest number of users compared to other platforms. This should not be the justification, as the choice of social media platform is subjective. Parliament should ensure to accommodate all social media users on other platforms to ensure uniformity in the information society.

Unlike the Parliament of Ghana, the Office of the President includes both Twitter and Facebook users. The Presidency has verified accounts on Twitter and Facebook which actively engages the citizens on a daily basis. It also provides both verbal and nonverbal content for its followers. The President of Ghana has been very informative to the public as he regularly updates Ghanaians on the COVID-19 situation in Ghana through Facebook live. The Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service have also leveraged on social media to provide information on COVID – 19.

In conclusion, state institutions need to take a clue from the likes of Parliament of Ghana, Ministry of Information and the Office of the President and include the online community in their activities. A state policy directing all state institutions to include new media in their operations will be a step in the right direction as the disregard for internet visibility by some institutions should not continue as it creates a sense of backwardness in the information society.

 

By Lukman Mahami Adams|PINs Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow.

 

Open Letter Calling For President Edgar Lungu to Defer Signing of the Zambia Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill 2021

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, ICTs, Internet Freedom

Dear President Edgar Lungu,

Following the passing of the third reading of the Zambia Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill 2021 on the floor of Parliament on 9th March 2021. Paradigm Initiative calls on you to defer the signing of the Zambia Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill of 2021 as it has the potential to severely infringe upon fundamental human rights of citizens, such as the right to access information, the right to freedom of expression, right to privacy, and the right to associate and assemble online.

Paradigm Initiative (PIN) is a social enterprise that builds ICT-enabled support systems and advocates for digital rights in order to improve the livelihoods of under-served young Africans. Our digital rights advocacy program is focused on the development of public policy for internet freedom in Africa, with offices in Abuja, Nigeria (covering the Anglophone West Africa region); Yaoundé, Cameroon (Central Africa); Arusha, Tanzania (East Africa) and Lusaka, Zambia (Southern Africa). Our digital rights advocacy efforts include media campaigns, coalition building, capacity building, research, report writing, hosting the annual bi-lingual pan-African Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum, and promotion of Digital Rights and Freedom legislation.

While we note the progressive provisions and the need for a law that protects citizens against cybercrime and fosters cybersecurity, we also wish to remind the Zambian government of its constitutional, regional and international obligations to protect the civil liberties of Zambians.

Specifically, we wish to remind the government of its constitutional obligations to safeguard;

  • Freedom of Expression and Access to information under Article 20 which provides for the sharing and receiving of information without interference, whether public or private
  • Freedom of Assembly and Association under Article 21 which provides for freedom of assembly and association without hindrance
  • Privacy under Article 17 guarantees the protection of privacy of home and property and no  person shall be subjected to the search of their person, property, or the entry by others on their premises unless by the subject’s consent

We wish to also remind the government of its international obligations to safeguard and promote;

  • Freedom of Expression under Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The   UN   Human   Rights   Committee states that “any restrictions on the operation of websites, blogs, or any other internet-based electronic or other such information dissemination systems” must comply with Article 19”.
  • Privacy under Article 17 (1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “no one shall be subjected  to  arbitrary  or  unlawful  interference  with  his  privacy,  family,  home  or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.”

Further, Zambia’s regional obligations to the following regional instruments on freedom of expression and access to information; African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Windhoek Declaration, African Platform on Access to Information, and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression.

The Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill of 2021 in its current form is anti-freedom of expression, anti-freedom of assembly, anti-freedom of association, and anti-privacy and presents several problematic clauses that infringe on digital rights and may provide avenues for abuse and in the long run will be detrimental to the work of human rights defenders, civil society, bloggers, journalist and ordinary citizens who provide the necessary checks and balances.

For instance;

  • Section 54 prohibits the publication of false information, criminalizing “false” news or “false” content will stifle independent media, especially those with critical voices, create a climate of censorship and undermined public debate thereby weakening democracy, and limit legitimate information sharing by those who use the internet for civic work and to expand democracy. Moreover, a similar provision in the Penal Code was declared unconstitutional by the High Court in 2014.
  • Sections 9 and 11 provide excessive powers to cyber inspectors who are mandated to monitor, inspect, search and seize with a warrant, however, there are no limits as to the nature, scope, or duration of warrants.
  • Sections  6, 7, 8, 13, and 14 of the bill create two new bodies to address cybersecurity and cybercrimes, give the ‘Authority’ power to appoint “cyber inspectors, the ‘Director-General’ of the ‘Authority’ to appoint ‘cybersecurity technical experts, as well as provide vast powers for the ‘Authority’ and ‘Minister’ who are put in charge of the new bodies that have the power to control virtually all internet activity in Zambia without appropriate safeguards to oversee such actions.  
  • Section 7 of the bill establishes the National Cybersecurity Advisory and Coordinating Council constituted of part-time experts in cybersecurity and cybercrime. The provision however does not state the qualifications nor the criteria for selecting these part-time experts. This gives way for the Council to be made up of partial people who may use it as a tool for surveillance.
  • Section 29 grants law enforcement officers to verbally request service providers to intercept communications of citizens without a warrant if they have a reasonable belief that there is the possibility of cybercrime. This gives room for interception of the private communications of citizens on very vague grounds that have no relation to cybersecurity.
  • Section 65 seeks to criminalise hate speech with broad provisions that state that any statement directed at a particular group that is interpreted as hostile may amount to hate speech and interpretation of this is left to law enforcement officers.

Overall the bill grants excess powers to law enforcement officers and provides inadequate judicial oversight for surveillance activities, and this threatens the right to privacy, freedom of expression, and other digital rights.

Furthermore, we note that Cabinet approved ratification of the African Union Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection 2014 (Malabo Convention), therefore we urge the government to consider deferring the bill until such a time when the Malabo Convention is fully ratified in Zambia as a commitment to the protocols set out in the Convention to protect critical ICT infrastructure, personal data and to encourage the free flow of information and contribute to a developed and credible digital space in Africa. In addition, to consider aligning the bill to global best practice standards including but not limited to the provisions of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrimes of 2001.

While we commend the efforts made to foster stakeholder consultation, we, however, wish to register our displeasure at the ‘last-minute’ manner in which stakeholders were engaged and informed of internal legislative review meetings and the rushed manner in which the bill was read on the floor of Parliament through a motion to suspend Standing Order 100 of the National Assembly of Zambia’s Standing Orders 2016. These measures did not give the public and Members of Parliament ample time to propose objections or amendments to the pieces of legislation.

In closing, we strongly urge you-  President Lungu, to withhold signing the Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill of 2021 until after the August 2021 general elections to allow for more consultations with stakeholders and subsequent amendment of the worrisome clauses.

For more information about contact: media[at]paradigmhq[.]org

 

CLOSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE GAP IN AFRICA’S UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES

By | Digital Rights, ICT Policy, ICTs, Internet Freedom

The world we live in is changing in ways we would not have imagined some years back and this change is being driven by Information and communication technology-enabled innovations. This has led to a race of who will blaze the trail in the digital economy of the world, as whoever wins the race will have major control over important dynamics that drive our world today.

While we see developed countries striving to increase their quest towards digital dominance, what we see in most African countries especially as it has to do with her underserved population is a continent that either has lost touch with what is happening around her or one that doesn’t care about the wellbeing of its underserved population, as we cant see the much that is being done towards closing the digital divide gap compare to other developed economies when it comes to her citizens who live below the poverty line.

To help us better understand this problem, Jakob Nielsen wrote an article in 2016 that analyzed the digital divide and classified it into three stages: the economic divide stage, the usability divide stage, and the empowerment divide stage.

In Africa, you will find most countries at the economic divide stage. The majority of the citizens do not have access to the infrastructure, devices, and tools that will enable their participation in the global digital economy. This can mostly be attributed to poverty, as a greater percentage of her population do not have what it takes to acquire even the world’s cheapest digital devices. The second reason here being, the inability of the government of these countries, to provide the infrastructure that will support access to the digital economy.

On the problem of the usability divide, we see where people have moved beyond the first stage to having access to digital tools and devices but not knowing how to use them. Here you see citizens acquiring computers just for recreational reasons (playing games and watching movies) or getting high-end smartphones for the sole purpose of making and receiving calls. The above is usually because they lack the skills and knowledge that can enable them to take full advantage of the capability of these digital resources.

At the third stage, which is the empowerment divide, the problem we see here in most African countries is that most people who have passed the first two stages by having access to digital tools and devices and the skills of using them most times don’t know how to convert that into opportunities that can empower them and their communities. The above situation is further exacerbated by repressive policies of most governments of the countries which have prevented most of its citizens especially those from underserved communities from taking advantage of their digital skills in empowering themselves. A typical example is a ban on the use of cryptocurrencies in Nigeria by her Apex financial institution the Central Bank of Nigeria which has led to many cryptocurrency exchanges doing business in Nigeria moving their businesses outside the shores of the country leading to the loss of opportunities for her teeming youthful population.

Having looked at the problem of the widened digital divide in Africa from the lens of these three stages, one will not help but ask what we can do to amend this situation so that Africa and its youthful population will not be left behind in the race for control in the emerging global digital economy. To close this widening gap in the digital divide among African countries, the following must be done:

There is the need for a homegrown solution to the problem of access to and affordability of digital tools and devices, as this will help reduce the cost and make them cheap enough that a greater number of citizens can get and use them.
African governments should take advantage of Public and Private partnerships to drive the acquisition of relevant digital skills that will help their people to be players in the emerging global digital economy.
Repressive government policies should be abolished, while good ones should be enacted to create the enabling environment for creative young people on the continent to be able to harness their digital skills towards creating opportunities for the continent and its people.

In conclusion, it is very important for policymakers in all African countries to understand the stages they are among these three stages of the digital divide as that will help them to know the appropriate policies to put in place to get their people to where they are supposed to be in the globalized digital economy.

By Ihueze Nwobilor

Ethiopia’s Tigray Crisis: Net Blackout and Govt’s One-Way Fact Check.

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Ethiopia has had a challenging 2020 relative to the internet. There has been a triple outage – two restricted to particular zones and one nationwide. The first outage in western Oromia lasted three months in an area government was combating rebels.

The second and more impacting being the nationwide blackout imposed in June, through the better part of July followed the killing of a famed Oromo artiste, Hachaalu Hundessa, in the capital Addis Ababa. That blackout lasted over three weeks according to Net Blocks.

The more recent restricted outage is in the northern Tigray region where the government says it is carrying out a “rule of law operation” against the recalcitrant regional government led by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, TPLF.

Immediately after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed “declared war” on the TPLF in early November 2020, internet connectivity was cut across Tigray as federal forces engaged the regional forces in hostilities that have triggered a humanitarian crisis along the border with Sudan.

Government’s one-way fact-checking via Facebook / Twitter

Days after the operation began in western Tigray, the government announced official social media channels (Facebook / Twitter) – to debunk fake news. Relaying official account of the operation and debunking misinformation was the main task of the State of Emergency Fact-Checking handles.

From new reports about the bombing of a dam, enlisting of South Sudanese soldiers, and talk of regional even continental mediation; the government debunked all of the above whiles confirming other separate incidents reported in the press and posted on social media.

Incessant as the calls for de-escalation and restoration of especially communication services have been, the calls have all been rebuffed by Addis Ababa. The United Nations, African Union, human, media, and digital rights groups, have all made the unheeded call.

Most people tweeting about the crisis are believed to be Ethiopians from the diaspora and or political and security watchers who receive their information from other sources – be it diplomatic or by other means.

The regional authorities despite the blackout continue to grant interviews especially to the major news agencies – Reuters, AFP whiles other journalists in the region also relay news via Twitter especially.

Analysts on Ethiopia’s ‘assault’ on connectivity

Internet Rights expert, Ekai Nabenyo, East Africa lead for net rights group Paradigm Initiative, PIN; in an article described the Ethiopian government’s appetite for internet shutdowns as “insatiable and atavistic.” 

“…in blatant disregard of basic human entitlements, the government of Ethiopia never missed an opportunity to violate the rights of citizens. At the slightest provocation, the government appears to always have as its first option, internet shutdowns and communication restriction.”

“Internet shutdowns are never a good option in times of crisis or national emergencies. A society that does not have access to information is a society that is walking in a fathomless abyss,” he added.

For other analysts, it was intriguing that a government creates the conditions for fake news to be peddled yet positions itself to be a “unilateral” source of credible information. 

Why the outrage and calls for lifting measure

The Ethiopian government did not give any reasons – it hardly ever gives reasons for such security-related shutdowns – but experts have said the move was to ensure that government controls the war narrative plus to disrupt communication lines of “opponents.”

Despite not being opponents, the media became one of the most adversely impacted by the communications blackout. People outside of the region could also not connect with family and friends trapped in the region. 

In a recent Reuters report, the script read in part: “Claims from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to the region have been down…” Several journalists have had to depend on diplomatic sources and other means to report incidents.

Most analysts have stressed the impact of unverifiable information. In which instance people peddle fake news along with its attendant dangers. Local and international watchers have tasked the government to lift the outage.

“Cutting off communication has severely hampered the ability to monitor the situation on the ground, particularly the impact of the clashes in the local population,” UN human rights head Michelle Bachelet said in a November 6 statement.

Bachelet asked Addis Ababa to “re-establish all basic services, including Internet and telephone connections.” Adding that “the right of all people to be informed and to access information is particularly vital in a crisis situation”.

Conclusion

But authorities in Ethiopia are not alone in seeking to unilaterally combat fake news, over in Nigeria, the Army has recently appropriated unto itself busting fake news on social media. 

In the aftermath of the deadly toll booth shooting in Lagos amid the #EndSars protests, the Army stamped “fake news” labels on social media posts alleging their complicity in the incident.

Restricting the internet as done by Addis Ababa was to achieve an end – be it security or information control. Going a step further to fact check reports underlines the importance of combating unverified/fake news.

The writer, Abdul Rahman Shaban Alfa, is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion fellow. He is a digital journalist who writes on major digital rights trends across Africa.  

Review: Digital pledges in 2020 manifesto of Ghana ruling party.

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Ghanaians will be voting in December 2020 in general elections. The keenly watched poll is a re-election bid for the two main candidates. Incumbent Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and former President John Dramani Mahama. The winner will be serving their second and final term as president of one of Africa’s most stable democracies. The vote is the eighth consecutive since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992.

Important as electioneering campaigns and messaging are, they afford both parties and other contenders the opportunity to sell their political agenda. As a 2020 Paradigm Initiative digital rights fellow, this writer zones in on the digital pledges in the manifesto of the ruling New Patriotic Party, NPP. This follows a first part that tracked the same in the main opposition National Democratic Congress, NDC’s; manifesto.

Setting tone for digital take-off

The NPP touts their achievements so far in the digital landscape and continues in the document to address areas they will consolidate and or introduce in the next term if they win the polls.

The word “digital” appears a total of 64 times in different contexts throughout the 216-page document dubbed “Leadership of Service: Protecting our Progress, Transforming Ghana for All.”

The first mention of the word digital is in the message from the president and flagbearer of the party which read in part: “We have embraced digital technology in the delivery of public services …”

In Part 5 of the document titled: Accelerating Growth and Transformation; the NPP dedicates an entire chapter to Digitisation and the Transformation of the Ghanaian Economy. Specifically, it zoned in on the digitization journey and plans to build a digital services economy and to create a leading sub-regional digital hub.

Touting digital strides from 2016 – 2020 

The government summarized its digital development areas as follows: improve the delivery of public service, formalize the economy, improve revenue mobilization, deepen and broaden inclusiveness in the development process, and curb bribery and corruption.

The Akufo-Addo-led government has since 2016 rolled out a number of digital processes in the delivery of government services. Some of the notable ones being the 2018 digital address system, digital driver’s license, and vehicle registration.

Others are the digitized process of obtaining building permits, reforms for court administration, and incremental development of the Ghana.gov portal as a one-stop-shop for digital payment and revenue mobilization.

In the education sector especially, the government also touted its efforts in digitizing libraries stating thus: “Through the Ghana Fund for Electronic Communication (GIFEC), we provided students living with disability in selected tertiary institutions with assistive technology-enabled devices and training to promote their digital inclusion.”

Digitizing the health insurance system was also the other plank highlighted. The Digital Hub under which the Accra Digital Center falls is an area of innovation and enterprise for young developers that government promises to boost.

Plan, promises, and projects for 2020 – 2024

“Over the next four years, we will leverage on our existing digital infrastructure and make the necessary investments and policies to establish Ghana firmly as the digital services hub of West Africa,” the manifesto said.

In concrete terms, the NPP government promised to among others:

* Put in place generation of connected market infrastructure on which government and the economy can function.

* Rationalise the functions of bodies in the technology ecosystem and to streamline the legal and regulatory frameworks.

* Update Ghana’s spectrum policy and regulations to promote greater transparency, the competitive and rapid expansion of internet services to rural areas.

* Establish a national data center that centralizes all digital information and data storage, management, and protection.

* Increase broadband coverage, affordability of digital devices and explore innovations to ensure the visually impaired are not left out of the ongoing digital revolution plus increasing access and affordability of digital devices.

* Invest in human capital to build digital skills base, by continuing investments in teaching ICT from primary school.

* Undertake processes aimed at reducing the cost of data in Ghana. A gigabyte of data as of 2020 costs $0.94, making Ghana the country with the sixth cheapest rate in Africa.

* Other areas of interest include reduction of taxes on digital devices, lowering of the spectrum and license costs.

Digital investment makes a significant showing in the concluding chapter under the heading of “Transformation for a Ghana Beyond Aid,” the relevant portions read thus: “The coronavirus pandemic has reaffirmed our vision of building a Ghana Beyond Aid…

“… one of the pillars of which is to build a resilient economy with the financial strength to fund public services, and to ensure a strong Ghanaian presence and capacity across the supply and services value chains of all the major sectors.”

The cyberspace plans are largely limited, only reporting of successes in the first tenure. The government mentioned the setting up of the Computer Emergency Response Team with the National Communications Authority and also training police on cybersecurity.

Conclusion

The digital space clearly is of increasing interest to major political stakeholders in Ghana. Like the NDC, the incumbent party has given lots of space to the potential and game-changing impact of digital processes on general national life.

As reiterated by experts in the digital ecosystem, civil society and the media will be key in keeping successive governments in check to deliver on promises especially relative to legislation on digital rights and data protection.

“Civil society must track these promises and push politicians to implement as many of them as possible,” a digital rights activist told this writer.

As crucial as the digital space is, one wonders how many Ghanaians will vote on digital rights and other digital inclusion grounds.

Whiles at it, parties and candidates are busily using social media to sell their messages to the many Ghanaians with a presence on and offline. Game on, may the best party win.

 

The writer, Abdul Rahman Shaban Alfa, is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion fellow. He is a digital journalist who writes on major digital rights trends across Africa.  

Tanzanians Vote Amidst Unprecedented Internet Disruption

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

It is not an overstatement to say that if there is any word that most Tanzanians are coming into contact with — or forced to use — for the first time then is VPN or virtual private network, a technology that gives internet users online privacy and anonymity. Thanks to the ongoing heavy restriction on the use of the internet by Tanzanian authorities during the general election, most Tanzanians, both technologically savvy and ignorant, struggle to download VPN and install it on their mobile devices so that they can be able to access various social media platforms whose use Tanzania has reportedly restricted.

Restrictions

News on the likely restriction on the use of social media first came to light on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, as various people, especially on social media, reported to have had difficulty accessing the platforms. NetBlocks, an international non-governmental organization that monitors cybersecurity and the governance of the Internet, confirmed what it called “widespread disruption to social media and online communication platforms” via multiple internet providers as of Tuesday.

NeBlocks’ analysis revealed that real-time metrics showed that Twitter, WhatsApp, backend servers for Instagram, and some Google services, including Gmail and Translate were generally or partially. This was true for any user of Tanzania’s leading network operators like Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, Halotel, and Zantel. While other social media companies are yet to comment on the situation, Twitter said Tuesday that it had observed “some blocking and throttling” of the platform. In a statement, Twitter said: “Internet shutdowns are hugely harmful, and violate basic human rights and the principles of the [open internet.] The government is yet to comment on the matter as of the time of writing this. Nor are the network operator who has been on the receiving end of various inquiries and even accusations from their customers. Many of them, however, acknowledged experiencing “network issues,” promising to work on it.


The restriction on the use of the internet came hardly three days after another development was reported by users of Tanzania’s largest mobile network operators Vodacom Tanzania and Airtel Tanzania preventing users from sending mobile text messages which carried the name of some of the opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu and Maalim Seif Sharif to their contacts. The move by Vodacom and Airtel came two days after Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) wrote to telecoms ordering them to temporarily suspend bulk short messaging services (SMS) and bulk voice calls from October 24 to November 11, 2020. TCRA’s director-general said in the letter which was addressed to Viettel Tanzania PLC which trades as Halotel that the move was aimed at curbing the “adverse impacts” of the services during general elections.

Keep It On

Back in August 2020, some digital rights activists in the country were already worried that the government might restrict the use of the internet ahead of the 2020 general election. This is so despite the fact that Tanzania does not have legislation that gives the government power to shut down the internet, according to a Lagos-based digital rights advocacy group Paradigm Initiative (PIN). Still, the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2020 give the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) power to order service providers to block or filter content if the TCRA deems such content is prohibited, the digital rights organization, quoted a human rights lawyer Daniel Marari as saying. Mr. Marari told Paradigm Initiative then:

“The way it works is that the law allows TCRA to delegate censorship powers and powers of content removal to service providers. It can direct service providers, or internet service providers, to filter and block access to certain services/websites or remove certain content. If they don’t comply, they risk sanctions. [This is] an indirect way of blocking access to online content or services.”

It was the fear of restriction on the use of the internet experienced right now that moved Ms. Zaituni Njovu and her colleagues at Zaina Foundation, a local organization that champions digital rights and inclusion, to adopt and launch the #KeepItOnTZ in Tanzania to make sure that the government does not shut the internet down as it can have unspeakable effects on people’s participation in the upcoming election.

Access Now, a global digital rights organization, criticized what is currently happening in Tanzania, saying it stiles people’s fundamental rights and freedoms. “Telecom service providers operating in Tanzania have a responsibility to respect the human rights of Tanzanians, and must take all possible measures to prevent and mitigate government attempts to censor millions,” said the organization in its October 27 statement. “[We] invite the international community to join the call: telecommunications companies must resist Magufuli-government censorship requests, and allow people to freely and securely access communication platforms throughout the election period and thereafter.”

BY Khalifa Said Rashid, Paradigm Initiative Media Fellow 

Facebook et Les Manifestations Politiques en Afrique.

By | Digital Rights, Internet Freedom, L.I.F.E.

Alors que les forces de sécurité nigérianes ont abattu des jeunes manifestants le 20 octobre, lors des rassemblements #EndSARS pour mettre fin à la brutalité policière, plusieurs publications ont été faussement signalées comme des « fausses nouvelles». Sur les réseaux sociaux, la crise anglophone au Cameroun prend désormais de l’ampleur après le drame de Kumba. Quel rôle peut jouer Facebook dans cette nouvelle mobilisation en ligne ? Entretien avec Qemal Affagnon, coordinateur de l’Afrique de l’ouest pour Internet Sans Frontières.

Quel rôle peut jouer Facebook dans la crise anglophone au Cameroun ?

Je pense qu’au niveau de la diffusion de l’information, ils ont un rôle à jouer. Les artistes et les personnalités ont commencé à donner de la voix au Cameroun et ils sont nombreux sur Facebook. Depuis le drame de Kumba, Facebook permet aux citoyens de libéraliser l’information au-delà des médias traditionnels.

Mais il y a un risque que Facebook tente de censurer les discussions comme ce fût le cas au Nigeria. Parce qu’en 2018, Facebook a dépêché deux représentants au Cameroun pour rencontrer les autorités afin de limiter les fausses nouvelles et les discours de haine. Autorités, qui il faut le rappeler, quelques semaines avant, avaient coupé internet pendant 94 jours.

Aussi, à l’approche des dernières élections, les autorités ont contacté Facebook et ils ont répondu présents.

Donc il y a déjà des contacts entre les deux parties et un risque réel que Facebook ressorte l’argument des fausses nouvelles si le mouvement au Cameroun prend de l’ampleur et menace les intérêts du gouvernement.

De nombreuses personnes exercent leur droit à la liberté d’expression sur les réseaux sociaux et à travers ces pratiques, Facebook entrave ce droit. Cependant, au Cameroun, Facebook n’a pas trop intérêt à réagir pour l’instant car la mobilisation est encore faible mais j’imagine que si elle grandit, il y a effectivement un risque réel d’entrave à la liberté d’expression.

Comment comprendre cette erreur de Facebook qui marque une information vérifiée comme une fausse nouvelle ?

Facebook explique que c’est dû à une erreur technique, que l’algorithme s’était emballé et qu’ils s’en sont rendus compte après coup. Ils disent avoir mal étiqueté les informations. Alors que les gens qui diffusaient l’information recevaient une alerte selon laquelle ils s’apprêtaient à diffuser une fausse information. Donc ils ont cherché à briser l’élan qui amenait les gens à s’exprimer.

C’est difficile à croire car Facebook manœuvre pour l’ouverture de son second bureau en Afrique. Ce n’est pas qu’un bureau de communication mais ils veulent développer de nombreuses activités. Le Nigeria étant un marché gigantesque, il négocie actuellement des partenariats avec des opérateurs de téléphonie et les agences de communication.

Quand tu prends une photo et que tu le postes sur Facebook, le réseau social récupère les métadonnées de cette photo. Et aujourd’hui, dans la perspective de leur ouverture au Nigeria, ces données sont précieuses et constitue aussi une manne financière importante.

Ces données sont stratégiques pour l’avenir de Facebook dans le pays et le monde a vu l’ampleur de la mobilisation. Le mouvement est devenu tellement important que les manifestants ont demandé la démission du gouvernement donc on peut penser que Facebook essaie de mettre en place ce genre de règles pour étouffer ce genre de mobilisation qui peut avoir d’énorme conséquences sur ses intérêts, ainsi que ceux de ses partenaires officiels. Ils essaient de se positionner sur le rôle qu’ils peuvent jouer.

Du côté d’Internet Sans Frontières, on surveille la situation mais le risque est vraiment au niveau de la capacité des citoyens à se mobiliser davantage.

Responsabilité des plateformes dans les mobilisations politiques de plus en plus courantes ? Comment se préparer ?

Dans les années à venir, il y aura de plus en plus de mobilisations via les réseaux sociaux. Le taux de pénétration mobile croît davantage. Les jeunes représentent la majorité de la population et les gens sont de plus en plus connectés. En plus, dans de nombreux pays, les médias sont à la solde des gouvernants donc on peut anticiper qu’il y aura de plus en plus de mobilisations en ligne.

Les autorités doivent prendre leurs responsabilités. Ces plateformes permettent aux gens de s’exprimer. Ce sont des violations flagrantes de ces droits donc il faut que les gouvernements prennent conscience qu’il y a de réelles atteintes à la liberté d’expression, à liberté d’accès à une information pluraliste.

Il y a davantage de menaces sur les risques de coupure d’internet. A Internet Sans Frontières, on essaie aussi désormais de sensibiliser davantage les gouvernements sur le coût économique de la coupure d’internet dans ses pays. Un de nos partenaires a développé un outil qui permet de calculer les pertes économiques et on essaie de montrer que les Etats sont pénalisé sur plusieurs fronts. Avec la Covid-19, les pays sont fragilisés économiquement et la coupure d’internet pénalise encore plus.

Pour ce qui est des acteurs comme Facebook, je pense qu’il faut mettre en place des lois. Ces domaines numériques sont soit très mal régulés en Afrique, soit les lois existantes sont utilisées à des fins politiques comme on l’a vu récemment avec Ignace Sossou au Bénin.

Il faudrait veiller aux usages des textes et éviter que ce genre de de textes restrictifs ne soient répliqués dans d’autres pays.

Facebook peut-il développer d’autres outils plus subtiles pour contrer la liberté d’expression ?

Les réseaux sociaux peuvent avoir un impact assez important en terme de manipulation. Par exemple, cela a permis de limiter le vote des populations noires lors de l’élection de Trump aux Etats-Unis. Et ce genre de pratiques peut advenir sur le continent car de plus en plus de personnes s’informent via les réseaux sociaux. De nombreuses populations s’échangent des informations via Whatsapp (qui appartient à Facebook). Dans les années à venir, on va assister à des pratiques encore plus sophistiquées. Facebook vend des espaces publicitaires et c’est notamment un pilier de son modèle économique. Ce qui s’est passé aux USA peut donc se produire en Afrique, notamment au moment des périodes électorales.

Par Sinatou Saka, Boursier en droits numériques et d’inclusion chez Paradigm Initiative.

Review: Digital footprints of NDC’s 2020 manifesto

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

Ghana, one of Africa’s most stable democracies goes to the polls in December 2020 to elect a president and lawmakers. It is the eighth consecutive vote that has been held since return to multi-party democracy in 1992.

Electioneering has undoubtedly evolved over the years. One of the main assets of campaigns being manifestoes – the document based on which party aspirations are laid out and with which they are held accountable periodically.

The 2020 campaign is no different, with the two major parties having unveiled their manifestoes. The issues therein as usual span service and infrastructure delivery promises and governance ideas and visions.

As a 2020 Paradigm Initiative digital rights fellow, this writer zones in on the digital footprints of opposition National Democratic Congress, NDC; led by former president John Dramani Mahama. A subsequent review will look at the ruling New Patriotic Party, NPP’s digital plans, pledges and postures.

A digital start

Right from the get-go; the manifesto’s introduction message pledges “digital transformation,” whiles in his foreword candidate Mahama says: “we must build a knowledge-based economy and move faster into the new world of smart manufacturing and digital services.”

The word “digital” appears a total of 44 times in different contexts throughout the 143-page document dubbed “Jobs, prosperity and more – The People’s Manifesto.”

The areas of focus remained varied spanning the finance, education, health, creative arts, agriculture, the judiciary, government services, private sector and digital inclusion sectors of the economy.

The NDC touts its achievement in the digital space during the first term of the Mahama administration (2016 – 2020) whiles promising largely to increase investment and support for people operating in the digital ecosystem.

One of the major promises in the document falls under the $10m Big Push infrastructure agenda under which the NDC is promising to “develop regional digital and innovation centers.”

The digital zone of the NDC manifesto

Still under the Big Push umbrella, the NDC states its commitment to developing a digitally functional economy. “Undoubtedly digital infrastructure is the bedrock of every digital economy,” the party stressed.

“… the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, not only the weaknesses in Ghana’s health system, but also its key deficiencies. These include gaps between the served and underserved on healthcare and delivery of other services.

“Ghana cannot be caught waiting. We must fully embrace digital technology but with efficiency, in order to build a knowledge-based economy.”

The highlight of the party’s “smart business, smart government services and infrastructure” vision includes the following:

  1. Build a national information highway
  2. Make access to the internet universal and affordable by 2024
  3. Create a digital economy development fund
  4. Develop a digital Ghana masterplan
  5. Ensure efficient transfer of digital technologies

Areas of legislation and data issues included in this section include the following:

  1. Enhance Ghana’s Cloud readiness to encourage core significant investments in and use of data centers …
  2. Enact and enforce a Critical National Infrastructure Act to regulate the laying of fibre, water pipes and electricity lines alongside road construction.
  3. Digitise and integrate diverse national databases to improve Government services and enhance customer satisfaction.
  4. Support indigenous research into ICT technology, improvement and innovation including automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotics and big data …
  5. Strengthen the Data Protection Commission and the National Information Technology Agency, NITA.
  6. Encourage open government data sharing to make information available to citizens.

There is room for digital innovation and inclusion in the areas of next-generation social infrastructure, health, education and agriculture. The creative arts sector and the judiciary also get special mentions in the use of digital processes.

The cybercrimes slot

The section of cybersecurity rounds up the “digital zone” of the manifesto spelling out efforts the NDC will employ in the area of data protection and curbing of cyber related crimes.

The party stresses its resolve to develop cybersecurity policies to protect critical information infrastructure, promises strong protection regime for victims of cyber fraud. Setting up cybercrime units within the police service along with national and regional cyber labs.

The digital gospel has indeed hit home among major political stakeholders. The main opposition has given enough room for the gospel in its manifesto spanning infrastructure boost, digital inclusion and critically the burgeoning area of data protection.

The role of civil society and the media will be key in keeping the party – and government – on track if it eventually wins. “Civil society must track these promises and push politicians to implement as many of them as possible,” a digital rights activist told this writer.

As crucial as the digital space is, one wonders how many Ghanaians will vote on digital inclusion and other digital rights grounds. What is incontrovertible is the role of new media in the campaigns of respective parties. Game on, may the best man win.

 

The writer, Abdul Rahman Shaban Alfa, is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow. He is a digital journalist who writes on major digital rights trends across the continent.  

Pan African solidarity: How digital platforms unite protesters

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Protest support and or solidarity in these times have been made easy, easier if you want; thanks largely to the internet and social media – most especially the micro blogging site, Twitter.

The days when protests were largely localised continues to fade out as hashtags transcend boundaries with some going global as was the case with the #EndSars street protests that rocked Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria.

Twitter became the standout medium through which thousands of people were mobilized locally and abroad to join in the calls to #EndSars – on and offline.

The fact that top global celebrities, football clubs, sportsmen and women, politicians and activists joined the call was a testament to the reach that Twitter gave the protest.

#EndSars: Facebook fumble, Twitter twinkles

A Quartz Africa article published in October 2020 emphasized the boost that Twitter had on the movement whiles pointing out the counterproductive effect that Facebook and Instagram “unleashed.”

The latter pair admitted mistakenly flagging genuine posts on the October 20 Lekki toll booth shooting as ‘fake news.’ A mistake that activists say the Nigerian Army leveraged on to slap “fake news” labels on news reports on the incident.

Quartz quoted Ray Walsh, a UK-based digital privacy analyst as saying: “It seems clear the social media platform’s (Facebook, Instagram) algorithms are completely failing to differentiate between genuine posts and fake news…

“… causing harm to users and serving as evidence that those algorithms simply are not up to the job of fact-checking when large scale breaking news event occurs,” he added.

Cross-continent protest solidarity: South Africa leads

Africa has recently seen an intersection of protest solidarity with South Africa in the lead. Political parties, politicians and activists have tweeted in respect of rights abuses in next door Zimbabwe and as far as in Nigeria.

When authorities in Zimbabwe arrested journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and activist Tsitsi Dangaremgba months back, South African activists and major political parties tweeted solidarity messages and justice calls.

Former leader of opposition, Mmusi Maimane – currently leader of One South Africa movement – was a strong voice back then and also during the #EndSars crackdown in Lagos.

“To the youth of Africa I say this. Reject the orthodoxy. This is your time and it’s your future on the line. The old men have failed. To the youth of South Africa, Cameroon, DRC, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Namibia, fight for the present that you deserve,” Maimane posted in an October 21 tweet.

The Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF; the third largest party has also consistently called governments out – especially in Zimbabwe and Nigeria – tasking them to respect rights of protesters.

Zimbabwean activists also threw support behind #EndSars protesters on Twitter as did Ghanaians counterparts, many of them published solidarity tweets during the protests and calls for justice after the Lagos incident.

“Attacks by an unidentified task team on peaceful protestors against Nigeria’s controversial SARS unit that have targeted innocent have made international headlines.

“There have been many casualties and while this caused Nigerians in South Africa to march to the embassy in Pretoria and President Muhammadu Buhari to deny that this unit was part of his army, the AU chairperson has not been quoted once in any of the stories.”

The above statement is attributed to South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, DA; tasking president Ramaphosa to speak out on injustices ongoing in a number of African countries.

Most recently, #EndAnglophoneCrisis has also attracted a sizeable amount of solidarity tweets after primary school kids were killed by separatists in a part of Cameroon’s English-speaking region.

Role of WhatsApp and Telegram

Beside the solidarity push, the mobilization – of protest, finance – and the information dissemination of these platforms, WhatsApp has also strongly emerged as a preferred platform that helps rally support for protests.

Gbenga Sesan, Executive Director of social enterprise outfit Paradigm Initiative, stresses why WhatsApp is of significant impact.

“The fact that the app is very simple and mimics simple classic messaging appeals to a demographic that is not savvy enough to use traditional social media.

“Its ease of transferring information to contacts, just like SMS, but combined with the functionality of sending audio, photo and video has made it an important channel for disseminating information,” he told Sinath Saka, an RFI journalist in an French interview.

Sinath’s article on the impact of WhatsApp in the #EndSars protests also identified that its potency cut two ways. Whiles bridging information flow gap, it was the most complicit in spread of fake news.

Also in a time where authorities are increasingly employing heightened surveillance against activists, encrypted social media platforms have become the go-to outlet as admitted by a member of a group that rallied – on and offline support for protesters.

“Lots of conversations and groups have moved on to Telegram. This app has a better reputation in protecting users’ personal data.

“What we also notice is that on WhatsApp there is a lot of fake news that can increase ethnic and religious tensions,” Fakhriyyah Hashim of Feminist Coalition told the journalist.

One thing is clear, the speed with which social media exposes incidents in real time means that such cross-continental even global solidarity calls are here to stay. Governments may not heed these calls but the calls will only get louder if anything at all.

Hashtags are drumming home the point that citizens and neighbours will not remain hush in the midst of heavy-handedness or injustice – wherever and whenever it happens.

The writer, Abdul Rahman Shaban Alfa, is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow. He is a digital journalist who writes on major digital rights trends across the continent.

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