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Internet Freedom

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.

« Sur Internet, nous devons affronter le privilège des langues dominantes » Gerald Roche

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Gerald Roche est anthropologue et chercheur principal à l’Université de La Trobe, et auparavant à l’Institut asiatique de l’Université de Melbourne. Ses recherches portent sur les politiques de mise en danger et de revitalisation des langues, avec un accent régional sur le Tibet. Il a récemment co-édité le Routledge Handbook of Language Revitalization. Son projet de recherche actuel porte sur la politique ethnique et la diversité linguistique dans les régions tibétaines de Chine. L’étude examine la situation sociolinguistique de la population de Rebgong, une région multiethnique et multilingue du plateau du nord-est du Tibet où les Monguor constituent une minorité linguistique.

Que pensez-vous de la situation des langues minorisées sur internet ?

Je pense que le grand problème pour les langues dans les espaces numériques est que les politiques du monde réel ont tendance à se reproduire dans l’espace digital: le même déséquilibre des ressources, les mêmes hiérarchies de respect et de valeur, les mêmes stéréotypes et préjugés.
Ainsi, par exemple, Internet est toujours un environnement dominé par le texte, et il y a cette idée que pour que les langues soient présentes sur Internet, elles doivent être réduites au texte — même s’il existe d’énormes possibilités d’avoir une présence en ligne dynamique. Lorsque des langues minorisées pénètrent l’espace numérique, elles sont souvent soumises aux mêmes normes de présentation que des langues bien mieux dotées en ressources. Ainsi, par exemple, lorsque le COVID-19 a commencé à se répandre en Chine, le gouvernement ne fournissait pas d’informations dans les langues locales. Les communautés ont elles-mêmes entrepris le travail de traduction et produit des vidéos expliquant des informations vitales sur la santé publique dans les langues locales. Mais certaines personnes dans ces communautés ont réagi en disant que les vidéos n’étaient « pas professionnelles ». Même lorsqu’ils obtenaient des informations vitales dans leur langue, les gens jugeaient toujours nécessaire de juger le contenu en fonction des normes établies par des langues bien mieux dotées en ressources.

Pourquoi la diversité linguistique est-elle importante sur Internet?

Mon approche est de me concentrer sur les gens qui parlent ces langues plutôt que sur les langues elles-mêmes. Je pense que la langue est une question de justice sociale. Donc, ce n’est pas seulement que la diversité linguistique est négligée sur Internet, il est important de dire que l’Internet doit être un espace ouvert où tout le monde peut participer de manière égale. Il devrait être un espace où les gens ne subissent pas de discrimination. Mon objectif n’est pas de promouvoir la diversité linguistique pour elle-même mais de réduire la discrimination et d’accroître l’égalité fondamentale pour que ceux qui parlent les langues minorisées soient également entendus.

Comment la langue affecte-t-elle notre expérience Web?

Deux choses sont importantes ici. Premièrement, la langue peut créer des «bulles de représentation». Par exemple, je faisais des recherches sur Internet en tibétain. Les questions qui sont discutées, la façon dont les choses sont représentées, etc., sont totalement différentes des questions liées au Tibet sur Internet en anglais. Et deuxièmement, les mouvements politiques ont tendance à voyager à travers la langue dans les hiérarchies de pouvoir. Ainsi, par exemple, des communautés linguistiques plus petites et plus démunies sont susceptibles de connaître des luttes politiques plus vastes, mais pas l’inverse. Et cette inégalité dans la popularité des mouvements politiques est produite par les mêmes mécanismes qui produisent les inégalités politiques. Cela signifie que les «puissances» de l’analyse et de la production de théories ont tendance à produire des idées qui ont une pertinence limitée pour des luttes plus petites et des communautés plus localisées.
Je pense qu’à certains égards, nous pouvons penser que la «construction d’Internet» reproduit les mêmes problèmes qui se sont posés lors de la construction du système mondial d’États-nations, liés entre eux par le capitalisme mondial. Il a des dimensions à la fois locales et mondiales — il établit des hiérarchies au sein des États et entre eux. Et dans les deux cas, il y a des gens qui sont plus ou moins opprimés par ce processus. Comme Fanon a parlé des damnés de la terre, je pense que nous pouvons aussi penser aux « damnés d’Internet» …

Que proposez-vous ?

Par exemple, en Australie, j’aimerais voir tous les jours des sites d’actualités nationales ayant du contenu dans les langues autochtones en première page. Je pense que ce serait un excellent moyen de rappeler aux locuteurs de langues dominantes, qui en Australie sont souvent monolingues, l’existence d’autres langues … rappelant ainsi aux gens qu’il y a une différence, et donc une hiérarchie et des inégalités importantes. Mais en général, je pense que nous devons affronter le privilège des langues dominantes. Nous pensons souvent que l’activisme numérique pour les langues opprimées concerne l’autonomisation et l’inclusion — plus de plateformes, plus d’outils, plus de voix, etc. Et c’est bien. Mais ils ne suffisent pas si nous ne confrontons pas la domination injuste des autres langues. Si nous ne faisons que donner du pouvoir, nous invitons essentiellement les personnes et les communautés dans un environnement hostile. Cet environnement doit changer.
Cet article a été rédigé dans le cadre de la bourse pour les médias décerné par Paradigm Hq, une organisation qui milite pour les droits numériques en Afrique.

Écrit par Sinatou Saka – Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow.

Balancing the competing rights of free speech and hate speech

By | #PINternetFreedom, Digital Rights, ICT Policy, Internet Freedom

In August, the Nigerian Government announced the increase of fines for hate speech by media houses from N500,000 to N5 million. The announcement was made by the Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at the unveiling ceremony of the revised National Broadcasting Code by the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) in Lagos.

The code amendment stirred controversy with Nigerians kicking against its provisions. Many claimed the amended code is another attempt to clamp down on freedom of speech and media since the November proposed hate speech bill, which prescribes death by hanging for any person found guilty of hate speech has been put on hold.

Paradigm Initiative’s Program Manager, Adeboye Adegoke, said the hate speech fine increment has a very huge implication for the civic space and even for journalistic work. He said the government through the fine is forcing Nigerians to self-censor and more importantly, using the media to censor Nigerians.

“Since it is the media platforms that get to be fined at the end of the day, they are naturally compelled to limit the thoughts that their guests, interviewees can share on critical national issues,” Adegoke said.

“What we have seen clearly is an attempt by the government to unilaterally decide what amounts to hate speech and use that as a weapon to targets critical voices in society.”

A lawyer Ayo Odenibokun said the recently increased hate speech fine is absolutely “ludicrous.”

“It is an attempt to subjugate and suppress the people’s right to freely express themselves,” Odenibokun said.

“It is quite unfortunate that such increment is done in an era where the minimum wage is N30,000 only.”

However, the Nigerian government is hell-bent on regulating citizens’ expression online and offline with determination to curb hate speech. In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, during his Independence Day speech vowed that his administration would take a “firm and decisive action” against promoters of hate speech and other divisive materials on the Internet. The minister of information while announcing the hate speech fine increment stated the amendments were necessitated to vest more regulatory powers in the NBC.

“If we the citizens of the federal republic of Nigeria or as citizens of the world rescind our rights to free speech, that would definitely cripple the meaningful development of our country,” publisher and social change advocate Khadijah Abdullahi -Iya said.

“How would great ideas be shared? Who would then critique the performance of the government and charge them to do better? All of these are necessary elements of a growing democracy.”

Some Nigerians have also argued that the government and regulators would arbitrarily define hate speech and use this new regulation to oppress press freedom and free speech.

This however is not farfetched because, despite the clamour to clampdown on hate speech, there is still no clear identification of what expression or commentary defines Hate speech.

“I think no one is certain about what the phrase ‘hate speech’ denotes,” Abdullahi-Iya said.

“I see it as one of those ambiguous words with fuzzy edges.”

The Nigeria police and State Security Service (SSS), have made regular arrests of journalists, bloggers, and social media commentators. Journalists like Agba Jalingo, have been detained or charged to court for writing articles or posts on social media criticising political officeholders.

“The government ought to look at the root cause of the various criticisms it receives and which are not far fetched i.e. lack of adequate and quality education, insecurity and poverty,” Onibokun said.

“Rather make laws which on the face of it offend the rights of its innocent citizens,” he added.
Adegoke also noted that if Nigeria is really interested in mitigating the effect of harmful speeches then the country must be willing to go through an open, inclusive, and collaborative process in arriving at the best solutions.

“All ongoing conversations are an attempt by the government to unilaterally decide what is acceptable speech and what is not,” Adegoke said

He also stated that once there is an agreement that citizens’ expression should be regulated, then the government would be taking away the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

“ While rights are not absolute. Any derogation to it as provided for by the constitution must be necessary, towards a legitimate end and must proportionate to that legitimate end,” Adegoke said.

Written by Abisola Olasupo – Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow.

Media Parade and Fundamental Human Rights

By | #PINternetFreedom, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

Almost inevitable every week in Nigeria is a media parade of suspected criminals from state and divisional commands of different security agencies in the country.

During these parades, spokespersons or heads of the security agencies narrate how the suspects were arrested and grant journalists access to interview the suspects who are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court, according to the Nigerian Constitution.

Sometimes, the paraded persons are later discovered to be innocent of the crime they are accused of committing. But before their innocence is proven, They have been, tacitly, demonised on pages of newspapers and in electronic media.

In 2019, human rights activist Femi Falana, SAN, approached a Federal High Court in Abuja, asking it to declare the pre-trial media parade of criminal suspects by security and anti-corruption agencies in the country illegal and unconstitutional.

Falana argued that “ every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard. This comprises the right to an appeal to competent national organs against acts of violating his fundamental rights as recognised and guaranteed by conventions, laws, regulations and customs in force; (b) the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court or tribunal.”

The case is yet to be heard by the court.

But security agencies in Nigeria have over the years defended the media parade of suspects, claiming they do not tamper with or violate suspects’ fundamental human rights. They claimed it helps to correct vices in the society and also update or inform citizens about what the police are doing about their safety.

The Lagos State Police spokesman Bala Elkana said a person who is being paraded is still referred to as suspects and not criminal by media organisations, the dignity and right of such person is protected.

“We have guidelines on how to carry out a media parade of suspects,” Elkana said.

“The regulation makes it clear for us to create an avenue for citizen to know what the police is doing about their safety,” he added

He further stated that it is not unlawful to parade citizens who are being prosecuted because of any criminal offences.

”It is not unlawful and debatable because it is not unlawful to practice journalism. The best way to inform citizens is to bring the person who is involved in that criminal act to explain how he did it and there is nothing unlawful about passing information,” Elkana said.

“It is not to pronounce him guilty but for citizens to be able to understand how and what crime he/she committed.”

But a lawyer and Human Right activist Tope Akinyoade said the media and public parade of suspects have no legitimacy under Nigeria.
“The law is that a suspect is innocent of any offence until he has been tried and convicted,” Akinyoade said.
“It is therefore overreaching for security operatives to parade innocent citizens. The only exception to this is ‘Identification Parade’ which is allowed by law. But there is a clear distinction between media parade and identification parade.”

The Paradigm Initiative Executive Director Gbenga Sesan stated that nothing will change until people speak up, or seek redress.

“One of the ways to stop rights violations is to challenge that violation using the same courts, in addition to various institutions (that work in social justice — either for offline or online cases) working with the judiciary so that judges can caution such security agencies,” Sesan said.

“If a few security agencies lose cases for parading suspects and even hurting them in the process, they may learn a lesson or two about the place of dignity even for accused people.”

Sesan also asked the media to create their narratives in such a way that suspects are not seen as criminals until proven guilty in court.

“There is a huge narrative role that the media can play to reduce the public shaming of suspects, especially those who are simply victims of law enforcement agencies carrying out the rights violation agenda of public officials.” Sesan said.

Written by Abisola Olasupo – Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellow.

Déclaration conjointe en réponse aux perturbations d’Internet en Guinée

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

Déclaration conjointe en réponse aux perturbations d’Internet en Guinée

3 Novembre 2020

[See English translation after this text in French…]

Nous, les organisations soussignées, sommes préoccupées par les perturbations d’Internet en Guinée. En effet, le 24 octobre 2020, les réseaux de télécommunications en Guinée ont subi de graves perturbations. Selon l’observatoire d’Internet NetBlocks, «des perturbations sont observées au niveau national dans le service internet en Guinée depuis 7h30 (GMT) le (23 octobre 2020 ndlr), y compris sur Orange, premier réseau de téléphonie mobile du pays. Cet incident semble conforme aux restrictions imposées par le passé et assignées aux organes de contrôle de l’État lors des élections.” a rapporté Netblocks. Aussi, les perturbations mentionnées concernent l’internet et les appels internationaux en général.

Le 24 Octobre 2020, l’opérateur Orange a envoyé un message à ses abonnés sur la situation en s’excusant. Dans un communiqué de presse daté du 25 Octobre 2020, l’opérateur Orange a ensuite informé ses abonnés qu’il a enregistré une coupure d’internet. Nous nous rendons compte que ce n’est pas la première fois que la Guinée enregistre des perturbations d’Internet en 2020. Le 19 Mars 2020, Orange, MTN et Cellcom Guinée  ont averti leurs utilisateurs qu’un arrêt d’internet se produirait à une durée déterminée les 21 et 22 Mars 2020 pour une intervention de maintenance d’Orange Marine, une filiale de l’opérateur télécoms Orange. Cette annonce de la fermeture d’Internet et des travaux intervenait lors du référendum dans le pays, et était manifestement nuisible pour l’accès Internet des abonnés. 

Internet est essentiel pour la protection des droits de l’homme. Il fournit une plate-forme pour accéder à l’information, permet de jouir de la liberté d’expression, de réunion et d’association, entre autres droits. De plus, pendant la période de la pandémie du COVID-19, Internet a permis de faire l’expérience de l’éducation, des affaires et des loisirs; un rappel clair de l’importance de la liberté sur Internet. Nous appelons le gouvernement guinéen et les fournisseurs de services Internet à respecter les droits des citoyens d’accéder à Internet. Les interruptions d’Internet sont inutiles lorsqu’il n’y a pas de cause légitime. 

Nous sommes également préoccupés par la perturbation d’Internet qui s’est produite dans le contexte d’une élection présidentielle. Certaines des conséquences négatives sont une violation de la liberté d’expression, l’accès à l’information, les droits démocratiques et l’interruption des activités commerciales avec des répercussions financières en dehors du champ d’application des instruments régionaux et internationaux auxquels la Guinée est partie prenante. 

Nous rappelons au gouvernement de Guinée ses obligations en vertu du Pacte international relatif aux droits civils et politiques et de la Charte africaine des droits de l’homme et des peuples de respecter la liberté d’expression et l’accès à l’information. En outre, le Principe 38 (2) de la Déclaration de principes sur la liberté d’expression et l’accès à l’information en Afrique indique clairement que les États ne s’engagent ni ne tolèrent aucune interruption de l’accès à Internet et aux autres technologies numériques pour des segments du public ou une population entière. 

Nous interpellons le gouvernement guinéen sur les principes (2) de la Déclaration africaine sur les droits et libertés d’Internet qui stipule que l’accès à Internet doit être disponible et abordable pour toutes les personnes en Afrique sans discrimination pour quelque motif que ce soit comme la race, la couleur, le sexe, la langue, la religion, l’opinion politique ou autre, l’origine nationale ou sociale, la propriété, la naissance ou tout autre statut. La perturbation d’Internet a un impact important sur les groupes vulnérables tels que les femmes et les personnes handicapées (PH). Aussi, les effets de la fermeture d’Internet peuvent avoir des effets négatifs de grande portée sur la manière dont les femmes utilisent Internet par rapport aux hommes, l’accès des femmes aux programmes de développement, et sapent encore davantage le rôle des femmes dans la contribution au développement national.

Nous appelons le gouvernement guinéen à mener les actions suivantes:

  • Restaurer entièrement la connexion Internet, les accès aux plateformes de médias sociaux et d’assurer le respect des libertés fondamentales conformément aux meilleures pratiques. 
  • S’engager pour la stabilité de la connexion Internet sur tout le territoire national pendant et après le processus électoral afin qu’internet soit d’utiliser comme instrument de promotion de la démocratie en Guinée.

Signé:

  1. Centre de soutien juridique (Gambie)
  2. Give1Project Gambia 
  3. Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
  4. Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
  5. Institut des TIC pour le développement (INTIC4DEV) Togo-Bénin-Sénégal
  6. BudgIT Foundation, Nigéria

Joint Statement In Response to the Internet Disruptions in Guinea

3 November 2020

We, the undersigned organisations are concerned about internet disruptions in Guinea. On October 24, 2020, telecommunications networks in Guinea experienced severe disruption. According to the internet observatory NetBlocks, “disruptions are observed at the national level in the internet service in Guinea since 7:30 am (GMT) on (October 23, 2020 editor’s note), including on Orange, the country’s leading mobile telephone network. This incident appears to be consistent with restrictions imposed in the past and assigned to state oversight bodies during elections.” As reported by Netblocks, the disturbances mentioned concern the internet and international calls in general.

On October 24, 2020, the operator Orange sent a message to its subscribers on the internet situation advising they were investigating the matter. In a press release dated on October 25, 2020, the operator then informed its subscribers that it was experiencing a shutdown. We realise that this was not the first time that Guinea was experiencing internet disruptions in 2020. On March 19, 2020, Orange, MTN and Cellcom Guinea  warned their users that an internet shutdown would occur at designated times on March 21 and 22, 2020 for a maintenance intervention by Orange Marine, the subsidiary of the telecoms operator Orange. This announcement of the closure of the internet and work occurring during the referendum was clearly untimely and detrimental to internet access of subscribers. 

The internet is critical for the protection of human rights. It provides a platform for accessing information, enjoyment of freedom of expression, assembly and association among other rights. Moreso, now during the COVID-19 pandemic, the internet has enabled education, business and leisure to be experienced, a clear reminder of the importance of internet freedom. We call on the government of Guinea and internet service providers to respect the rights of its citizenry to access the internet. Internet disruptions are unnecessary  where there is no legitimate cause.  We are further concerned by the internet disruption which occurred against the backdrop of a presidential election. Some of the  adverse consequences are a violation of freedom of expression, access to information, democratic rights and the interruption of business activities with financial repercussions outside the scope of the regional and international instruments to which Guinea is a party to. 

We remind the government of Guinea of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to uphold freedom of expression and access to information. Furthermore, Principle 38 (2) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa clearly points out that  States shall not engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population. 

We refer the government of Guinea to principles (2) of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms which states that access to the Internet should be available and affordable to all persons in Africa without discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  Internet disruption highly impacts vulnerable groups such as women and persons with disabilities (PWDs). The effects of internet shutdown may have far-reaching negative effects on how women use the internet compared to men, women’s access to developmental programs, and further undermines the role of women in contributing to national development.

We call on  the government of Guinea to immediately do the following;

  • Fully restore internet connection and access to social media platforms and ensure respect for fundamental freedoms in accordance  with best practices. 
  • Commit to the stability of the internet connection throughout the national territory during and after the electoral process in order to use the Internet as an instrument for promoting democracy in Guinea.

Signed:

  1. Centre for Legal Support (Gambia)
  2. Give1Project Gambia 
  3. Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
  4. Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
  5. Institut des TIC pour le développement (INTIC4DEV) Togo-Bénin-Sénégal
  6. BudgIT Foundation, Nigeria
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

The government of Ethiopia’s insatiable appetite for internet shutdowns is atavistic

By | Advocacy, Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

That Ethiopia is a great country cannot be gainsaid. History records that as colonialism was ravaging the rest of Africa, only Ethiopia and Liberia were never colonized. Having been locked out of East Africa by the British and the Germans, the Italians tried their luck in Ethiopia but they were defeated in the famous Battle of Adowa. Ethiopian Airlines is the only remaining Pride of Africa in the skies flying to more destinations abroad than any other African airline. Statistics indicate that the airline makes more profit than all the other African airlines combined. In the world of Athletics, the heroics of Kenenisa Bekele and many other great Ethiopian athletes have been recorded. I have never attended a conference abroad where there were no Ethiopian youth playing a key role in our African delegation. Notably, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali was awarded The Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.  Ethiopia’s star has been rising.

Despite all this, in blatant disregard of basic human entitlements, the government of the Republic of Ethiopia has never missed an opportunity to violate the rights of its citizens. At the slightest provocation, the government appears to always have as its first option, internet shutdowns, and digital communications restrictions. This has been witnessed including during national examinations and most recently at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019 alone, the government shut down the internet in Ethiopia a record eight times drawing condemnation from the global digital rights community. . Internet Shutdowns are never a good option in times of crisis or national emergencies. An internet shutdown means a blackout on access to information and to world affairs. A society that does not have access to information is a society that is walking in a fathomless abyss of darkness. Infact, to the detriment of the government, misinformation and rumours spread more among the citizens when they are unable to access information or to verify the information they have consumed. Disruption of the free flow of information, can amplify any existing tensions in society, as well as serving to conceal any violence and human rights violations perpetrated either by state or non-state actors. 

Article 29 of the Constitution of Ethiopia expressly provides for freedom of conscience and protects the right of thought, opinion and expression and media freedom “without any interference.” By interfering with its citizens’ digital rights through the incessant internet shutdowns, the government of Ethiopia contravenes this provision of its own supreme law. Ethiopia has also ratified the two cardinal human rights instruments- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (“ICESCR”) which specifically state that every person has the right to the inviolability of communications made by phone, telecommunications, and electronic devices.

While unconfirmed, many reports have indicated that Ethiopia is one of many Africa’s authoritarian governments that hire international hacking companies to target human rights defenders in the country. This insatiable appetite for human rights violations has attracted condemnation including from Mr. David Kaye, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression who remarked during a visit to Ethiopia that the government’s continued breach of citizen’s digital rights was an affront to international human rights. However, as if directed to deaf ears, the violations continued on a worse scale in 2020.. There is an urgent need to empower human rights defenders and journalists with the skills to advocate and preserve digital rights in Ethiopia.

In an attempt to contain hate speech and mis-information, in March 2020, Ethiopia crafted a new law- the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation, which law attempts to reverse the gains made by Ethiopia in promoting access to information and freedom of conscience. The law poses a threat to freedom of expression and access to information online amongst the citizens. The objectives of the Proclamation are to, among others, “protect freedom of expression while suppressing all forms of hatred and discrimination; promote tolerance, civil discourse, and dialogue, mutual respect and strengthen democratic governance; and to control and suppress the dissemination and proliferation of hate speech, disinformation, and other related false and misleading information.” This wording is vague and open to abuse by the government. 

There is a need to create a robust network of human rights defenders who advocate for uninterrupted internet access to all Ethiopians, help protect privacy rights, create awareness and build capacity in partnership with more established civil society organizations across the globe, to advocate and protect a principal medium of communication that people depend on in the world today- the internet.

The author of this article,  Ekai Nabenyo is Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights Program Officer for (East Africa) 

Call for applications to the 4th Edition of the Paradigm Initiative (PIN) Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellowship

By | #PINternetFreedom, Advocacy, Digital Rights, DigitalJobs, DRIF, DRIMF, ICTs, Internet Freedom, Press Release

Fellowship period: 1 March 2021 – 30 June 2021

Application Period: 21 October 2020 to 12 November 2020

The application process is now open for the 4th edition of the Paradigm Initiative (PIN) Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellowship (DRIMF). Through academic and practical learnings, Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights and Digital Inclusion Media Fellowship 2021 seeks to embed media professionals within the digital ecosystem. Media Fellows will connect with PIN teams in Cameroon (Yaoundé), Ghana (Accra), Kenya (Nairobi), Nigeria (Aba, Abuja, Kano and Lagos), Zambia (Lusaka) and Zimbabwe (Bulawayo).

The fellowship seeks to expose media professionals to an underreported field of work at national and regional level, increasing reporting on digital rights and inclusion in Africa. Selected media professionals must be affiliated to media institutions within Africa and available to commence the fellowship from 1 March 2021 to 30 June 2021, to connect and collaborate mostly virtually, and where applicable, be present for in-person activities.

Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellowship is a 4-month program designed to immerse outstanding early career journalists in the digital ecosystem. Selected media professionals will work with Paradigm Initiative on various projects and contribute to improving public understanding of digital rights and inclusion issues in Africa. Applications are open to journalists working in Africa.

Components of the fellowship

  • Online Digital Rights/Inclusion academic training.
  • Interaction with PIN team members within Africa.
  • 4-month virtual mentorship and collaboration with Paradigm Initiative.
  • Fellowship may include fully-funded local and international travel to participate in and cover relevant events related to Digital Rights and Inclusion.
  • A monthly stipend and a one-time research grant during the fellowship period.
  • Paradigm will pair fellows with in-country mentors for the time of the fellowship who will meet the fellows at least twice during the fellowship.

Expectations

Fellows will dedicate a minimum of ten hours a week to fellowship-related activities. Each Fellow will be expected to participate in all scheduled activities and to publish, in their affiliated media (Print, TV, Radio, Online), at least 4 features/reports on digital rights and inclusion issues during the fellowship period. Fellows will retain full editorial direction on the stories that they publish in their affiliated media. In addition, each fellow will produce a research paper on a relevant topic with the guidance of the PIN Team of not more than 1500 words which will be published by PIN. Fellows will be expected to continue to provide coverage on digital rights and inclusion issues after their fellowship.

Requirements

The Fellowship is open to early career journalists with not more than 8 years’ experience in the media sector and affiliated with mainstream print and online newspapers in Africa. Interested candidates must have a relevant undergraduate degree and demonstrate previous coverage of human rights and/or tech issues and interest in advancing digital rights and inclusion.

How to apply

Kindly complete the form here

Data privacy: Why you must care about who has your information

By | Digital Rights, Internet Freedom

That “data is the new oil” is simply to say, information is the new frontier of power and influence globally. One way or the other, we submit personal information – to known sometimes unknown collectors – for different reasons daily. There are the mandatory cases of submission through to the temporal instances. Applying for national or voter identification cards, for passports and even mobile phone SIMs fall in the former category.

Whiles in the latter, logging in to social media is one of the simplest means of submitting your identity and location to global multinational giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, LinkedIn etc. A recent media report disclosed how China – made mobile phones popular across Africa had preinstalled malware that was ‘stealing’ money of its users. But long since mobile phones arrived on the continent, an area of concern has been data security and privacy of users.

Jamii Forum’s Maxence Melo shares perspectives

Years on, there is a growing push for governments to do right by their citizens in the area of data privacy be it internally or externally. A strong activist in the area of data privacy is famed Tanzanian journalist Maxence Melo – a co-founder of the Jamii Forums platform. In an August 2020 interview with members of this year’s Paradigm Initiative Digital Rights Fellows, he stresses that politicians – for their own ends – and the populace – due to lack of knowledge – are at the heart of failure to better protect personal data. “People do not know their rights,” he said whiles adding that for governments, this aloofness on the part of the population serves their interests in the area of surveillance and (mis) use of data for instance for political reasons.

He warns that despite a lull in push for a data protection law in his country, if activists do not police the process well enough, Tanzania will potentially wind up with a good bad law. He avers that social media companies are “too powerful” in the area of data ‘harvesting’ and it is all due to lack of policy.

Asked about the example of a subscriber’s implied acceptance of “terms and conditions” once they buy a SIM, Maxence explains that the very contents of T&Cs need be scrutinized especially vis-à-vis privacy and data protection. He stresses that there is the need for African governments to step in with legislation and regulatory measures to protect consumers.

He argues further that there is the need for stringent laws on who gathers data on people and for what purposes they can keep, process and to who they can transmit same and under what circumstances.

Why you need to be worried about personal data merchants

In the light of transnational security challenges bordering on terrorism, cybercrime and money laundering among others, there is the need for collection of data by relevant authorities. Whiles most activists agree, they stress the need for privacy and data protection alongside. The global digital rights outfit, Internet Society, ISOC; quotes a definition of online privacy as: “the right to determine when, how, and to what extent personal data can be shared with others.”

Its October 2015 policy brief on privacy on the internet states: “Personal data has become a profitable commodity. Every day, users are sharing more personal data online, often unknowingly and the internet of Things will increase this dramatically.” The push for responsible collection of data rests on among others: collection limitation, data quality, consent of subject, purpose specification, security safeguards and openness.

Protections will for example bar a data collector / analyst from selling data collected for one purpose to be repurposed for an unrelated one. That data is collected at say a medical facility but retrofitted as list of political party supporters. ISOC stresses that “Privacy helps reinforce user trust in online services,” and also that “personal data has monetary and strategic value to others,” in the midst of this, robust national laws should look to protect citizens as best as possible.

Africa and the 2018 Cambridge Analytica exposé

In 2018, Africa was hit with one of its biggest cases of data manipulation when it emerged that Kenya’s 2017 presidential campaigns had been tampered with by a company, Cambridge Analytica. It meddled in the Kenya polls and earlier in Nigeria’s elections according to an exposé. It targeted people with campaign advertisements due to illicitly obtained data from social media giant, Facebook. Facebook is also on record to have confirmed that the company had improperly accessed data of about 50 million users in 2016 relative to the polls that brought Trump to power. Undoubtedly, a testament of data misuse at the pinnacle of global tech hub.

The growing penetration of internet use across Africa, the world’s continent, means that more needs to be done by governments – and fast. After a decade in the ‘works’ Nigeria has finally produced a draft data protection bill. Civil society groups like Paradigm Initiative and allies are reviewing it whiles encouraging the populace to take a seat at the table in an area that has affected their lives for long and will continue to in the future.

 

Some facts about data privacy in Africa – as of 2018

Over 123 million – number of people using Facebook in sub-Saharan Africa

2013 – South Africa drew up first data protection law on the continent

54 African countries – Over half of them have no laws on data protection

17 countries – Have enacted comprehensive data privacy laws, Bloomberg, 2016

10 years – duration for Nigeria to put together draft data protection law

2014 – ‘Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection’ a.k.a Malabo Convention passed by African Union

The writer Abdur Rahman Shaban Alfa is a 2020 Paradigm Initiative digital rights fellow and a former web journalist with Africanews.

Uganda Communications Commission’s New Regulations Encourage Self-Censorship (Open Letter)

By | Advocacy, Internet Freedom

We, the members of the NetRights Coalition, have noted with great concern, the Public Notice issued by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on  September 7, 2020  “advising all persons currently offering or planning to commence the provision of online data communication and broadcasting services including but not limited to blogs, online televisions, online radios, online newspapers, audio over IP (AoIP), Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), Video on Demand (VoD), Digital Audio radios and televisions, internet/web radio and interview/web television, to obtain authorization from UCC before providing such services to the public.This process of registration has the adverse effect of deterring bloggers from blogging, promoting self censorship and stifling media practitioners who work to exercise their mandate of disseminating information. 

The NetRights Coalition is a network of organizations with a shared  vision of promoting digital rights in Africa. Our concern is premised on that any law requiring a blogger to register for the purpose of regulating bloggers is an attack on freedom of expression and inconsistent with the spirit and provisions of Article 29 of the Constitution of Uganda, 1995, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which guarantee the right to freedom of expression; including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of his choice.

We regret that the notice is an affront to the freedom of the media and the freedom of expression in Uganda both of which form the foundation of a liberal and civilized society. It is our considered view that if the UCC is concerned about the regulation of communication services in Uganda, there are various ways through which the same can be achieved without jeopardizing the rights and freedoms accorded to the people of Uganda by the country’s supreme law – the Constitution.

While we appreciate and recognise the statutory mandate of the Uganda Communications Commission, which among others, entails licensing, regulating and setting standards for the provision of all communication services in Uganda, we are deeply concerned that the Commission has issued such a notice unilaterally and without proper consultations, public participation and involvement of key stakeholders. According to Principle 17(4) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in November 2019, “a multi-stakeholder model of regulation shall be encouraged to develop shared principles, rules, decision-making procedures and programmes to shape the use and evolution of the internet.” 

We join other stakeholders and the people of the Republic of Uganda in condemning this citizen-unfriendly order and hereby urge you to unconditionally withdraw this order and initiate a stakeholder engagement process. Embracing  a multi-stakeholder approach that allows for input from different stakeholders will ensure a policy that while fulfilling stated objectives, also promotes freedom of expression and privacy of vulnerable groups including women, persons with disabilities (PWDs), etc.

Signed By:

  1. African Academic Network on Internet Policy
  2. Paradigm Initiative
  3. Women of Uganda Network
  4. Civil Society Advocacy Network on Climate Change and the Environment Sierra Leone 
  5. 5.Rwanda Youth Clubs for Peace Organization.
  6. ASUTIC Senegal
  7. TechHer
  8. Give1 Project Gambia
  9. Centre for Legal Support, The Gambia
  10. African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms Coalition
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