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#DRIF19: Delegates Call for Renewed Action to Protect Digital Rights in Africa

By | Advocacy, Press Release

Delegates at the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum have expressed concern at the spate of violation of human rights online on the African continent, calling for renewed action to protect the digital space from rights violations.

The delegates were speaking at the 3-day Forum which held in Lagos, Nigeria, from April 23-25 and welcomed delegates and speakers from across Africa and beyond. The Forum provides a platform for conversations on efforts to ensure human rights online are not violated and that more people in Africa are connected to the internet.

Anriette Esterhuysen, the former executive director of the Association for Progressive Communications, in her submission, argued that the internet has to be protected and remain open as “it is the usually the only means of expression for some minority groups to access information on issues that are not openly discussed.”

Grace Githaiga, the co-convener of KICKTANET said, despite the challenges facing the digital rights space on the continent including internet shutdown, harassment of internet users and online journalists, and lack of data protection laws in many countries, “advocates should celebrate the positive- good laws, initiatives, and partners that allow us to meet and remaining optimistic of a better future.”

This came on the backdrop of conversation on internet censorship that has rocked the continent over the last few years. Africa now leads with the highest number of countries shutting down the internet or restricting service. In Chad, for example, social media has been shut down by the government for over a year now. In 2019 alone, Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe and DR Congo have either shut down the internet or restricted access to services.

Speaking on the challenges facing efforts to improve internet penetration, Funke Opeke, the chief executive of MainOne Cable, emphasised the need for government to partner the private sector instead of constituting itself as a stumbling block to expand internet access. She said governments in other climes “create the right incentives and structures to facilitate access to the internet, especially in the rural areas. Dr Ernest Ndukwe, a former chief executive of the Nigerian Communication Commission, also urged civil society and active citizens “to focus more attention on what government can do to ensure people have access.”

The Forum also explored the state of data protection and privacy laws on the continent. Ephraim Kenyanito of Article 19 and Morisola Alaba of Media Rights Agenda, while speaking on the new 5G technology, said there was an urgent need to have data privacy legislation as the technology made its way to the continent, saying the technical capabilities of 5G could allow for greater surveillance capacities for repressive governments.

The tone for the Forum was set by the Opening Panel which was moderated by ‘Gbenga Sesan, the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative and featured Hawa Ba, the Head of Senegal Office of Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Segun Mausi, Head of Africa division at Human Rights Watch, and a Emmanuella Darkwah who was representing Ghana’s National Security Advisor.

The Panel explored the centrality of human rights to modern society and the need to dedicate resources and attention to the protection of human rights. Hawa Ba highlighted the crucial role the internet has played in public education and mobilisation in Senegal and said it was important to ensure the internet remained an open and safe platform. Mausi Segun said all internet users have a duty to fight for the protection of digital rights and to make sure their government enables internet access for more citizens.

While according to Ghana’s Emmanuella Darkwah, Ghana was working on “ensuring internet and digital rights are encompassed in future laws” and, to among things, “make internet shutdown impossible in the country.”

Delegates from

 Togo, Chad and Cameroon bemoaned the ease with which their governments shut down the internet and specific internet services. In Chad, a delegate reported, social media platforms have been unavailable for over a year now, making life unnecessarily harder for the people of the country.

In his closing remarks, ‘Gbenga Sesan urged delegates to go back to their countries with a renewed energy to contribute to efforts to keep the internet safe and open to all users, saying “digital rights advocates are in the business of not minding our businesses. We have no choice but to be involved in efforts that help protect the internet, and to resist action that endangers human rights online.”

#DRIF19 is the seventh edition of the Forum which is convened annually to provide an “important platform where conversations on digital policy in Africa are shaped, and policy directions forged.” The Forum, organised by Paradigm Initiative and supported by Google, Ford Foundation, and Heinrich Böll Stiftung, welcomed delegates from 38 countries.

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For more information on this statement, please send a mail to media@paradigmhq.org. 

Paradigm Initiative Condemns the Arrest and Deportation of Wakabi by Tanzanian Authorities

By | Press Release, Uncategorized

Paradigm Initiative condemns the arrest, detention and subsequent deportation of the executive director of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), Dr Wairagala Wakabi by Tanzanian authorities.

Dr Wakabi was arrested, detained and detained upon arrival in Tanzania yesterday, April 25. According to a statement released by CIPESA, Dr Wakabi was in Tanzania to participate in the annual commemoration of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders’ Day on the invitation of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC). Dr Wakabi is a renowned human rights advocate and researcher and we believe that his unacceptable treatment in Tanzania is a further indication of Tanzania’s increasingly hostile attitude to the human rights community.

This is not the first time that Tanzania has mistreated human rights advocates. In November 2018, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists Africa program coordinator Angela Quintal and sub-Saharan Africa representative Muthoki Mumowere were arrested, detained and deported from the country with the false claim that the duo were in Tanzania without proper visas. Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) had previously expressed concern over the arrest of other 11 human rights activists in Tanzania. Tanzanian police have accused of raiding a legal consultation meeting, convened by the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (Isla) and Community Health Services and Advocacy (Chesa), in Dar es Salaam. 

The continued assault on activists and advocates is unacceptable and we call on the African Union and other regional bodies to prevail on the Tanzanian government to respect the fundamental human rights of its citizens and guests. Paradigm Initiative asks the government to immediately address its shameful treatment of Dr Wakabi. It is in the government’s own best interest to acknowledge human rights defenders as viable stakeholders in democratic spaces and that civic spaces are a natural extension of the community that must be nurtured not crushed.

Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum to Host Delegates from 38 Countries in Lagos

By | Digital Rights, Press Release

The seventh edition of the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF) will host delegates from 38 countries to deliberate on issues confronting the digital space in Africa. This is according to a press statement by Paradigm Initiative, the organiser of the conference of the 3-day conference. The Forum took off today in Lagos and will run until Thursday, April 25.

According to the statement, DRIF19 will welcome delegates from civil society, academia, media, technical community, government- including security agencies, judiciary, and legislature, and the private sector, from 32 countries in Africa, and 6 countries outside the continent. The Forum will also be live-streamed to a global online audience here, while those interested in monitoring conversations at the Forum can follow its hashtag, #DRIF19.

According to Tope Ogundipe, Paradigm Initiative’s Director of Programs, “formerly known as the Internet Freedom Forum, DRIF has become well known for its track record of tangible actionable outcomes and has gained a reputation as an important platform where conversations on digital policy in Africa are shaped, and policy directions forged. The broad categories of participants expected are state actors, civil society organizations, academia, human rights activists, technology entrepreneurs, gender activists, as well as policy enthusiasts and actors within the global internet governance space.”

DRIF features engaging conversations which draw on globally relevant issues, as well as Africa-specific challenges and opportunities. Panellists and participants are drawn based on a multi-stakeholder model, allowing stakeholders who have hitherto operated in silos to talk to one other about common challenges.

“For the first time, the Forum this year will focus considerably on digital inclusion conversations as the basis for digital rights, on a continent where internet penetration is lowest and the opportunities which ICTs provide remain elusive to many. This year’s edition will also feature more side sessions, allow for bilingual communication and participation as it has done since 2017, and encourage post-event collaborations to further strengthen the discourse of Internet Freedom in Africa,” Ogundipe added.

Speakers expected at the conference include Albert Antwi Boasiako, Ghana’s National Cybersecurity Advisor, Segun Mausi, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch Africa Division, Hawa Ba, Head of the Senegal Country Office, Open Society for West Africa, and Lanre Osibona, Special Advisor on ICT to the President of Nigeria. Others are Dr Ernest Ndukwe, former Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Robert Muthuri of Strathmore University, and Onica Makwakwa, A4AI Africa Regional Coordinator

The Forum is expected to refocus attention on issues confronting the digital space on a continent where human rights online are routinely violated.

Paradigm Initiative Praises the Media for Improved Digital Rights Coverage

By | Internet Freedom, Press Release

Media coverage of issues confronting digital rights and online freedom has significantly improved over the last year as more media platforms and practitioners dedicate more attention to developments in the digital space. This is according to Paradigm Initiative, the pan-African digital rights and inclusion social enterprise.

Paradigm Initiative made this known in a press statement announcing the commencement of application for the second edition of its Digital Rights and Inclusion Media Fellowship.

Paradigm Initiative’s Communications Officer Sodiq Alabi said, “The media has become a major partner in the efforts to ensure that human rights online are protected in Africa. As media practitioners are usually victims of digital rights violations including censorship, harassment and illegal surveillance, it makes perfect sense that they are now focusing their attention on increasing awareness around digital rights and holding governments and businesses accountable. ”

Paradigm Initiative further emphasised the need for improved synergy between digital rights advocates and the media to ensure human rights online are well protected by the law, and violations do not go unreported.

“The Media Fellowship is part of our effort to ensure this synergy is groomed and nurtured. The Fellowship is, therefore, a 4-month program designed to immerse outstanding, early career, journalists in digital rights and digital inclusion advocacy – and intervention efforts – in Africa. This way, we help improve the quality of reporting on digital rights and inclusion by improving the expertise of reporters who cover the beat,” Alabi said.

Meanwhile, the 7th Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum is scheduled to hold in Lagos. Convened by Paradigm Initiative, the Forum will host some 300 delegates from across Africa and the world. The delegates will, between April 23 and 25, assess the state of digital rights and inclusion in Africa with the aim of finding solutions to identified challenges.

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For more information on this statement, please send a mail to media@paradigmhq.org

Paradigm Initiative Asks Rwanda to Respect Privacy Rights  

By | Press Release

The government of Rwanda has recently proposed a country-wide DNA database, a project that will involve collecting samples from all 12 million citizens in an effort to address crime. This has prompted concerns from human rights campaigners who believe the database could be misused by the government and violate international human rights laws. While the country poses a data protection policy, it is still very vague and not comprehensive enough to tackle the challenges that come with having such a database.

The government of Rwanda should realize that “genome is the property of an individual and not the state’s” hence policies they put forth to govern this move should grant citizens consent on what data they choose to share under very strict circumstances. DNA sample contains very personal information hence the risk of data abuse is potentially high as well as vulnerability to hacking.

Paradigm Initiative’s Google Policy Fellow for Eastern Africa, Rebecca Ryakitimbo said, “It is debatable whether the benefits to society of having a national DNA database outweighs an individual’s right to privacy. There is a need to answer critical questions such as ”Who owns the genetic information and who controls what happens to it and how it is used? Who is responsible for the genetic information”.The potential for the information in the DNA database to be misused by the Government, security services, police forces or criminals is quite high if these questions are not attended to.”

Drawing experiences from countries like the UK which has a National DNA Database (NDNAD)  that holds the DNA profiles and samples from a select number of UK individuals. The implications of this database to innocent citizens who were on the database brought about privacy and other human rights concerns. It was in the light of this that in 2012, the UK Protection of Freedoms Bill came to effect to redress the balance between the State’s duty to protect the public and an individual’s right to privacy. This brought about the taking down of 1,766,000 DNA profiles taken from innocent adults and children, along with 1,672,000 fingerprint records. In addition to this,  7,753,000 DNA samples including 480,000 from children that contained sensitive personal biological data were destroyed.

Paradigm Initiative further said “Rwandan legislators, courts and law enforcement to ensure that the benefits of the database don’t come at the cost of privacy rights. It also essential to recognize that people do have an interest in controlling who can see their private information. The Government of Rwanda should foresee the risks that accompany the presence of such an extensive database containing very private and personal data of millions of its citizens in the age where digital security is of great concern. With the use of DNA data for policing, there will be risks on the burden of proof required for the forensic acceptability of DNA data.”

For more information on this release, please send a mail to media@paradigmhq.org. 

Groups Sue Gbenga Olorunpomi and Lauretta Onochie Over “Hate Speech”

By | Press Release, Uncategorized

Two Civil Society organizations, Enough is Enough Nigeria and Paradigm Initiative have instituted a case asking the court to declare comments made by some political aides in Nigeria as Hate speeches.

Relying on documentary evidences gathered from online comments made by the two affected aides, Gbenga Olorunpomi, Aide to Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and Lauretta Onochie, Aide to President Muhammadu Buhari, the organizations through their lawyer are asking the court to determine if the statements violates sections of Nigeria’s Cybercrime(Prohibition, Prevention etc) Act 2015 .

However, due to the elusiveness of the Defendants and their addresses, the Court favoured that the court processes should be advertised in national dailies. This was subsequently done on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 in two leading National Dailies with national spread

According to Adeboye Adegoke, Program Manager at Paradigm Initiative, “the two organizations filed the case as a measure to curb the spread of hate speeches in Nigeria, a trend which is mostly associated with the political class. While their principals may not be less guilty of similar accusations, Governors and Presidents are however protected from prosecution by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. It is, however, significant that those political actors with links to power are being challenged for comments made at several times. The usual trend in Nigeria was for the political class to use their position to persecute citizens, journalists, activists and opposition whom they deem too critical of power under the guise of fighting hate speech or fake news.”

“If hate speech is to be curbed in Nigeria, then the prosecution must start from the political class who has always gotten away with inciting statements some of whom have led to crisis and deaths of many in the past.” Says Adeboye

The case is expected to come up for hearing at the Federal High Court Abuja today, Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Paradigm Initiative Releases 2018 Annual Report, Demonstrates Impact

By | Digital Rights, Echoes From Life, Press Release

The social enterprise, Paradigm Initiative has released its 2018 annual report. The report provides insight into the work of the organisation, especially in how it lives up to its mission of improving the “livelihoods of underserved youths”.

Featured in the annual report is Joy Ukpong, an alumna of the group’s free digital inclusion program. At the time of joining the program, 27-year old Joy Ukpong’s income was N10,000 a month as a  struggling hairdresser in Ajegunle, Lagos. She was desperate for a break, and Paradigm Initiative’s Digital Inclusion program gave her the break which she wisely seized, learning relevant digital and life skills.

Few weeks after the conclusion of the 10-week training, Ukpong got a job as an administrative assistant at a law firm. Her income immediately jumped to N25,000. Thanks to her new skills, Ukpong has a more stable income and work structure that allows her to develop herself.

Her story, according to Paradigm Initiative’s Communications Officer, Sodiq Alabi, “is another proof that our investment in digital inclusion programs in underserved communities is indeed improving the livelihood of the beneficiaries.”

The Executive Director, ‘Gbenga Sesan also said, “As a result of the year’s investment in under-served Nigerian youth, we were able to train 869 students through the 10-week LIFE program, LIFE@School Club and the quarterly workshops. 150 students got internships, picked up jobs, earned enough to return to school, joined apprenticeship programs and/or started micro businesses. During the year, the average income among our students grew from N4,805.15 to N23,083.25!”

Highlighting the group’s work in digital rights, Sesan said “In 2018, our Digital Rights work covered Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia. We hosted 13 training programs, reviewed 36 policy documents, produced 12 research-based reports, acted on 20 digital rights violations, and led 4 litigation processes.”

The Director of Programs, Tope Ogundipe said the passage of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill in Nigeria is an important milestone for the group in 2018. The Bill, which was transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari on February 5 2019, has been a major project of the group since 2014 when it began advocacy for the passage of a law dedicated to the protection of online rights and freedoms.

Paradigm Initiative, which was founded in Nigeria in 2007, is physically present in five African countries, from where it executes programs across the continent.  The group said its new Strategic Management Plan (2019-2023) would even see it do more over the next few years.

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

Is Tanzania Moving Towards Totalitarianism?

By | Digital Rights, Press Release

By ‘Gbenga Sesan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradigm Initiative Celebrates Safer Internet Day

By | Advocacy, Press Release

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Paradigm Initiative to host digital rights workshop in Zambia

By | Press Release

Paradigm Initiative will be hosting the Southern African Digital Rights Workshop in Lusaka, Zambia. The interactive workshop will take place over the course of two days from the 18th to 19th of October 2018, introducing participants to the basic concepts of Digital Rights. This is according to a statement signed by the social enterprise’s communications officer, Sodiq Alabi.

According to Wathagi Ndungu, Paradigm Initiative’s Google Policy for East and Southern Africa, “the purpose of the workshop is to create an empowered Civil Society digital rights community for Southern Africa that is able to  defend and advocate for digital rights in the region, as part of a Pan-African coalition.”

“The media will also be trained to competently report on digital rights issues in the region. The end goal of the workshop is to ensure that legislators, after interacting with trained Civil Society Organizations and media that understand and follow current trends in digital rights they will be able to analyse and articulate digital rights issues in their respective countries thus improving the quality of parliamentary debates on the issues,” Ndungu added.

Representatives from government and law enforcement will gain insights and thus employ them when making policy. They will b able to formulate policy from an informed position.

In attendance will be representatives from Civil Society, Government, Private Sector, Media and Law Enforcement. They will be coming from Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and the host country Zambia.

Speaking on the development, Paradigm Initiative’s Director of Programs, Tope Ogundipe, said  “during the workshop and after we will create a Southern African Digital Rights Strategy and come up with ways to empower more individuals in the Digital Rights sphere. This workshop is a significant step towards informing individuals in the Southern African region how they can influence Internet policy and avert further Digital Rights abuses in the region.”

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