Honourable Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information and Commissioners of the African Commission.
Paradigm Initiative (PIN) continues to echo its concern on the incidence of Internet shutdowns in Africa, as highlighted at the 73rd Ordinary Session of this Commission due to ongoing occurrences, drawing the attention of the Commission to this crackdown on freedom of expression and access to information as entrenched in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter). PIN recently published the State of Digital Rights and Inclusion in Africa report, Londa 2022, which focused on 24 African countries and countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan featured with cases of Internet disruptions.
Several elections are expected in 2023, with Zimbabwe, which blatantly shut down the Internet in 2019 and disrupted it in 2022, expected to hold its presidential election and Sierra Leone, which has done so in the past as recorded by Access Now, is also planning for elections. Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo are also expected to hold elections in 2023 and have a similar history of disrupting Internet access. PIN is cognisant that such past practices to disrupt the Internet are an affront to their core obligations under the African Charter and their Constitutions to respect and promote freedom of expression and access to information. Sudan, which also has a past history of shutting down the Internet, is currently at risk of losing Internet connectivity as reported that due to power cuts amidst the ongoing conflict in the country, Internet connectivity is very low. There is an urgent need for a speedy solution that ensures the restoration of Internet connectivity in the country to ensure access to information in the ongoing situation. With regards to all upcoming elections in Africa in 2023, there is a need for African states to draw lessons from other African countries like Kenya in as far as keeping Internet access open during such a critical time when access to information is a core ingredient towards free and fair elections is concerned.
In addition, PIN recently convened the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF), hosting over 300 delegates in person in Nairobi, Kenya, from 12 -14 April 2023. The Forum convened digital rights actors from 35 African countries who echoed a need for an open and secure Internet in Africa. It is critical to highlight the need for some African states to desist from targeting the media as they conduct their mandate of ensuring information is accessed without frontiers through arbitrary arrests and harassment.
Against this background, PIN urges the African Commission to do the following:
- Call on the relevant African States holding elections in 2023 to refrain from shutting down the Internet, ensuring open and secure Internet access.
- Call on African states to review their record of protecting media freedoms and ensure a safe online space for the media to deliver on their mandate.
- Consider participation in the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum to interact with key digital rights stakeholders advancing freedom of expression and access to information in Africa.
For any further comments, PIN is reachable via an email submitted to Thobekile Matimbe, Paradigm Initiative’s Senior Manager, Partnerships and Engagements at firstname.lastname@example.org.