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Edition 3: April - June 2019 

Africa Digital Rights Fund
Since our last newsletter, we have continued to witness many affronts to the growth and inclusivity of the online community in Africa, which calls for the continued advancement of and movement building for digital rights in Africa. Among our recent highlights which supports these efforts is the announcement of the inaugural grantees of the Africa Digital Rights Fund. which will see 10 initiatives advance digital rights in 16 African countries. 

Digital Rights in Africa: Challenges and Policy Options
Africa has the lowest ICT usage figures compared to other regions and also experiences a deep digital divide. However, the moves seen in some countries which hamper access and affordability, and which unduly restrict citizens’ rights to free speech, privacy and access to information, undermine various efforts to bridge the digital divide. We produced an issue paper which presents four key illustrative issues on challenges to digital rights on the continent, and suggests some actions that should be undertaken to address them.

Have You Registered for this years Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (#FIFAfrica19)? 
We are gearing up for the annual Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (#FIFAfrica19) which this year will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As we look forward to convening a  wide spectrum of stakeholders from across the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa and beyond, we invite ideas on panel discussions, exhibitions, workshops and lightning talks.

Session proposals and applications for travel support will be accepted till July 31, 2019. Register here

Networks and Collaborations
In April, we joined the IFEX global network which advocates for the free expression rights of all, including media workers, citizen journalists, activists, artists and scholars. This in turn enabled us to also join the Africa Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a continental network of some of the most prominent freedom of expression and media rights organisations in Africa. 
 
Speaking of networks in which we are members, in March, we contributed to the learning and policy activities of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) at the quarter 1 Board  meeting in London; while in April we participated in a two-day workshop  on the Internet of Things (IoT) which focused on Security, Privacy and Digital Identity. The workshop was organised by the Omidyar Network, Internet Society and the Africa Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
 
We also contributed to the Facebook consultations on creating an external oversight board at a meeting held in Nairobi, Kenya, and attended the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum 2019 (#DRIF19) hosted by our partner Paradigm Initiative in Lagos, Nigeria, where we also engaged on the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms.
 
Further, we were recognised with the 'Distinguished Defender of Internet Freedom in Africa (2018/19)' award by the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) for regional work in promoting human rights online. However, en route to receive the award and to participate in a THRDC Tanzania Human Rights Defenders’ Day workshop, the CIPESA Executive Director was detained at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salam, Tanzania and denied entry into the country reportedly on the grounds of "national interest". Following hours of interrogation on CIPESA's work in Tanzania and pressure from the digital rights community, Dr. Wakabi was later deported back to Uganda as a “prohibited immigrant”. Tanzania has since 2015 increasingly restricted civic and democratic space in the country. As such, in a submission alongside 37 other civil society organisations to the Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the 41st session, we called for the delegation to deliver statements, both jointly and individually, and to engage in bilateral démarches to address the ongoing deterioration of the human rights situation in  Tanzania.
 
Indeed, our report analysing the Shrinking civic space in East Africa noted that the East African region is experiencing a rise in restrictions on civic space, which have mainly manifested through enactment of retrogressive legislation targeting civic activism and civil society organisations, violent crackdown on demonstrations and the arrest, threat of arrest and intimidation of government critics. However, across the continent, the basic rights of millions also continue to face various affronts including assaults on journalists and network disruptions in Chad, Liberia, Mauritania and Sudan. We also joined the #KeepItOn campaign’s open letter to the MTN leadership calling for the telecommunications company to publicly denounce the internet shutdowns in Sudan, and pledge support towards maintaining unfettered internet access in the country, especially in moments of conflict or unrest.
 
As part of this year’s global World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) celebration which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May, we co-convened with Access Now a session on “Keeping It On at Election Times: Navigating the Dilemma, Mapping Good Practices as well as participated in a GNI led session titled, “Understanding Electoral Information Flows: Mapping the Impact of Digital Technology from Network Disruptions to Disinformation”.  In Uganda we marked WPFD  by co-hosting national celebrations in partnership with  the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), Freedom House, the American Embassy and other actors, where we shared insights from the Despots and Disruptions report  on the techno-political characteristics of countries that order shutdowns.
 WPFD session in Addis Ababa, EthiopiaPicture: Ashenafi Mulugeta, Addis Zeybe
More recently, in June, we were in Tunis, Tunisia for the annual RightsCon Summit where we participated in the Disco Tech event hosted by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Hivos/Digital Defenders Partnership, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia Global Centers. The session was a peer-learning event on detecting, documenting and bypassing internet shutdowns. Lessons from here were also shared at  a later session hosted by the Software Freedom Law Centre - India (SFLC.in) titled, "Warning! Access to the internet is suspended for security reasons - A policy Discussion on the effectiveness of policy discussions." We also shared insights on developing a model law for digital rights in Africa in a session led by the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria. Additional insights were also contributed to the session titled, "The changing practices of internet manipulation" which looked at how information controls have evolved in different regions over the years.

Digital Space and the Protection of Freedoms of Association and Peaceful Assembly in Africa
Undeniably, the power of assembly, both online and offline is fundamental to the protection of basic human and online rights.  Alongside the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL) and the Civil Society Reference Group (CSRG), we hosted 35 civil society organisations drawn from 18 African countries to identify challenges to protecting the right to freedom of association and assembly in the digital age and develop recommendations and strategies to counter such threats. The meeting which took place in Nairobi, Kenya served as a platform for representatives from academia, digital content creators, law-based and legal aid organisations, media, digital rights organisations, human rights organisations, trade unions, women’s rights organisation, youth empowerment and the LGBTIQ community to directly engage with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Clément Voule. 

The convening resulted in the development of recommendations for States, internet intermediaries, tech companies, and civil society. These recommendations  formed the basis for an interactive consultation with UN Special Rapporteur Voule to inform his upcoming report on protecting freedoms of association and assembly in the digital era. 

A Community Of Online Inclusion through Innovation
Promoting the online inclusion of marginalised and vulnerable communities is at the core of what we do. From inclusive policy formulation (see our recommendations to the Uganda Government on ICT and Persons With Disabilities), through to digital security workshops and advocacy training the pursuit of an inclusive online community is fundamental for the realisation of digital rights. At this year’s May Stockholm Internet Forum (#SIF19), we participated in a plenary discussion on the concept of access which looked at the drivers and limitations of connectivity through to devising ways to ensure that increased connectivity empowers individuals, rather than merely create new markets for one-way digital consumption.
 
In June, we had the pleasure of supporting DATA4CHANGE in Nairobi, Kenya in a five-day workshop which entailed co-creation, collaboration, and the translation of complex concepts into accessible meaningful content that advance digital rights. See some of our tweets here. The workshop entailed the innovative use of data visualisation to create awareness and support the inclusion of the blind and visually impaired in Ethiopia, marginalised users of social media in Uganda (as a result of the social media tax), communities affected by hate speech in South Sudan, and the often sidelined human story of those affected by network disruptions. 
 
In June, we also participated in a Deutsche Welle workshop for the Women At Web project aimed at advancing  digital literacy, digital rights and digital citizenship so as to enhance the online participation of women in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.
 
The topic of access and affordability for marginalised communities was also discussed in a May 8 webinar hosted by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). The participants included  Dr. Christoph Stork, Partner at Research ICT Solutions, CIPESA ED Dr. Wakabi Wairagala, Dr. Dhanaraj Thakur, Research Director at  A4AI & Web Foundation and Eleanor Sarpong, Deputy Director & Policy Lead who also moderated the webinar.  
Universal Periodic Review
As part of efforts by CIPESA and partners Small Media to raise the visibility of digital rights as part of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, we advocated and made stakeholder submissions before the Human Rights Council on the  Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, Ethiopia and Senegal. We noted that despite some positive political and media developments, all four countries need to take more concrete efforts to promote free speech online, data protection and privacy, access to information and inclusion of minority and marginalised group in the information society.
 
Senegal has mostly failed to prioritise online rights despite a diverse media landscape which helps it to attain relatively high scores in international press freedom rankings. The country maintains a tight grip on online communication through laws which have facilitated the arrest and prosecution of critical journalists and artists, including for content published online. Meanwhile in Ethiopia, despite the promises and efforts made by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali who ascended to power in April 2018, to transform the country after years of political repression and state control of major forms of media, the country is yet to experience substantive change in the state of digital rights. In the lead up to the November 2019 third cycle UPR review of The Gambia, CIPESA and Small media have collaboratively prepared comments for submission.

Stakeholder Submission to the UN Human Rights Council on Digital Rights in The Gambia

Ethiopia’s Digital Rights Record on the Spot at May 2019 Universal Peer Review

Senegal Fails to Prioritise Human Rights Online

 

Data Privacy
In June, the first African Region Data Protection and Privacy Conference took place in Accra, Ghana, marking a timely discussion on an issue that many African countries - and beyond - are grappling with. As more data is collected by states and private entities, the frameworks to safeguard user data from exploitation and abuse need to be addressed and in some cases, better implemented. See our State of Internet Freedom Report (2018) on Privacy and Data Protection in the Digital Era - Challenges and Trends in Africa which we launched at last years FIFAfrica which was hosted alongside the Media Foundation for West Africa in Ghana.
Two Years of CIPESA's Fellowship  Programme

In 2017, we launched two fellowship programmes - a media fellowship and an academia fellowship - both of which aimed to increase understanding of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)-for-democracy issues as well as increase the diversity of players working on ICT, democracy and human rights. Since its launch, fellows from representing east, south and western Africa, as well as Asia have participated in the programme, with a wide range of outputs including commentaries, broadcast content, multimedia content and journal articles. See  more about the fellows here.

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