The authors for this article are: Moriam O. Sulaimon; Innocent Adriko; Thabiso Mashumba; Daniel Nwaeze; and Lillian Leißer.

INTERNET FREEDOM IN AFRICA

Internet is a noteworthy part of our daily lives through which people can connect, collaborate and innovate. The internet has become an increasingly important tool through which democracy and human rights activists mobilize and advocate for political, social, and economic reform(1).

Internet Freedom is swiftly becoming understood as a normative framework for how the Internet should operate and be used worldwide. The Resolution on the Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet (UNHRC 2012) encourages all states to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and to ensure that the same rights of freedom of expression that are available offline are protected and upheld online(2). It is important to note that the use of internet in African communities is steadily growing.

The key Internet Design principles are: openness; access; and end to end. African states have embraced these principles while some are still failing to comply with these principles as they continually violate them.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

Association for Progressive Communications believes that the ability to share information and communicate freely using the Internet is vital to the realization of human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976) and the convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1980).

However, the Internet can only be a tool to empower the peoples of the world if rights are recognized, protected and respected(3).

The Rights of Internet users which includes: freedom of expression; association; privacy; and access to information are being violated in some countries. Freedom on the Internet has remained an issue especially in Africa with a direct example of the Republic of Uganda.

In 2018, Uganda introduced the Over the Top Tax which was imposed on all OTT messaging apps including: Facebook; Twitter; and WhatsApp. Users of any communications apps not provided by their mobile operator will have to pay a tax of UGX200 ($0.05) per day for Internet access. This tax imposed has pushed the cost of basic internet access further out of reach for millions of low-income Ugandans.

Users of the Internet in Uganda have also experienced Internet shutdowns. For example on the Election Day, February 2016, social media platforms: Facebook; Twitter; and WhatsApp were shut down. The regulator, UCC, told local media houses that they had been directed to shut down the platforms over national security concerns. This violated freedom of access to election information and expression.

The regulation of interception of Communications Act, 2010 in the Uganda’s laws and policies. This Act provides for the establishment of a Monitoring Centre for the interception of communications which also violate the right of privacy.

While the use of the Internet is rapidly increasing in Africa, there are several challenges related to privacy and data protection. The lack of privacy and data protection laws in Africa also possess a challenge to internet freedom in some of its countries.

According to the State of Internet Freedom in Africa report (2018), the lack of a comprehensive standalone policy or legislation to protect the right to privacy and data protection was identified as a major weakness, since the provisions were fragmented and contained in various laws and policies, and did not adequately provide for the protection of the right. Some countries such as Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda have data protection bills but the proposed laws have for years failed to progress through their parliaments. The report noted the low levels of public awareness about privacy and data protection, with many citizens tending to be indifferent to privacy and data protection issues(4).

The report further indicates that the state of personal data protection tends to mirror and to affect the state of internet freedom in a country. It highlights that various African countries are witnessing disturbing developments on the internet freedom front including an increase in digital rights violations such as: arrests and intimidation of online users; internet blockages; social media shutdowns; and a proliferation of laws and regulations that undermine internet access and affordability, and weaken ICT’s potential to improve livelihoods.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Civil Society Organizations should advocate for the respect for internet freedom by both government, service providers and individuals through increased awareness creation on internet freedom concerns.

Service providers should challenge government requests that violate internet freedoms by being more transparent in their dealings with the government.

There is need to review laws that limit internet freedoms and in their place provide for progressive laws that make it easy to use the internet securely and openly.

Governments should immediately enact the Data Protection and Privacy law taking into account submissions by stakeholders on vague, weak and regressive provisions.

There is need for increased investment in internet infrastructure and related platforms to ease access to information and affordable internet.

REFERENCES

“Internet Freedom | Freedom House.” https://freedomhouse.org/issues/internet-freedom. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.

(2012, July 5). The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet. Retrieved July 26, 2019, from https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/731540

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations.” https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/. Accessed 26 Jul. 2019.

(2018, October 10). State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2018 Report Focuses on Privacy …. Retrieved July 26, 2019, from https://cipesa.org/2018/10/state-of-internet-freedom-in-africa-2018-report-focuses-on-privacy-and-data-protection/

http://cipesa.org/?wpfb_dl=235

https://cipesa.org/?wpfb_dl=268

https://www.unwantedwitness.org/download/Digital-Rights-and-Internet-Freedoms-in-Uganda-1.pdf

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2018/Uganda

https://www.internetworldstats.com/af/ug.htm