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Report released highlighting state of digital rights in 26 African countries

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A new report by a Pan-African organisation, Paradigm Initiative (PIN), spotlighting the state of digital rights and inclusion in 26 African countries has been released.

The 2023 Londa report, which was released during the just concluded Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF) in Accra, Ghana, highlights issues cutting across Internet shutdowns and disruptions, data protection, disinformation during elections, online gender-based violence, cybersecurity, surveillance, digital divide, access to Universal Service Fund (USF), freedom of expression and access to information which arose in countries across the continent.

The three-day event, which took place between April 23rd and April 25th, 2024, brought together hundreds of delegates from 61 countries and provided a platform to shape conversations on digital policy in Africa, debate policy directions and forge partnerships for action.

The event incorporated a blend of panel sessions, launches, tech demos, pre-event workshops, lightning talks and exhibitions under diverse tracks including digital rights, digital inclusion and digital security. There were over 80 sessions hosted and more than 1,000 registered delegates.

Speaking at the event, Paradigm Initiative’s Board Vice Chair, Dr. Aida Opoku-Mensah, said, “We hope that the insights gained and connections forged during the forum will inspire tangible action and positive change in pursuit of a more equitable and just digital future.”

On his part, the Director General of the Ghana Cyber Security Authority (CSA), Dr. Albert Antwi-Boasiako pointed out that a key pillar of digital inclusion is guaranteeing an affordable internet that is accessible to all segments of the society. “In Ghana, initiatives such as the National Broadband Infrastructure Project, Girls in ICT Programme, and the free Wi-Fi for senior high schools programme has helped to expand access to the internet in under-served communities and bridge the digital divide,” he added.

Also launched at the event were the organisation’s digital toolkits, Ripoti and Ayeta. Delegates also had a chance to watch the organisation’s fourth film, Undersight, which will premiere in May 2024.

The Londa report notes that 2023 was a progressive year with countries such as Nigeria and Malawi enacting and passing data protection laws.

However, it raises concerns regarding online gender-based violence, which is a barrier to women’s inclusion on online platforms.

It further reveals that in 2023, there were information disorders, with the election period breeding disinformation in countries such as Nigeria. Another major finding in the report is that last year, there were internet disruptions in five out of the 26 countries monitored.

Mauritania and Ethiopia had blatant internet shutdowns, while Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Senegal had varied degrees of internet throttling and partial shutdowns on mobile internet networks. In Sudan, internet access disruption was caused by power outages.

Tunisia had notable progress in expanding internet access and connectivity through initiatives such as ‘the national education network, satellite internet trials, and efforts to bridge connectivity gaps in marginalised communities.

Given the wide digital divide still being experienced on the continent, the report examines the implementation of the Universal Service Fund (USF) aimed at addressing national access to universal services to bridge the divide.

The failure of governments to disclose the amounts available under USF, the report adds, is a masking veil on transparency, showing gaps in good governance practices.

The report lauded the long-awaited adoption of the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (Malabo Convention), which came into force on June 8, 2023, following Mauritania’s ratification in May 2023.

“An area for advocacy is calling for African states to accede to the treaty. This will ensure commitment across the continent to foster data protection practices that enhance trade and cross-border data flows guided by regional cooperation on universally adopted and respected data protection principles,” it adds.

Another development witnessed in 2023 was the adoption of a resolution urging African states to refrain from deploying targeted mass communications surveillance to attack vulnerable groups such as human

rights defenders and the media, promoting freedom of expression and right to privacy.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted Resolution 573 on the deployment of mass and unlawful targeted communication surveillance and its impact on human rights in Africa at the 77th Ordinary Session, which was held from 20 October to 9 November 2023.

Partner organisations that worked with PIN to host DRIF24 in Ghana are E-Governance and Internet Governance Foundation for Africa (EGIGFA), University of Media, Arts and Communication—Institute of Journalism, Media Foundation for West Africa, Inclusive Tech Group, Internet Society (ISOC) Ghana Chapter, and Human Security Research Centre (HSRC).

Event sponsors include Wikimedia, African Digital Rights Network, Ford Foundation, Luminate, Google, Kingdom of The Netherlands, Mott Foundation, Open Technology Fund (OTF), Internews, Small Media, International Justice Clinic UC Irvine School of Law, among others.

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