What is the state of digital rights in Africa and the rest of the world?
A London-based non-profit called Small Media is on a mission and is dedicated to championing digital rights led a session this issue during the Forum on Internet Freedom Africa (#FIFAfrica) in Ethiopia. The non-profit implemented a project called UPROAR which aims to put digital rights firmly on the global human rights agenda.
We had a chat with Bronwen Robertson, director of Global Programmes at Small Media on the sidelines of #FIFAfrica about digital rights in Africa.
What are digital rights?
The concept of digital rights typically relates to the protection and realisation of human rights in digital spaces. Generally, digital rights can be defined as rights encompassing the right to privacy and the right to freedom of opinion and expression. However, at Small Media, we believe that digital rights extend far beyond that. They tend to use the phrase “human rights online” to describe digital rights. This is because in many spaces, for example, at the United Nations where UPROAR lobbies and advocates for digital rights through the Universal Periodic Review, it is difficult for diplomats and other stakeholders to understand the direct implication of digital rights violations on the broader human rights landscape.
Robertson says they have found it challenging to let people know how important the protection of human rights online and offline is, especially in shrinking spaces and geographies where marginalised and vulnerable groups are already at risk.
“Sometimes ‘online’ is the only space where at-risk groups can assemble and express an opinion, so it’s incredibly important to invest resources and advocacy efforts into increasing these spaces and preventing them from closing.”
What is the state of digital rights in Africa?
According to Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa’s (CIPESA) State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2019 report, African countries have expanded the measures they use to govern the use of digital communications including the internet. The report shows that between 2016–2019 at least 22 countries experienced a government-ordered network disruption, many of which targeted popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. That means nearly half of the countries in Africa have experienced internet shutdowns. Since January 2019, internet shutdowns have been reported in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
CIPESA concluded that the implementation of oppressive laws and regulations is on the rise and there is evidence that countries are using legislation to legitimise practices such as imposing restrictions and internet controls, which are otherwise deemed unlawful and in violation of international human rights standards. These restrictive laws are curbing political oppositions, clamping down on criticism and suppressing freedom of expression and opinion.
The full state of internet freedom and digital rights can be found in CIPESA’s State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2019 report.