Africa’s digital rights under threat
A new report by the Africa Digital Rights Network (ADRN) has found that ten countries on the continent, including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, used a plethora of measures to suppress people’s ability to organise, voice opinions and participate in governance online over the past decade.
The report titled Digital Rights in Closing Civic Space: Lesson from 10 African Countries found over 100 examples of technology tactics and techniques used to control or censor the internet.
According to the report, the most common methods used by governments included digital surveillance, internet shutdown, disinformation, introduction of laws reducing digital rights and arrests for online speech.
Other strategies used were bulk SMS bans, mandatory registration of bloggers, as well as mandatory identification for mobile SIM registration, internet café use and social media, among others.
Disinformation, said the report, was also common both from private companies as well as governments.
The ten countries surveyed are also believed to have used internet surveillance and mobile interception techniques or artificial intelligence to monitor particular people using keywords.
Further, the report found that it had become common for the government to shut down the entire network or mobile phone systems as a way of suppressing digital rights and closing of civic space.
“In Ethiopia and Zimbabwe for example, when the government arrested journalists and banned public demonstrations, young people responded creatively using the internet and mobile phones to open civic space. Using SMS, social media, encrypted messaging and even satellite television to connect, organise and develop policy alternatives and successfully challenged government narratives,” the report said.
It added that the number of international shutdowns by African governments rose to 25 in 2020 from 21 in 2019, with Algeria, Ethiopia and Sudan being the worst affected countries.
Tony Roberts, research fellow at the Institute of Development studies and co-author of the report was quoted by Thomson Reuters Foundation as saying, “This digital authoritarianism has fundamental implications for democratic society. That’s why it’s so important we raise awareness and build capacity across Africa to promote and protect digital rights.”