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Internet freedom in Africa: 'it's getting worse' says Paradigm Initiative

By , ITWeb
Africa , 28 May 2018

Internet freedom in Africa: 'it's getting worse' says Paradigm Initiative

Digital rights expert Gbenga Sesan, executive director of Paradigm Initiative, has bemoaned the spate of attacks on internet freedom in Africa.

Speaking at RightsCon, an international conference on digital rights hosted recently in Toronto, Canada, Sesan said, "At Paradigm Initiative, we do this annual report focused on the state of digital rights in Africa. In 2017, we looked at twenty-one African countries and one of the trends we have seen is that things are getting worse. In terms of clamp down on the media, in terms of clamp down on citizens, in terms of using excuses like national security to shut down the internet, things continue to go downhill in many countries across Africa."

"In Nigeria, there is a new proposal on hate speech bill, and the definition of hate speech is very interesting actually, an insult is considered hate speech. So we have a situation where citizens would not be able to express themselves freely online. Next month, we will release our report on Nigeria and I can tell you right now that things are not looking great for Nigeria in terms of respect for internet freedom."

Paradigm Initiative recently conducted an online pool on freedom of expression online in Nigeria, and it was discovered that 40% of respondents feel unsafe expressing themselves online.

Sesan also used the opportunity to talk about Nigeria's Digital Rights and Freedom Bill that was recently passed by the National Assembly.

He said the bill would ensure that digital rights are taken seriously in Nigeria and that those who violate these rights are held accountable under the law.

"We are excited about the passage of the bill by the national assembly. We hope the national assembly would expedite actions on transmitting the bill to the presidency for the presidential assent. Our hope is that the bill is signed into law before activities for the next elections in 2019 take centre stage."

Adeboye Adegoke, Paradigm Initiative's Digital Rights Program Manager, said, "The Digital Rights and Freedom Bill was drafted by a coalition of civil society, private sector and government to protect the digital rights of Nigerians in the emerging digital age. The bill is great for the protecting citizens' rights and also great for the economy as it would energise the tech industry."

However, connectivity and access to the internet remains a challenge in several regions.

In April Paradigm Initiative urged Sierra Leone's new president Julius Maada Bio and his government to prevent interference with internet connectivity in the country.

During the run-off election called on 31 March, internet access to service providers was reportedly down for several hours.

In January the government of Chad restored internet access following a shutdown reportedly in response to a national protest backed by trade unions and civil society organisations using social media.

That same month in Cameroon, entrepreneurs, internet activists and end-users put pressure on authorities to address a prolonged internet shutdown.

Cameroon has experienced disruption to its internet connectivity in the past. In June last year it restored connectivity after several weeks of a shutdown following intervention by the UN Secretary-General for Central Africa and Head of UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) François Louncény Fall.

A report released by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in September 2017 found that internet shutdowns in Sub-Saharan Africa have cost the region up to US$237 million since 2015.

The report counts Cameroon among countries where public protests have led to internet disruptions along with nations including Burundi, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Mali and Togo.

In March Sesan was appointed as a member of the advisory network of the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC), an intergovernmental coalition established to advance internet freedom globally.

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