Category Archives: Publications

In Search of Local Knowledge on ICTS in Africa

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By reviewing and comparing literature on the role of ICTs in statebuilding and peacebuilding in Africa, with a particular focus on neighboring Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, this paper examines whether the claims of the transformative power of ICTs are backed by evidence and whether local knowledge – e.g., traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution – is taken into consideration by ICT-based initiatives. Several key findings emerged, including: 1) empirical evidence on the successful use of ICTs to promote peacebuilding and statebuilding is thin; 2) few differences exist between scholarship emanating from the Global North and from Africa; and 3) the literature exhibits a simplistic assumption that ICTs will drive democratic development without sufficient consideration of how ICTs are actually used by the public.

Download the full paper here.

Colonial Laws Stunt Internet Freedoms in Tanzania

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By Juliet Nanfuka

Tanzania’s port of Dar es Saalam is one of the landing stations of the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy). However, the country’s internet penetration rate is relatively similar to those of its landlocked neighbours such as Uganda and Rwanda. A total of 9.3 million people of the population of 45 million accessed the internet in 2013. The country has a teledensity of 61 phones per 100 inhabitants, which translates into 27.6 million mobile subscriptions.

In a fast changing socio-political, economic and technological landscape, the extent of freedoms enjoyed by Tanzanian citizens both online and offline is being stunted by government practices and colonial laws.

In June 2014, British owned telecommunications company Vodafone, which operates locally as Vodacom, disclosed that in 2013 the government of Tanzania made 98,765 requests for local subscribers’ data. According to the firm’s Law Enforcement Disclosure Report, this was the highest number of government requests made among the eight African countries where it operates. It should be noted, however, that Vodafone could not publish the requests made by Kenya and South Africa due to legal restrictions.

The company also disclosed that it had not implemented the technical requirements necessary to enable lawful interception of communications in Tanzania and had not received any demands from authorities for interception assistance. However, the country’s Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002 requires service providers to “intercept and retain a specified communication or communications of a specified description received or transmitted, or about to be received or transmitted by that communication service provider” for purposes of obtaining evidence of commission of terrorism-related offences. This law permits the admission in court of information sourced through interception.

While the 2002 law makes it permissible for the state to snoop on citizens’ communications, other laws dating as far back as the mid 1970s constrain transparency and citizens’ access to information. The National Security Act of 1970 makes it a punishable offence to investigate, obtain, possess, comment on, pass on or publish any document or information which the government considers classified.

Another Act dating from the same era is the 1976 Newspaper Act, which gives authorities powers to “exclude” any newspaper from operation in the “interest of the public”. In a 2012 case, the MwanaHalisi newspaper was banned indefinitely on allegations of publishing two seditious stories claiming that state intelligence officers were involved in the kidnapping and torture of a national strike leader. More recently in 2013, two other publications – the Mwananchi and the Mtanzania- were banned both offline and online for two weeks and three months respectively on instructions of the Directorate of Information. This followed accusations of publishing content aimed at provoking discontent between the government and public.

Although the country’s constitution provides for access to information, freedom of expression and assembly and the right to privacy, the existence of laws that sternly limit publication of government information and support interception of communications raises concern over the country’s online freedoms credentials. Besides, the absence of data protection and privacy laws to safeguard citizens’ information collected as part of mandatory subscriber registration makes online users’ vulnerable to state interference.

Nonetheless, recent government announcements of the drafting of three laws – the Cyber security Act, Data Protection Act and the Electronic Transacting Act – come as a positive step for the country in fighting cybercrime and promoting internet freedoms.

While these steps indicate some appreciation of the complex relationship between data protection and online freedom, there remain many uncertainties about free speech and press freedom in the face of interception, draconian and unclear laws, and harsh penalties – especially with vague state transparency.

Read more on the practices, legislative environment, and threats to online freedoms in Tanzania in the 2014 State of Internet Freedom in Tanzania Report prepared by CIPESA.

Uganda: When National Security Trumps Citizens’ Internet Freedoms

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The Ugandan telecommunications sector was liberalised in 1998, resulting in an influx of service providers – there are currently four major mobile telecom operators and more than 30 Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The establishment of a Uganda Internet Exchange Point (UIXP) allows for local internet traffic routing, increased speeds and lower costs. The regulatory body reports a teledensity of 52 phones per 100 inhabitants and an internet penetration rate of 20%.

Ugandans have embraced social media as an alternative means of communication with their peers as well as for engaging with government. This is seen in the increase in the popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Youtube and Blogspot, which are ranked among the top 10 most visited websites in Uganda. As such the government has developed social media guidelines to aid its ministries, agencies and departments in communicating and engaging with citizens online.

However, as the telecommunications sector grows, so have the number of laws passed to regulate it. Some of these laws have drawn criticism from internet actors both locally and internationally due to their severity, infringement on human rights and contradictions with other existing legislation, including the constitution.

“No person shall be subjected to interference with the privacy of that person’s home, correspondence, communication or other property.”

Article 27 (2) of Ugandan Constitution

The use of ICTs in Uganda is threatened by the very laws that are meant to both protect citizens and ensure their rights. The Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010, the Anti-Terrorism Act No.14 of 2002, the Anti-Pornography Act of 2014 and the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 have undercurrents of surveillance, content filtering, and monitoring.

Although these laws are guised under provisions aimed to protect national security or fight cybercrime, in effect they may serve to silence voices critical to the state. Ultimately, these provisions are resulting in self-censorship by both ordinary online users and the media.

Provisions in the Electronic Transactions Act of 2011 limit the liability of ISPs for users’ content and do not require them to monitor stored or transmitted data including for unlawful activity. However, other laws place ISPs at a cross roads of service provision and protection of subscriber information. They are required to lawfully release users’ data to state agencies for purposes such as fighting terrorism and cybercrime. Moreover, the Anti-Pornography Act (2014) requires them to monitor, filter and block content of a pornographic nature.

In the absence of a data protection and privacy law, just like other countries in East Africa (State of Internet Freedom in East Africa), users’ data is vulnerable to mishandling and abuse by the state and ISPs. These vulnerabilities are also transferred to the offline world where freedom of expression and assembly have not been spared as seen in the limiting provisions under the Public Order Management Act, 2013.

It should be noted that the Ugandan government recently announced plans to draft a Data Protection and Privacy Bill. This is a positive step toward the protection of personal information and its use by the government and the private sector.

Read more in the 2014 Internet Freedom in Uganda Report prepared by CIPESA under the OpenNet Africa initiative. The report provides a status of the legislative environment and threats to internet freedoms in the country.