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Online freedoms

Africa’s internet usage continues to grow steadily, with an estimated 140 million internet users, or 13.5% of the population on the continent, currently using the net (Source: Internet World Statisticswww.internetwoldstats.com/stats1.html). Increased availability of affordable marine fibre optic bandwidth, a rise in private sector investments, the popularity of social media and innovative applications, and increased use of the mobile phone to access the internet, are all enabling more people in Africa to get online. In turn, there are numerous purposes to which users in Africa are putting the internet ‐ from mobile banking, to connecting with fellow citizens and with leaders, tracking corruption and poor service delivery, innovating for social good, and just about everything else.

The increasing usage of the internet, however, has in some countries attracted the attention of authorities, who are eager to provide caveats on the openness of the net and the range of freedoms which citizens and citizens’ organisations enjoy online. The popularity of social media, the Wikileaks diplomatic cables saga and the Arab Spring uprisings have led many governments including those in Africa to recognise the power of online media. In a number of countries, there have already been curbs on internet rights, in what portends tougher times ahead for cyber security. Whereas the 2009 OpenNet Initiative studies on internet filtering in sub‐Saharan Africa concluded that Ethiopia was the only country in the region that imposed nationwide politically motivated internet filtering, the continued growth of the internet has seen authorities in other countries control its use.

From the end of 2012, CIPESA is partnering on a project to monitor and promote freedoms in a number of African countries. Work will involve establishing the status of intermediary liability (legislative, policy, practice), and reporting on an ongoing basis any changes there could be; document and publicise internet rights violations; and a review of how current cyber security policies and legislations in select African countries enhance Internet Freedom. CIPESA will ultimately make recommendations on how policies and legislation should promote freedom of expression, human rights and access to information.