by Felicia Anthonio, Coordinator, African Freedom of Expression Exchange
The power of the Internet and technology has over the years enhanced the work of several organisations and individuals from diverse sectors globally – communications, journalism, advocacy, marketing, networking, etc.
Like all other sectors of modern society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been impacted by the vast opportunities of the global digital revolution, as well as the equally formidable challenges that have come along with this unprecedented innovation. This is true of the several fledging NGOs working across Africa in diverse fields such as education, health, women empowerment, human rights, and finance.
Similarly, Internet access and the proliferation of Internet-enabling devices, as well as the advent of social media platforms, have given NGOs working in Africa an opportunity to extend their work across borders for a wider audience.
Undoubtedly, NGOs represent a voice for the voiceless on a continent where basic human rights such as freedom of expression and access to information are still a ‘luxury’.
Over the past few years, governments in Africa have increasingly resorted to the use of repressive measures such as Internet shutdowns to suppress protests or “restore national order” (as they invariably put it) during unrests. In addition, there have been increased reports of attacks against journalists, activists, bloggers, and individuals online by non-state actors.
In the face of the increasing threats and challenges that affect the digital space, a number of Internet rights organisations have recognised the urgent need to prioritise Internet freedoms and digital rights advocacy.
Pursuant to that, these organisations continue to engage governments and stakeholders to adopt effective measures to ensure that Internet rights and freedoms of citizens are respected at all times. The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), for instance, works to empower NGOs on the continent through periodical publications and training workshops on Internet/digital rights and freedoms for increased and effective advocacy.
Unfortunately, poor Internet connectivity, the high cost of Internet data, low digital literacy, and unreliable power supply, among others, remain barriers for such organisations to catch up with the rapidly growing digital revolution. These challenges, coupled with financial constraints, repressive legal environments, and low digital know-how, make it difficult for NGOs to carry out their mandate effectively.
AFEX wishes to recommend to African governments and stakeholders to recognise that the Internet is a powerful tool for advancing sustainable growth and development. They must, therefore, ensure that their policy interventions ultimately lead to the expansion of Internet access rather than restriction of its use by their citizens.
It is important for governments and other stakeholders to invest more in the Internet, explore the opportunities it presents, and focus on tackling the afore-mentioned challenges to digitally empower citizens and organisations working in the region.
A free, open, safe and reliable Internet/cyberspace will further enhance the work of NGOs in Africa while ensuring that citizens also exercise and enjoy their fundamental rights to freedom of expression and access to information, responsibly and without fear or interference from any actors.
Felicia Anthonio is the Coordinator of AFEX, a continental network of prominent African freedom of expression and media rights advocacy organisations who are also members of IFEX, a global free expression network.
This is the eleventh NGO analysis of my 2018 #NGOs4Africa Campaign.