The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), established in 2004, works to enable policy-makers in the region to understand ICT policy issues, and other stakeholders to use ICT to improve governance and livelihoods.
CIPESA focuses on four different but interrelated thematic areas, namely promoting online freedom, ICT for democracy and civic participation, open data and the right to information, and contributing to the Internet governance debate at national, regional and global level.
CIPESA’s work on online freedom is undertaken as part of the OpenNet Africa initiative, which has done work in various African countries. This has included cybersecurity and Internet freedom research (focusing on Botswana, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe); digital safety and security training for organisations and individuals (in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda), and regional training of trainers (ToT) for actors from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda; and ICT policy and advocacy training (in Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and a regional ICT Policy research training workshop which took place in February 2018 for beneficiaries from over 17 countries). Other work has included advocacy and awareness-raising at local level, in regional processes and at global level; digital security tools testing; learning and knowledge exchange; and Internet freedom for technologists skills share clinics.
Since 2014, CIPESA has produced an annual State of Internet Freedom in Africa report (see 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 editions), and organised the annual Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica).
The Forum is the largest gathering on internet freedom in Africa and has grown steadily since inception, from 80 participants representing six countries in 2014 to over 250 from 35 countries in 2017). The landmark event convenes various stakeholders from the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa and beyond to deliberate on gaps, concerns and opportunities for advancing privacy, access to information, free expression, non-discrimination and the free flow of information online. The diversity of participants and discussions reflect increased awareness among Africa’s growing internet users and stakeholder community of the need for broader and more impactful work on advancing digital rights advocacy and drawing up common strategies to promote internet freedom.
CIPESA will host the fifth edition of the Forum, in partnership with the Media Foundation West Africa (MFWA), from 26-28 September 2018 in Accra, Ghana.
As part of the 2017 Forum, CIPESA launched a report titled, A Framework for Calculating the Economic Impact of Internet Disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa. The continued use of various forms of disruptions to online communications calls for a deeper understanding of its impact on the social, political and economic livelihoods of citizens and state alike. While it is clear how internet shutdowns affect users’ fundamental rights, such as the right of access to information and freedom of expression, the impact of disruptions on a country’s economy and citizens’ livelihoods is rarely as clearly articulated due to a lack of verifiable data.
CIPESA developed a specific framework in this regard which revealed that internet shutdowns in Sub-Saharan Africa have, as of 2017, cost the region up to US$237 million since 2015. The resultant framework calculates the direct loss of earnings in the ICT sector’s contribution to GDP, and the quantitative effects of loss of confidence in the digital economy stemming from government-perpetuated disruptions and the resultant loss of cost savings by businesses that are deprived of internet access. The framework can be used to estimate the cost of a complete internet disruption (national or regional), and a partial disruption targeting social media.
During the forthcoming 2018 Forum, CIPESA, in partnership with the online rights advocacy group, NetBlocks, will launch the Cost of Shutdown Tool – COST. The tool, developed by NetBlocks in collaboration with the Internet Society and first unveiled at RightsCon Toronto in May 2018, is aimed at automating the task of economic estimation of the impact of internet shutdowns, mobile data blackouts, and social media restrictions. It draws inspiration from CIPESA’s new model for calculating the economic impact of shutdowns in sub-Saharan Africa as well as earlier research by the Brookings Institution.
Since 2011, CIPESA has coordinated the regional ICT4Democracy in East Africa network which is primarily funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Under this initiative, CIPESA sub-grants to six non-profits – the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), Tanzania’s Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG), Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), iHub Research (Kenya), Toro Development Network (Uganda) and Transparency International (Uganda). Sub-grantees leverage various ICT tools such as shortcodes, SMS, radio, crowd maps, social media and online polling to monitor and report on human rights violations and public service delivery, as well as facilitate engagements between duty bearers and rights holders. Furthermore, through this initiative, CIPESA, jointly with partners have undertaken advocacy engagements, built the capacity of duty bearers and rights holders, conducted evidence-based research, raised awareness through policy briefs, and organised regional multi-stakeholder dialogues on ICT use in governance and human rights promotion.
Under its Right to Information (RTI) and open data programmes, CIPESA has been at the forefront of empowering citizens in Eastern Africa to use RTI laws and constitutional guarantees in combination with ICT to demand transparency and accountability in governance and service delivery. In partnership with the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and the Uganda Government’s Office of the Prime Minister, it launched the Ask Your Government portal to support citizens in making right to information requests.
On the internet governance front, CIPESA has since 2005 been active in this space, writing position papers and making presentations to the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF), supporting the annual national IGF in Uganda, and, since 2009, co-hosting the East African Internet Governance Forum with partners such as the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Union of Tanzania Press Clubs, and the Internet Societies of Burundi, Kenya, and Uganda.
CIPESA is a member of various African and international initiatives that aim to improve the inclusiveness of the Information Society, including the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI). It is also an active participant in the #KeepItOn campaign which advocates against disruptions to online communications. CIPESA recently joined the Global Network Initiative (GNI) and is also a member of the ICT 4 Social Innovation Network.
Based in Uganda, CIPESA’s work is impacted by various policy and political developments in the country. These include the newly introduced levies on social media access and mobile money transactions, which are widely considered a threat to internet access and affordability, as well as to freedom of expression and access to information. The tax on social media resulted from a March 2018 presidential directive for such platforms to be taxed to raise resources “to cope with the consequences” of social media users’ “opinions, prejudices [and] insults”. This tax comes on the heels of a directive in March 2017 by the communications regulator for the registration of online content providers.
Meanwhile, although Uganda is one of the few African countries with an Access to Information Act, this law remains poorly implemented, limiting the extent of efforts which can be driven through open data, transparency, and accountability. CIPESA continually calls on the government to undertake multi-stakeholder consultations in the sector’s policy and decision-making, and to reinstate the oversight role of the Parliament over the Minister for ICT in making regulations for the sector. This role was eliminated through changes made to the law in 2017.
This is the forty-third NGO profile of my 2018 #NGOs4Africa Campaign.