“Why Joining GNI is Part of Paradigm Initiative’s Success Story” by ’Gbenga Sesan
The increasingly virulent digital rights landscape in Africa, demonstrates why Paradigm Initiative joined the Global Network Initiative (GNI).
In a short span of time, Chad, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Tanzania, and Uganda have all proposed or rolled out new legislation threatening freedom of expression, privacy and other human rights. Benin did the same but, thanks to coordinated pushback, called off a proposed social media tax.
Chad proposed a new law in December 2017, to introduce a policy that will slow down access for a country with only 5% Internet penetration and expensive access at $3.70 per gigabyte. Egypt’s new cybercrime law now categorizes a personal social media account, blog or website with more than 5,000 followers as a media outlet subject to media laws, further limiting freedom of expression in a country, which has already witnessed a brutal crackdown on opposition voices.
Kenya recently proposed a tax bill that could impede access and haunt a country that is a member of a global rights-respecting coalition. Tanzanian authorities placed a hefty fee of $900 USD as a pre-condition for the registration of bloggers. In Uganda, the government commenced taxing social media and mobile money users in a bid to curb gossip, and to raise government revenue. Zambia’s Electronic and Postal Communications Regulations 2018 proposal follows the same trend of potential harm to freedom of expression.
Unfortunately, the last few months merely build on a sad pattern of wanton violation of human rights online on the continent. Internet Freedom is increasingly under threat in Africa as new laws and undemocratic actions seek to limit the growing power of citizens to freely access information and express themselves. Citizens are met with Internet shutdowns during elections or protests, and their speech is censored through laws directly targeted at freedom of expression online. Governments are increasingly intolerant of any limits to surveillance or interception of citizen’s communication or data. In Nigeria, journalists and bloggers are routinely arrested under the Cybercrime Act 2015. This is why joining the GNI was a strategic move for Paradigm Initiative. We see it as an alliance that is positioned to help arrest this ominous pattern of human rights abuse online before it gets even bolder.
Coalitions are critical to amplifying advocacy impact. A network of academics and academic institutions, civil society, ICT companies, investors and observers, focused on helping companies and governments respect freedom of expression, privacy rights and other digital rights is essential to pushing back on digital rights violations and working with African governments toward the development and implementation of public policy for Internet freedoms. Internet intermediaries increasingly draw the attention of national governments seeking to regulate what occurs within their borders. For instance, during the longest running Internet disruption in Africa, experienced in Cameroon through long months in 2017 and 2018, the unified advocacy front of the GNI released a statement, a research document outlining the negative effects of Internet shutdowns, and lobbied behind the scenes, which contributing to the restoration of Internet access to Cameroon.
The GNI provides a unique platform for civil society to interface with ICT companies in a way which would not be possible without the GNI membership. The importance of this alliance to our work trying to influence public policy to advance rights and minimize risks online is invaluable and of significant impact.
ICT tools are transforming access to education, healthcare, entertainment, civic engagement, and finance all across Africa. GNI’s track record and its very constitution makes it an effective partner in development through engaging policy activities, which can lead to stronger democracies and increased socio-economic opportunities for empowering people and communities in Africa. This is the very reason why Paradigm Initiative’s offices exist in five cities in Cameroon, Nigeria, and Kenya.
Our staff across these locations works hard to ensure greater access to life-transforming ICT tools and skills for youth in underserved communities, while ensuring that the right policy environment in which innovation can thrive exists.
Joining the GNI was as natural as our everyday work, and being a member of the GNI is an increasingly integral part of our success story.
’Gbenga Sesan is the Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative.