Trusted digital space via PRIDA: Informed transformed Africa

9 Nov 2020 13:10h - 14:40h

Event report

The adoption of the ‎Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa by the African Union (AU) in 2020 represents an important milestone for the development of Africa’s digital ecosystem. Nonetheless, ‎gaps still exist among and within countries in regard to digital maturity, digital awareness, and the capacity to mitigate cyber threats. A secured and trusted Internet is important in fully unlocking the economic and social benefits of the digital transformation in the continent.

Security, safety, and data protection are important pre-conditions for building trust, but they are not sufficient, according to Ms Alison Gillwald (Executive Director, Research ICT Africa). Trust comes from transparency and accountability, which enable individuals to understand how social systems work and to detect any abuses, such as the indiscriminate use of the security apparatus for surveillance.

Several initiatives put in place by the AU aim at building trust in cyberspace and closing the trust gap, such as encouraging AU members to develop their cyber strategies, helping to establish CSIRTs and CERTs, pushing for the ratification of the AU Convention on Security and Personal Data Protection—known as the Malabo Convention—and adopting the ‘Policy and Regulation Initiative for Africa’ (PRIDA), which aims to develop capacity on Internet governance. According to Mr Moctar Yedaly (Director, Head Information Society Division, African Union Commission), digital transformation is vital for development, but it also poses a threat to digital sovereignty. Promoting capacity building is an important means to face this challenge.

In this context, the relevance of binding and non-binding legal frameworks was stressed by several speakers. Mr Abdul-Hakeem Ajijola (Commissioner, Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace) explained that norms set clear expectations of what is responsible behaviour in cyberspace. According to him, Africa needs cyber diplomats to ensure that priorities and perspectives from the continent are reflected in international discussions. Africa needs to take part in shaping non-binding norms, as they usually evolve into binding law. Ms Nnenna Ifeanyi-Ajufo (Senior lecturer of law and technology at the Hilary Rodham Clinton School of Law, Swansea University, United Kingdom) stressed the importance of promoting the ratification of the Malabo Convention. When the convention enters into force, the continent will have a unified approach to cybersecurity and data protection, which is an outstanding precondition for achieving a continental single market.

The importance of data to promote economic development was emphasised by Mr Vladmir Radunovic (Director of Cybersecurity and e-diplomacy programmes, DiploFoundation). Data should not be exported as a raw material, but be used to create opportunities within Africa. He also made reference to some looming threats, such as the multiplication of vulnerabilities, the growth of access to cyber armaments, and the increasing number of battles over technical standards for, for example, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, 5G, and Internet protocols.

With the digitalisation of the whole economy, a transversal approach to building trust is necessary, moving beyond a security-centric perspective and putting individuals and human rights at the centre. This can be done only through collaboration within the continent, so Africa can engage in international regulation discussions with a co-ordinated approach.