September 2020

Updates
Africans call for global fiscal reform at UNGA in response to COVID-19 

Speakers at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) have called for financial assistance from multilateral institutions in order to rebuild economies following the COVID-19 pandemic. The session, which took place virtually, was addressed by 33 heads of state and governments.  Many leaders called for the cancellation of African countries debts to enable redirection of meagre resources to tackle poverty. Several leaders including Guinea and Niger presidents referenced the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfFTA) and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda as frameworks through which social and financial inclusion could be achieved. 

 

African countries celebrate identity day

Many African countries celebrated identity day on 16 September to coincide with sustainable development goal (SDG) 16.9 that aspires that everyone has a legal identity by 2030. Identity day is a campaign by the coalition ID4D Africa and it is supported by several African states and private companies. Nigeria became the first country in the region to have an official national identity day, and announced plans to enrol internally displaced persons into the national digital identity programme. Biometric updates reported that at least 10 countries, including the Central African Republic, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Lesotho, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, and Uganda held commemorations. Kenya also announced plans for a second phase of its digital ID programme before the end of the year. 

 

Sep 14: South Africa: Merits and demerits of digital welfare emerge in COVID-19 grants

South African public agencies are increasingly adopting digital technologies for the processing and disbursement of COVID-19 relief grants, following various lockdown measures by the government. For example, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) gave recipients of a COVID-19 grant the option of receiving cash transfers through mobile phones instead of the post office. SASSA also launched an online grant application portal in September. Similarly, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) has an online system for application of temporary employee relief benefits, under a government grant to cushion the unemployed. However, both systems have faced challenges such as beneficiaries being unable to receive benefits due to efficiency challenges with the post office, as well as lax controls on the UIF system, raising audit queries on whether the grant was being accessed by deserving recipients. 

 

South Africa’s social welfare system is one of the most advanced in the continent. However, SASSA has also faced challenges such as fraud and misuse of grant recipient data. 

Human rights groups raise concern over Tanzania elections 

Human rights groups are concerned about the shrinking civic space as Tanzania heads to elections on 28 October 2020. The Human Rights Watch notes that authorities have been cracking down on opposition leaders and civil society groups both online and offline. The government prohibited speech related to the economy or national security issues in August. It has also imposed restrictions on media houses or bloggers discussing COVID-19 or other issues that could destabilise the country. Public interest litigation has also been limited. 

August 2020

Updates
E-mail fraud increases in Rwanda

Statistics from global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, revealed that phishing attacks in Rwanda are increasing, with new tricks such as human resource dismissal and bank services. Detected attacks increased in five African countries; Rwanda, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, and Nigeria within the last three months.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, cybercriminals used more believable excuses to ask for personal information, which are then used in phishing attacks. Vulnerabilities exploited include delivery services, postal services, financial services, and human resources services which were greatly affected by the pandemic.

The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) disclosed that the rate of cybercrimes during the three month lockdown increased by 72% in the amount of money involved.

 

Laptops and Internet connectivity for rural youth in South Africa

South African Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams revealed a programme to empower rural youths with laptops and Internet connectivity. The ministry has partnered with mobile operator MTN, municipalities, and community youth centres to ensure the success of the project.

Ndabeni-Abrahams said she hopes the partnership will increase access to ICTs in rural areas, build capacity around the skills of the future, and contribute to the digital economy. She added that broadband has the potential to transform rural communities, and that very soon online courses will be available to improve skills and livelihoods.

 

One in three women in five countries in Africa experience online gender based violence

A research titled ‘Alternate Realities’ revealed that out of 3000 women aged 18 to 65 from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, and South Africa; 28.2% have experienced online gender based violence (GBV). While 36% reported experiencing sexual harassment, 33.2% reported insults or repeated insults (26.7%). According to the research 71.2% of all incidents of GBV occurred on Facebook, perhaps due to its weak security system and user anonymity.

In responding to GBV, 66% of women blocked the harassers, 14.5% deleted or deactivated their accounts, and 12.2% stopped accessing the Internet. This is an obstacle to the rights of women to be online.

The consulting firm said online harassment laws should be strengthened and law enforcement officers should be trained to provide timely support to victims.

 

Cameroonian student creates mobile app to boost entrepreneurship

A high school student, Mbah Jarvis, launched a mobile app to enable African youths and entrepreneurs to interact with each other and share ideas on new ways of changing the African continent. The app is a version of a platform he created earlier to ease communication between students preparing for final exams.

Jarvis said his two years of absence from school taught him that Cameroon and the entire African continent needs transformation, and this can be achieved by bringing together people who believe in growth and development.

 

 

Uganda’s free wi-fi hotspots at border posts to benefit people in transit

The Uganda Communication Community (UCC) has launched free wi-fi hotspots at border posts of Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, and South Sudan for travelers.

Technical service head of the Rural Communications Development Fund Geoffrey Sengend said that the project will be finished by October 2020 and will improve information access at borders for Coronavirus prevention, while facilitating emergency response for health, security staff, and the local population.

The wi-fi hotspots with a capacity of 5Mbps per user and covering a circle of radius 1 km will be used for business, education, health, agriculture, and leisure.

Expansive wi-fi finder to be rolled out at thousands of hotspots across Africa

Cassava Fintech International (CFI) and Liquid Telecom Group (LTG) have announced the launch of a Sasai wi-fi finder service that will be available in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and South Africa. It will provide affordable connectivity and expand services throughout Africa.

CEO of CFI Darlington Mandivenga said that expansive network of data access points will be provided across Africa through partnerships with broadband providers, Internet service providers (ISPs) and local community hubs.

The wi-fi finder will increase connectivity in locations of retail, healthcare, education, government, and small business trade facilities while the Sasai super app will provide social entertainment and on demand services.

 

TelOne commissions new fibre optic link to connect Zimbabwe and Zambia

Zimbabwean cable and telecommunications provider TelOne has commissioned a fibre link connecting Zimbabwe to Zambia and beyond.

TelOne Managing Director Chipo Mtasa said that the fibre link cost US$1.5 million and has a capacity to handle both domestic and transit traffic to Zambia and beyond. The link was constructed by local contractors and technically implemented by TelOne engineers.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of ICT Jenfan Muswere said that the project employed 850 people and the link completely connects Zimbabwe to its neighbours South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zambia.

 

June 2020

Updates
Zimbabwe bans mobile money platforms and stock exchange

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) banned all mobile money transactions as well as trade on the local stock exchange in a bid to slow down the country’s declining currency. Zimbabwe has been struggling with its monetary policy since the 2000s when the United States of America and others imposed trade sanctions. The country banned the use of foreign currencies in 2019 when it reintroduced the Zimdollar.

Mobile money is a commonly used means of payment, with mobile transactions accounting for 84.8% of transaction volumes in 2019. Local company Econet Wireless, which has over 10 million subscribers, stated that it would consult with the government over the measures. Panapress reports that RBZ has since loosened the ban and allowed limited payments for utilities like water and power of up to 5000 Zimdollars.

High hopes as Malawi holds historic election and peaceful handover of power

Malawians are hopeful for the restoration of democracy after the country became the first in Africa to hold a peaceful presidential re-election and hand over power to the opposition. The country’s 2019 presidential election was annulled by the constitutional court in February this year, after the court found that there was tampering with the votes in the transmission of results over the Internet. Moreover, there was a partial Internet shutdown prior to the election. The re-election was peaceful, with the Internet remaining on. The new president was sworn into office on 28 June in a ceremony that was streamed online.

South Africa announces commencement date for parts of privacy law

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that sections 2 to 38; 55 to 109; 111; and  114 (1), (2) and (3) of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) would commence on 1 July 2020. POPI was enacted in 2013, but most of its provisions did not come into effect immediately. The provisions coming into effect will regulate the lawful processing of data and the general enforcement of the Act. They will require issuance of codes of conduct by the information regulator.

The president has directed the South African Human Rights Commission to hand over all functions related to the oversight of data protection to the information regulator by 30 June 2021.

ECOWAS Court fines Togo for Internet shutdowns

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice has fined Togo US$3400 after ruling that Togo’s Internet shutdowns were illegal and an affront to its citizens’ right to freedom of expression. This follows a petition filed by Amnesty International citing government ordered Internet shutdowns on several dates in 2017. The petition was supported by civil society organisations working in Africa, some of which filed briefs as friends of the court.

The ruling sets an important precedent for the region where there has been a rise in government ordered Internet shutdowns.

AfDEC calls for a more equitable Internet following COVID-19

The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (AfDEC), an advocacy coalition on digital rights in Africa, has issued a position paper on the Internet in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The paper calls for a more equitable Internet, pointing out policies and laws that many African governments need to change in order to facilitate Internet access for all. According to the paper, ‘there is a need for a stronger campaign against consumer-facing taxes on data and internet services, which have had long-standing effects of in-creasing connectivity costs for consumers, a scenario likely to worsen during the pandemic. Tax and licensing regimes of note in the region include the social media tax in Uganda, and licensing fees for bloggers and other online content producers in Tanzania and Kenya'.

AfDEC has also raised concerns over growing trends during COVID-19, such as limiting the freedom and access of information; censorship; and the violations of the right to privacy with a ‘lack of transparency by governments and telecommunications companies in the sharing of information for contact tracing and distribution of aid and relief funds’.

Zambia ratifies AU Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection

Zambia’s cabinet has ratified the African Union (AU) Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection – also known as the Malabo convention, which requires 15 ratifications to come into force. The convention harmonises cyber-laws in Africa and creates avenues for cross-border cooperation. Zambia is the sixth state to ratify the convention, which was adopted in 2014. The last country to deposit an instrument of ratification with the AU, was Rwanda in June 2019.

May 2020

Updates
Burundi government shuts down popular social media platforms

On 20 May 2020, Burundi shut down popular social media platforms WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, as well as Yahoo! Mail due to fear of violence during and after the presidential and legislative elections taking place that day. Less popular platforms in Burundi such as YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter remained operational.

There was no official statement from the government, but Willy Nyamitwe, the president’s communication advisor, stated in a tweet that contrary to rumours, the Internet was not shut down.

The elections took place amid the Coronavirus pandemic with no social distancing at the polling stations; however, voters were obliged to wash their hands before voting.

Intelsat partners with Mindset Networks to extend educational coverage in Africa

Intelsat, the operator of the world’s largest integrated satellite and terrestrial network, is partnering with Mindset Network NPC, which offers educational materials across Africa, to help students, teachers, and healthcare professionals benefit from free educational television and online content. Almost 300 million African students are affected by COVID-19 as schools are being closed.

The Regional VP for Africa at Intelsat, Brian Jakins, said that they will continue to deliver the Mindset educational resources to students in Africa, while the CEO of Mindset, Dylan Green, said that they were grateful to Intelsat for assisting their mission.

Global and African countries partner to deploy 2Africa

On 14 May 2020, China Mobile International, Facebook, MTN Globalconnect, Orange, stc, Telecom Egypt, Vodafone, and WIOCC announced their intention to build 2Africa - one of the largest global subsea projects linking 23 African countries, the Middle East, and Europe.

The partners chose Alcatel Submarine Network (ASN) to build the 37 000 km long cable, with landings in 16 African countries. With a capacity of 180 Tbps on key parts of its system, 2Africa has more than the combined capacity of all the submarine cables serving Africa today, and uses SDM1 technology which supports 16 fibres instead of 8.

The President of ASN, Alain Biston, said that they were honoured to have been chosen for a project which will help push Africa into the digital age.

Alphabet Loon and Vodacom partner to increase rural Internet access in Mozambique

On 13 May 2020, Alphabet Loon and Vodacom signed an agreement that Loon’s balloon powered Internet solution will be used to expand Vodacom’s network to inaccessible areas using a network of cell phone towers floating at 20km above the Earth. The technology will enable under-populated and geographically challenging areas such as the Cabo Delgado and Niassa provinces gain access to 4G mobile networks.

Vodacom Group CEO, Shameel Josub, said that the partnership is an example of how new technology can help bridge the digital divide in Africa. Loon’s CEO, Alastaire Westgarth, said that they were happy with the partnership which is a step towards serving more African users.

Rwanda deploys robots in treating COVID-19 patients

Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Daniel Ngamije, disclosed on 8 May that CRURZ robots will soon be used to treat COVID-19 patients in order to reduce human contact. The robots will be used to measure a patient’s vitals such as temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen levels and report them to the doctors and nurses. Ngamije added that one robot can take the temperature of up to 200 patients per minute, and can connect the patient to talk with a doctor by video conference upon request.

The robots which are produced by the Kigali based Belgian robotic tech firm, Zorabots, will be used throughout the pandemic.

MTN Zambia partners universities to give access to online learning platforms

Copperbelt, Mulungushi, and the University of Zambia are three universities that have formed a partnership with the help of MTN Zambia to provide free access to e-learning platforms. According to MTN Zambia, the platform will help students learn from home for free, especially during COVID-19.

The CEO of MTN Zambia, Bart Hofker, said that they will do everything to support customers who are currently studying from home, and Chief Marketing Officer of MTN Zambia, Seun Soladoye, said that they hope the platform will improve the quality of education by occupying students as COVID-19 prevails

Money transfer group Mukuru acquires fintech Zoona’s assets in Malawi

On 5 May, African based international money operator and remittance, Mukuru, confirmed their purchase of Zoona’s operational and technological assets in Malawi. Zoona is an African based fintech company that helps entrepreneurs bring reliable financial services to underserved communities in Malawi and elsewhere.

Mukuru CEO, Andy Jury, said that the acquisition will widen Mukuru’s African footprint into urban and rural areas in Malawi, giving citizens better and safer means of sending money to loved ones.

Agents will benefit from being part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC); increasing their regional exposure and eventually increasing their earnings.

Nigerian senate asks the federal government to suspend the deployment of 5G networks

On 5 May 2020, the senate requested that the federal government suspend the deployment of 5G networks in Nigeria due to growing concerns by scientists and medical experts on the health impact of 5G emissions.

Senator Uche Ekwunife who sponsored the motion said that 5G networks should be investigated in order to protect the citizens of Nigeria from possible health risks.

The senate requested that the concerned committee investigate the impact of the network and report to the plenary in two weeks, while the red chambers asked the ICT supervisory agency to suspend 5G deployment until it is proven safe.

Nigerian start-up Farmcrowdy joins the e-commerce space

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis which is pushing more business operations online, Nigerian agric-tech start-up, Farmcrowdy, has launched an e-commerce platform called Farmcrowdy Foods. The one stop digital market platform gives customers access to quality affordable food at home.

Farmcrowdy which started in 2016 as a platform to connect small scale farmers to customers has empowered over 25 000 farmers, before innovating to Farmcrowdy Foods which enables clients to buy food online. 

Liquid Telecom Zambia installs free Wi-Fi at COVID-19 quarantine centres

Liquid Telecom is helping the Ministry of Public Health in Zambia by enabling free Internet connectivity at COVID-19 quarantine centres, allowing patients and healthcare workers to stay connected to their relatives. Their hope is that this will reduce the feeling of anxiety and isolation amongst the patients, while helping the staff to exchange important data over the network.