Regional updates: Africa

What were the main digital policy regional updates in Africa? This space brings you the main updates month by month, summarised by the observatory's curators.

January 2019

Curated by 

Grace Mutung'u

Kenyans protest against New York Times photo

16 Jan 2019 | 

Other human rights, Copyright, , Freedom of expression

Kenyans protested against a photo showing dead bodies that was published on the New York Times website following a terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Dusit complex earlier this month. Several Kenyans complained about the photo which was prominently published on the newspaper's website and Twitter account. This led to an explanation by the paper about its editorial policies as well as a suspension of their photo account by Twitter. However, the picture was maintained and subsequently, a complaint was lodged with the media regulator, Media Council of Kenya.

Zimbabwe High Court Orders restoration of the Internet

21 Jan 2019 | 

Other human rights, , Freedom of expression

On 21 January, the High Court of Zimbabwe ordered the government to restore full Internet in the country. The government had ordered blacking out of social media services following countrywide protests over a hike in fuel prices. Local NGO Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) who sued the government together with Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights reported that the court had ruled that the Minister of State for National Security did not have authority to issue directives under the country’s Interception of Communications Act. During the reign of former President Robert Mugabe who was ousted in November 2017, Zimbabwe had periodically shut down the Internet when there were political protests.

Uganda to develop regulations on artistic content

22 Jan 2019 | 

Freedom of expression, Other human rights

The government of Uganda is preparing regulations for vetting songs prior to their public release. Uganda’s Minister for Gender, Labour, and Social Development Peace Mutuuzo told Reuters that the new regulations had received cabinet approval and were expected to be passed by March. The regulations are viewed by critics as a response to the growing popularity of the musician-cum-opposition politician Bobi Wine who has a large following among urban youth. Under the regulations, lewd and offensive content is outlawed and artists will have to seek permission prior to performing outside the country. This has created debate on how sharing and curation of online content will be regulated. Uganda’s proposed rules are similar to Tanzania where BASATA, the country’s arts regulatory board enforces online and offline performance controls.

Chad: Activists mark 300 days of Internet shutdown

22 Jan 2019 | 

Other human rights, Freedom of expression

Digital rights groups such as the Paradigm Initiative and Internet Sans Frontières (ISF) marked 300 days of a social media blackout in Chad on 22 January. The disruption has been in force following protests after a national constitutional conference resolved that 66 year old President Idris Déby would rule the country until 2033. The rights groups wrote letters to the president and the African Union urging for restoration of the Internet and upholding of human rights. They also held protests online and in N’Djaména to call attention to Africa’s longest Internet shutdown.

Uganda: Teleco officers deported amid licence renewal application

23 Jan 2019 | 

Telecommunications infrastructure

Uganda has deported three senior officials of mobile network operator MTN in unclear circumstances. Olivier Prentout, French, Annie Bilenge Tabura, Rwandese, and Elza Muzzolini, Italian were all deported in January for what the police termed as 'national security investigations'. Uganda has previously raised concerns about MTN’s foreign ownership. After being in the country for about 20 years, MTN is operating on an interim licence after its licence expired last year. At the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, MTN CEO met with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni. The president tweeted that the company should be listed in the Uganda Stock Exchange so that Ugandans could also own it.

Uganda deported three senior officials of mobile network operator MTN in unclear circumstances. Olivier Prentout- a French national, Annie Bilenge Tabura, Rwandese, and, Elza Muzzolini an Italian were deported within the month of January for what the po

23 Jan 2019 | 

An announcement by the government of Cameroon on its plans to set up an innovation hub in Yaoundé is stirring opposition from English speaking areas. The new hub is similar to what has come to be known as Silicon Mountain in the English speaking region of Buea. Recent tensions between the French and English speaking regions resulted in an Internet shutdown in English speaking regions which lasted over 200 days and a near collapse of Silicon Mountain. Innovation hubs have taken root up in many African cities in recent years and are increasingly funded by governments. The government of Cameroon proposes to spend a large poortion of its scientific, research and innovation budget to support young Cameroonian software developers in the new hub.

Kenya: Digital ID project raises questions

28 Jan 2019 | 

Privacy and data protection, ,

Following an enactment of amendment laws to facilitate digital identificiation in Kenya, questions are being raised about the project. Local consumer group Cofek asked in a blog post why the project was being implemented as a restricted tender. They argued that the project procurement should be made open so as to give the public an idea on how their biometric data would be collected and secured. Other groups also raised concerns about data protection in the new system which is expected to collect not only biometric data but also digital DNA as well as GPS data of all Kenyans and residents.

December 2018

Curated by 

Foncham Denis Doh

African-made smartphone to go operational in 2019

7 Dec 2018 | 

Access, Telecommunications infrastructure, Economic - other issues

Africans and others will soon be able to own smartphones made in Africa. This was disclosed at the African Investment Forum in Johannesburg by Ashish Thakkar, founder of the Mara co-operation, while presenting a prototype of the phone to over 1000 financial institutions attending the forum. He regretted that none of the 400 million smartphones used in Africa is produced on the continent, making Africans consumers and not value creators.

Liquid Telecom Partners with Code for Africa (CfA) to map deadly air pollution in Kenya

13 Dec 2018 | 

Internet of Things (IoT), Convergence

Following a warning that air pollution kills more than 20 000 Kenyans each year, a pilot exercise in Nairobi,  with 60 air sensors controlled by the CfA, a nonprofit technology network, confirmed high pollution in the city. As a solution, Liquid Telecom has partnered with CfA to install air quality sensors at 3000 sites in Kenya.

The sensors, which will be mounted on Liquid Telecom’s towers and powered by the company’s Internet of Things (IoT) Low Power Wide Area Network, will provide information on the levels of airborne pollutants every 2.5 minutes.

South Africa to regulate cryptocurrency operations

14 Dec 2018 | 

E-Money and virtual currencies, Economic - other issues

Unlike some other African countries that are against cryptocurrency, South Africa is embrasing the innovation and its authorities are gathering suggestions for cryptocurrency regulation. The outdated National Payment System Act 78 from 1998 will be updated to cover unregulated areas which have emerged with digital financial technology.

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) and the National Treasury will receive comments until February 2019, despite arguments presented by SARB that regulation of cryptocurrency may affect growth and innovation of the industry.

UNICEF and Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) launch Internet of Good Things (IoGT)

14 Dec 2018 | 

Online education, Internet of Things (IoT), Convergence

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) partnered with Telekom Networks Malawi (TNM) to create a social media platform called Internet of Good Things (IoGT) which provides free information on life related issues in Malawi. This tool will work together with the U-report, an opinion pooling system for young people, developed earlier this year.


Andrew Brown, UNICEF Chief of Communications, Advocacy and Partnership said TNM users with a smartphone will have access to information on maternal health, HIV and sexual health, education, hygiene and emergency information.

November 2018

Curated by 

Grace Mutung'u

African group supports regulation of over-the-top services at ITU plenipot

6 Nov 2018 | 

Convergence, Telecommunications infrastructure

The African regional group under the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) proposed a resolution on the regulation of over-the-top services during the recently concluded Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). African countries such as Uganda, Zambia, and Benin have implemented social media taxes to protect local companies from competition posed by Internet telephony and social media services. In line with the resolution, Kenya is exploring the regulation of the services. Other issues where the African group had a common position during the plenipotentiary were cybersecurity, Internet governance, counterfeit devices and the Internet of Things.

Africa IGF MAG announced

9 Nov 2018 | 

Capacity development

The formation of the 2019 African IGF Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (AfIGF-MAG) was announced at the conclusion of the 2018 African IGF in Khartoum, Sudan. The group, which is tasked with developing the programme for next year’s regional meeting, comprises of sub-regional IGF organisers, government representatives and youth. The African IGF is convened by the African Union Commission with the support of partners such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Internet Society (ISOC). Other discussions during the African IGF featured Africa’s position on the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation,  community networks as an alternative to connecting the unconnected, and supporting African Internet governance institutions such as AFRINIC.

Uganda Internet shutdown case adjourned to February 2019

12 Nov 2018 | 

Other human rights, Freedom of expression

A case protesting Internet shutdowns in Uganda during the 2016 elections has been adjourned until 25 February 2019. According to Unwanted Witness, the petitioner, the case failed to kick-off because the judge was indisposed. The shutdowns occurred in February and May 2016 during the presidential election and subsequent swearing in of the president. The disruptions also affected mobile money services, and Unwanted Witness is seeking a declaration that the shutdowns abrogated Ugandans’ rights to access to information, freedom of expression, and participation among other rights.

How are social media taxes implemented?

10 Dec 2018 | 

Economic - other issues, Other human rights, Freedom of expression

Earlier this year, the government of Uganda introduced social media taxes where users are required to pay a daily fee before accessing social media sites. A report by the Open Observatory of Network Interferences (OONI) reveals that these taxes are implemented through various blocking methods. These include HTTP blocking and resetting connections on banned sites as well as TCP/IP blocking of banned sites. The report also notes a variation in the blocking across different Internet service providers (ISPs). In addition, some mobile network operators block the use of virtual private networks (VPNs).

Journalists narrate detention ordeal

13 Nov 2018 | 

Other human rights, , Freedom of expression

Two officers of the Committee to Protect Journalists narrated their experience during their detention by Tanzanian authorities. The pair were arrested by immigration officers and questioned over their activities in the country. They were visiting Tanzania on a fact-finding mission and had interviewed journalists facing charges under new cyber laws. They were later released after the intervention of South African and Kenyan embassies in Tanzania.

First data protection summit in Africa calls for harmonisation of laws

19 Nov 2018 | 

Other human rights, Privacy and data protection, Economic - other issues

Mauritius hosted the inaugural Data Protection Africa Summit from 19-23 November 2018. The topics covered at the summit included the data policy gaps in Africa, the application of artificial intelligence on the continent, as well the implementation of digital IDs on the continent. The issue of data localisation, where some argue for data to remain within countries to support local data economies, was widely discussed. On the other hand, others called for the open flow of data within the continent to support Africa’s single market economy.

Child online protection charter launched in Kenya

21 Nov 2018 | 

Child safety online,

Kenyan mobile network operators (MNOs) - Airtel Kenya, Jamil Telecommunications, Safaricom and Telkom Kenya - have become the first African signatories of the GSMA’s ‘We Care’ child online protection initiative. The MNOs committed to providing a safer online environment for children. They will work with the communications regulator and the ministry of information and communication in educational awareness programmes, integrating children’s rights in their corporate programmes and supporting law enforcement and other stakeholders to tackle child online abuse. The ‘We Care’ initiative was launched in 2014 in Latin America with key focus areas: digital inclusion, child protection, environmental care, disaster response, public safety, and tackling handset theft.

October 2018

Curated by 

Foncham Denis Doh

Digital platform to access genocide archives launched in Rwanda

10 Oct 2018 | 

Global public goods, Online education, Other human rights

The Kigali Genocide Memorial launched an educational online platform, IWitness, with 55 000 testimonies of genocide survivors in the Institute’s Visual History Archive (VHA).

During the launch, Dr Jean-Damascene Gasanabo (Director General of Research and Documentation Center at the National Commission for the fight against Genocide) said that the platform is a 'useful tool to effectively teach young Rwandans about the past. The country wants to teach the young generation about the Genocide to help them prepare for the future. The documented data has videos of first-hand witnesses as well as subtitles. This will help students understand better the history.'

Facebook to deploy optical fiber in Uganda

12 Oct 2018 | 

Telecommunications infrastructure, Access, Digital divide

Facebook signed an agreement with Airtel Uganda and Bandwidth and Cloud Services Group (BGS), for the installation of 800 km of fiber optic in Uganda. Earlier in August this year, Facebook threatened to suspend investments in the country due to a social media tax that was imposed by government.

This agreement initiated by Mr Kojo Boaky (Facebook African Public Policy Manager) was signed in the presence of government representatives  and the CEOs of Airtel and BGS.

The project will provide Internet access to rural communities and backhaul connectivity for 3 million citizens nable future cross-border connectivity to neighbouring countries.

Google maps motorcycle navigation mode comes to Africa

15 Oct 2018 | 

Development - other, Access, Global public goods

The motorcycle mode feature on Google maps, which eases movement by avoiding restricted roads, proposing efficient routes and shortcuts, and indicating accurate arrival times, has been launched in Kenya and made available to over one million motorcyclists.

Google indicated that it also plans to launch the street view service in the country. which will enable citizens and tourists to explore up to 9 500 km of roads.

Nigeria Internet Exchange Point hits 10.000 % traffic growth in five years.

19 Oct 2018 | 

Telecommunications infrastructure, Access

Mr Muhammed Rudman (CEO of the Internet Exchange Point  of Nigeria (IXPN)) stated that in Lagos statistics from 2013-2018 indicate traffic growth on the Internet Exchange Point of Nigeria (IXPN) by 10 000%, with a current value of 110 gigabits. Connections to the IXP of Content Providers such as Facebook, Akamai,China Telecom and Angola cables have contributed to the growth.

Internet operations are now simplified and traffic is localised. Rudman stated that the coming together of local and international players to connect to the IXP is in tandem with Nigeria’s local content quest because about 40% of the Internet traffic being exchanged in the country is presently local occasioned by the Internet Exchange Point.

September 2018

Curated by 

Grace Mutung'u

Deployment of armed US drones in Niger raises concerns

4 Sep 2018 | 

Cyberconflict, Cybersecurity, Other human rights

News that the United States will begin flying armed drones out of a remote base in Niger has raised concerns about human rights violations in the use of combat drones. In periodic reports to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights earlier this year, it was noted that armed American drones had caused death among the civilian population. While acknowledging the resurgence of terrorist groups and organised crime in the region, the Commission called for an impartial independent investigation on the deaths, prosecution of alleged perpetrators of the deaths, and for compensation for the victims of the drone actions and their families.

Kenya introduces telephone and Internet taxes

21 Sep 2018 | 

Taxation, Network neutrality, Access, Freedom of expression, Other human rights

Kenya has introduced a 15% excise tax on Internet services and 20% on mobile money transfers after Parliament passed the Finance Bill 2018. In a memorandum sent to Parliament, President Uhuru Kenyatta wrote ‘Telephone and internet data services shall be charged excise duty at a rate of fifteen percent of their excisable value. Excise duty on fees charged for money transfer services by banks, money transfer agencies and other financial service providers shall be twenty percent of their excisable value’. Moreover, Parliament has scaled back funding for ICT development projects, including the digital literacy programme and last mile electricity. Experts link new taxes to external debt acquired through loans for infrastructural development from China.

Ethiopia shuts down mobile Internet during protests

21 Sep 2018 | 

Freedom of expression, Access, Other human rights

Ethiopia cut access to mobile Internet for two days in the capital Addis Ababa to contain protests and ethnic clashes which left 23 people dead. A press statement by the Committee to Protect Journalists indicates that mobile Internet was unavailable from 17-19 September. Although access through fixed lines was not affected, the majority of Ethiopians access the Internet through mobile phones and could therefore not get online.  Ethiopia had restored Internet freedoms following a change of government in April this year.

Cameroon is urged to uphold digital rights in HRC 39

25 Sep 2018 | 

Freedom of expression, Other human rights, Access

During the 39th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the report for the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) - Cameroon, raised concerns over the effect of Internet shutdowns on the freedom of expression, assembly and association. New Zealand called upon the government of Cameroon to lift restrictions on mobile and Internet services that were not legitimate and in compliance with international human rights laws and standards on the use of force. The United States pointed out that these rights should be respected even when exercised online and called for the protection of the rights of those detained in recent political protests as provided for under both Cameroonian and international law. Internet shutdowns remain a key concern as Cameroon approaches elections in October this year.



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