Three views on the African web
By FD for APCNews
CAIRO, Egypt, 25 October 2012
The 2012 Africa Internet Governance Forum (AfIGF) took place in Cairo on October 3 – 4, 2012. Five hundred participants from all over the continent attended to effectively discuss Africa’s participation in the global internet governance agenda, which will take centre stage in Baku, Azerbaijan in early November. APCNews crossed paths with three participants from Kenya, South Africa and Uganda. Respectively, Grace Githaiga of the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), Towela Nyirenda Jere, manager of the e-Africa programme at NEPAD and Lillian Nalwoga of Ugandan NGO CIPESA kindly agreed to provide quick answers to internet governance questions.
APCNews: Do internet Internet Service Providers – or other intermediaries – in your country block content? If so, under what legal framework do they justify this?
Githaiga: None that I am aware of. However there has been talk that Kenyan ISPs can bring down some sites in good faith, provided there is proof of harmful content on the said websites. For this to happen, the harmful content must be brought to their attention.
Jere: As far as I’m aware ISPs in South Africa do not block content although I have heard of certain websites that are not pro-government being targeted. However, since most of these opposition websites are not hosted locally, it is difficult to implement blocking effectively.
Nalwoga: No, there have been no cases of ISPs blocking content in Uganda. We have only witnessed cases of government directives to ISPs asking them to temporarily block access to certain social media networks. The move was not welcomed by most ISPs.
APCNews: Is freedom of expression on the internet enforced in your country?
Jere: There is currently an e-legislation bill being drafted that will, among other things, regulate freedom of expression on the internet. According to one online Malawian publication, “the e-Bill also introduces government-appointed “cyber inspectors” who will have the power to, among other duties, “monitor and inspect any website or activity on an information system in the public domain and report any unlawful activity to the [Regulatory] Authority.” This has raised concerns in media circles. The bill, it is feared, will hinder rather than enhance freedom of expression online.
APCNews: Is internet access a fundamental human right in your view?
Githaiga: Yes it is, since communication is a basic human need. Internet has become part of our day-to-day communication and ordinary citizens who are thirsty for information also need to be able to access it in terms of affordability.
Jere: In principle, internet access is a fundamental human right, although what this actually means in practice is not very clear. For instance, when one reads the Universal Declaration on the Rights of the Child, it is clear what the rights of the child are and what the responsibilities of the parent and society are at large. When it comes to internet access, I’m not sure that the issue of responsibilities has been clearly spelt out. Insofar as people being allowed to use the internet in a way that is not harmful to themselves, others and the society at large, I would agree that it is a fundamental right.
APCNews: How important are internet rights, more generally, in your country?
Jere: I would say they are important although I think there is general lack of awareness on what people’s rights are and the respective roles and responsibilities of end-users, government, internet service providers, etc
Nalwoga: The internet as we have come to know it today is providing people with means to freely express their opinions, have opportunities to learn and share experiences, acquire new skills and demand change. Internet rights should basically be situated at the backbone of every country’s development programme, since the internet is an enabler for development.
APCNews: What are the specific issues pertaining to Africa when it comes to internet governance?
Jere: My top five list would be access (cost, connectivity, content), cyber-security, privacy and child safety online, a legal/policy/regulatory environment including cross-border regulation, multilingualism and local content.
Nalwoga: As for me, the top four items are affordable access to the internet, cyber security and privacy, domain names system management and internet rights and freedoms.
The interviews were performed by Emilar Vushe, ICT policy advocacy coordinator at the Association for Progressive Communications.
African Internet Governance Forum – AfIGF 2012: http://afigf.uneca.org/AfIGF2012-Cairo.asp