This has been a question we have been asking ourselves at Rudi International, a question that is highly relevant for other digital rights advocates as well. In the context of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we have found it useful to have members of parliament (MPs) kept abreast of conversations on digital rights and to recruit them as strategic allies.
Our strategy has mainly been to keep the MPs informed on developments in the digital rights ecosystem on a local, national and international level and to attract their interest on these matters with the hope of counting them as strong allies and advocates.
In the DRC as in other countries, MPs are the ones passing laws and regulations and they also monitor the work of the government, its actions, or inactions. Advocacy, which is an important part of our work, is primarily influencing decision-making processes in the country and MPs can play an important role in a country with few ICT related legislations.
In late 2019, we were able to get an MP invited to attend some digital rights events to help him enrich his own perspectives, question some of his views, and understand why digital rights matter. With time, we have seen some positive outcomes and our hope is that our experience can serve other digital advocates across Africa.
Mr. Safari Ayobangira is a telecommunications engineer who has been elected twice to the DRC Parliament, making him a valuable ally. Before he joined Parliament, he worked as a manager for a telecommunications company in East Africa. He reached out to us, showed interest in the work we are doing in digital rights, and wanted to learn more about how he can support our vision.
MPs need to be in touch with the community in order to understand the issues, receive inputs, and then work with community experts to channel their issues in Parliament. The beauty of the process is they will have this count as their parliamentarian action. That’s the only way for them to become more popular and show citizens they are active enough to earn their vote next time.
By engaging with these MPs, they help us with our advocacy work and we help them by providing data on real issues they can stand for in parliament. Our research work often benefits from their perspectives and inputs, as they use our findings to inform their parliamentarian activities.
Together at FIFAfrica 2019 in Addis Ababa
In September 2019, we got the Honorable Safari invited to CIPESA’s Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was important for us to give him the opportunity to attend an important international meeting on African issues and have him engage in conversations to learn about the way other countries deal with issues of Internet freedom in their own context. On the sidelines of the forum, we introduced him to relevant stakeholders attending the event and gave him the opportunity to sharpen his own arguments on the relevance of digital rights debates.
Rudi International was represented at the event by our executive director, Arsene Tungali, and our ICT programmes manager, Blaise Ndola, whose participation was funded through the APC Member Exchange and Travel Fund (METF).
Attending HakiConf 2019 in Goma
A month later in November, we invited the Honorable Safari to our annual Conference on Human Rights in the Digital Age in the DRC (HakiConf 2019) that took place in Goma. He traveled from Kinshasa and sat on the panel titled “Access, quality, interruption of (tele)communication services in the DRC: Between government action and user’s inaction“. It was a good opportunity for him to share his perspectives on the topic and be challenged by the views of other panelists and questions from the audience. HakiConf is proud to count APC among its financial supporters since the first HakiConf in 2018.
At the IGF 2019 in Berlin
Also in November, with help from Rudi International, Honorable Safari was invited to the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF 2019) in Berlin. Arsene Tungali is a member of the IGF MAG and he suggested the Honorable Safari’s participation alongside other MPs from around the world. This was yet another opportunity for the Honorable Safari to attend a global event, to face different rhetoric, and sharpen his own arguments on these processes. He was invited to sit on a high-level panel on “Governance Challenges in the Digital Age: Finding New Tools for Policy-Making” and took part in the other activities hosted by the German parliament, for MPs attending the IGF.
Back in the country
Since then, we have seen other MPs advocating for issues related to access to the Internet in the DRC as more and more citizens are publicly denouncing any kind of violation against their right to access the Internet and other telecoms services. The most recent example is when Airtel DRC, the second-largest telecommunications operator by the number of subscribers, increased the cost of 1Gb of data from USD 1 to USD 1,5, however, Airtel was encouraging its clients to access it for USD 1 through its mobile app instead. Citizens protested this change, as many were wondering how people could download the app if they are not yet connected.
In the middle of this appraisal, on 7 July 2020, the Honorable Josue Mufula also stood on the side of citizens by asking that the ICT minister and the telecoms regulator, through a letter, provide explanations.
Back in June 2018, Rudi held a workshop to produce recommendations to the DRC Senate on the draft Telecoms and ICT law. The Honorable Josue Mufula helped us submit our advocacy document to the Senate’s Infrastructure Committee in Kinshasa. At that time, he was not an MP but was a strong supporter of our work. Now that he sits in Parliament, we look forward to more collaboration with him and other members of parliament.
We believe good collaboration between digital rights advocates and policy makers is beneficial for both parties and should be considered as a viable option in other African countries.