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The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (AfDec) is a Pan-African initiative to promote human rights standards and principles of openness in internet policy formulation and implementation on the continent. APC with AfDec Coalition members called on authors from the region to develop a series of reports on the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa and human rights. These 19 reports examine how the pandemic scenario has affected the internet and human rights in Africa in regard to education, surveillance, data protection and privacy, gender, information and communications technology (ICT) policy and practice, access and governance.

Below is a compilation of summaries of the papers, which are available for download on the AfDec website.

Digital-shy Zimbabwe’s schools feel the brunt of COVID-19

by Kenneth Matimaire

COVID-19 has exposed how citizens become vulnerable when governments do not protect and promote human rights online. Zimbabwe is a typical example where there is a debate taking place over the need for the government to set up human and financial resources to address affordability, access and availability of infrastructure, devices, internet and content to aid e-learning. Schools are now conducting classes over WhatsApp and other social media platforms, and without internet or reliable internet access, many students are unable to attend classes. This report exposes that COVID-19 has re-awakened the debate on the importance of the internet, a topic that has not been prioritised in Zimbabwe.

Compulsory e-learning in Namibia’s public schools: A commendable idea marred by the digital divide?

by Nashilongo Gervasius

This paper examines what Namibia needs to implement to provide education during COVID-19. Due to the pandemic, the already fragile Namibian education system was forced into a position it never imagined. For Namibia to provide quality e-learning, it needs timely policies, accompanied by budget allocations, clear guidelines and investment in ICT infrastructure. This report shows that while implementation of e-learning countrywide was driven by the COVID-19 emergency, it reveals serious discriminatory elements for those not connected to and unable to afford the internet, and has interfered with the rights to development and access to knowledge, principles set out in the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms.

Surveillance, data protection and privacy
Mask or muzzle: The impact of COVID-19 measures on digital rights in Kenya

by Francis Monyango

When COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Kenya, the government swung into action by enacting various pieces of legislation and measures. Although these measures were well intended, the way in which existing laws in Kenya have been interpreted during the pandemic has impacted civil rights and liberties in the digital sphere. While some measures have been positive, others have exposed the government’s surveillance capabilities and intentions. National policy makers need to proactively lead the narrative on all communications, follow the law, and engage members of the public when legislating, to ensure the government gets full support from their citizens for any measures adopted to confront COVID-19.

Data protection in the age of technology-based disease surveillance

by Amanda Manyame

This paper examines the adequacy of the COVID-19 regulations enacted in South Africa as they pertain to the protection of personal and health data being collected in an attempt to curb the spread of the disease. During the pandemic, South Africa has been collecting large amounts of personal data using various methods, from the physical collection of data to the use of technology-based disease surveillance measures. To minimise the negative impact on data privacy, data protection regulations are essential to assure transparency, accountability, confidentiality and security for the ways personal data is being used to curb the spread of COVID-19. This paper concludes with recommendations on what is needed to minimise the negative impact on data privacy using the principles of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms.

Data protection in Africa and the COVID-19 pandemic: Old problems, new challenges and multistakeholder solutions

by Tomiwa Ilori

This paper examines the status of data protection in Africa and the impact of public emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic on data protection in Africa in both international and national contexts. It specifically examines Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa and Mauritius and concludes that the status of data protection in Africa is inadequate. These inadequacies have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, thereby increasing calls for privacy reforms in Africa. In order to correct these issues while also planning for future dynamics like the COVID-19 pandemic, solutions such as legislative reforms, fiscal viability and multistakeholder partnerships are proffered. What stands out prominently in the paper is how inadequate the data protection landscape is in Africa and how the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate the existing gaps and put data protection rights in danger.

Privacy and the pandemic: An African response

by Gabriella Razzano

Looking at South Africa as an example, this report uses human rights frameworks to demonstrate how both privacy and access to information can serve to provide the nuance needed in assessing local contact tracing. This report finds that human rights provide an essential frame for considering contact tracing initiatives in the African context and offers specific recommendations for the promotion of new contact tracing interventions. The jurisprudential tools that arise from human rights discourse provide a powerful tool for ensuring human-centred concerns are emphasised within rapidly emerging contexts and give a particular focus for interpreting the African experience.

Can the social contract theory justify data rights violations? A review of South Africa's contact tracing regulations

by Rumbidzai Matamba and Chenai Chair

COVID-19 has resulted in a need for solutions to “flatten the curve”, including lockdowns and digital solutions such as contact tracing. The latter raises questions on the balance of privacy rights with the need for public health data. This essay explores the use of the South African government’s contact tracing initiatives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and some public perceptions on these initiatives to assess whether the social contract theory can be employed as a tool to justify privacy violations for public health. The main premise this essay seeks to answer is whether an adage of Hobbes’ social contract theory – that people are willing to give up certain rights and live according to a moral code if the remainder of their rights are guaranteed – can be used to justify the violation of online privacy rights. 

Reflections on COVID-19 policy responses in Uganda and the relevance of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms for promoting women’s rights online

by Amuku Isaac

This paper looks at the gender digital divide during the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda, where many women cannot afford to access and use the internet on a regular basis due to high costs and, in some places, poor internet connectivity. Women in Uganda are also experiencing more online threats and attacks from men for expressing their views online during the pandemic, which undermines their opportunities to enjoy their full rights online. This paper shows that women and girls who have access to the internet are using the internet more than ever before to access information about the pandemic. However, this does not translate to gender digital equality in Uganda as the majority of women and girls do not have access to reliable internet in their homes or work.  

Tackling gender-based cyber violence against women and girls in Malawi amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

by Donald Flywell Malanga

This paper examines online gender-based violence in Malawi; it looks at the motivations for gender-based violence and how women and girls respond. During the COVID-19 pandemic, economic and social stresses have deepened, coupled with restrictions on movement and social isolation measures. During this period, more women and girls rely on the internet, mobile phones, social media and other digital platforms for sharing information. However, these technologies have also become a weapon to use against them, as reflected in an exponential increase in online gender-based violence against women and girls. The findings from this report have implications for the role of government, civil society, academia and technology companies in tackling gender-based cyber violence during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women face internet access challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda

by Peace Oliver Amuge and Sandra Aceng

This report analyses the challenge of internet access faced by women and other marginalised groups such as persons with disabilities in Uganda during COVID-19. It examines how limited or no access to the internet affects women’s digital human rights in the context of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms. This report examines existing information and communications technology in the context of internet policy gaps and COVID-19 national response strategies. Finally, the report makes meaningful recommendations to ensure a gender-inclusive response with a special focus on women and other marginalised groups during and after the pandemic.

The gender digital divide and COVID-19: Towards feminist internet regulations in southern Africa

by Tina Power

This paper highlights that certain conditions have aligned to present a unique opportunity to recalibrate existing efforts, shift narratives and develop new standards that can enable and reflect genuine equality and inclusion on the internet. While the COVID-19 context presents innumerable challenges, it has sparked important conversations around online spaces and digital rights, and within this crisis, there are opportunities for the Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPIs) and the principles established in the African Declaration to be realised. This paper suggests that now, more than ever, is the time to ensure that we have a feminist internet, and concludes with recommendations on suggested requirements for feminist ICT regulations.

ICT policy and practice
COVID-19 exposes the damage of the ex-regime’s empowerment policy on ICTs and the impact of US sanctions against Sudan

by Wala Mohammed

In Sudan the internet has never reached all areas of the country; this year only 13.38 million out of the total population of 43 million are internet users. During the COVID-19 pandemic the government ordered an inter-state public transportation halt and a country-wide curfew, creating even more disconnection. During this lockdown women have been most isolated because of the gender digital divide. This paper examines why women are the most affected by the lockdown, the impact of the ex-regimes empowerment policy on internet rights and development in the context of the current COVID-19 crisis, and how US sanctions have affected the response to the pandemic.

A provisional analysis of the impact of telecommunications policy and regulatory frameworks in Africa and COVID-19: A community networks perspective

by Josephine Miliza

COVID-19 is a wakeup call on the importance of universal access for all. The way African nationals have responded to the pandemic on both a national and regional level has impacted human rights online, as regional state and non-state actors are predominantly viewing the pandemic through a clinical lens. In addition, responses have been primarily state-centred, which has resulted in a widening of the digital divide and the violation of digital rights. During COVID-19 the digital divide has become more apparent with the shift to online spaces for work and education. The paper discusses the importance of a bottom-up approach to fighting the pandemic and the role of communities and community-based organisations such as community networks, radios and health centres to address the digital divide.

Digital divisions: COVID-19 policy and practice and the digital divide in Africa

by Charley Lewis

This paper focuses on how policy makers, regulators and service providers responded to COVID-19. The focus is on the ICT sector, specifically, telecoms and the internet. It examines various ICT sector-specific measures taken during COVID-19, ranging from public service messaging, temporary spectrum assignment and zero-rating of educational and health websites, to those actions intended to make access and services more affordable. The paper also examines how fake news has affected COVID-19 information and how to deal with the sudden surge in demand for data, covering multiple topics in the context of the digital divide and the fundamental right to internet access.

Access and governance
The shrinking of the digital space during the COVID-19 pandemic: Movement building and internet governance in North Africa

by Sodfa Daaji and Rim Menia

This paper examines how COVID-19 has affected movement building in the region as offline activism has been forced to move online. In Northern Africa – namely Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Western Sahara, Egypt, Libya and Mauritania – the analysis of the sphere of movement building and internet governance leads inevitably to assess the shrinking of digital space and online mobilisation during the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. The preventive measures due to COVID-19 are overturning, more than ever, the popular digital efforts aimed at maintaining the movements’ continuum and momentum.

"The forgotten constituency": Making a case for digital rights for prisoners in Zimbabwe during and beyond COVID-19

by David Makwerere

This paper tackles the largely unexplored (at least in the Zimbabwean context) subject of digital rights for prisoners. The COVID-19 pandemic saw the proclamation by the government of Zimbabwe to limit visits to public spaces like hospitals, banks, colleges and prisons. For prisoners, it means very limited interaction, if any, with the rest of the world. Against this backdrop, this paper engages with the question of digital rights for prisoners and how these can play a part in keeping prisoners connected to the rest of the world, while also providing them with necessary social, technological and economic skills for post-prison life.