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This article was originally published as the editorial of Issue Number 2 of Southern Africa Digital Rights, an online digest produced under the project "The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms: Fostering a human rights-centred approach to privacy, data protection and access to the internet in Southern Africa".

Throughout 2023 signs and episodes of shrinking civic space continued to mark the Southern African digital rights landscape.

Perhaps the starkest example of this regionally was the dramatic raid on one of Botswana’s leading newspapers, Mmegi, by state security agents and the arrest and brief detention of two journalists for unspecified reasons. During the arrest the mobile phones and computers of the journalists were confiscated and withheld even after the journalists had been released.

The situation was such a violation that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Africa coordinator, Angela Quintal, stated in response: “It is particularly concerning that the journalists have not received their electronic devices back from authorities, given Botswana’s abuse of digital forensic tools that compromise journalists’ sources.”

This episode of media and digital rights remains largely unresolved and has heightened concerns about a deteriorating human rights environment in a country once regarded as a democratic beacon for the rest of the continent.

The article from Botswana in this edition, by Thapelo Ndlovu, exploring the country’s struggles with implementing data and privacy protections, in the face of the increasing roll-out of e governance systems, reflects on the dark clouds that have gathered over the Botswana digital rights landscape.

The same and similar clouds of concern are gathering over countries across the region – in Namibia a proposed data protection bill fails to adequately provisions for the rights of data subjects; in Eswatini, as in Botswana, free expression and media freedom online are constantly under threat as the state tries to assert its sovereignty; in Malawi the struggles reflect a region-wide grappling with trying to come up with and implement a data and privacy protection framework that speaks to local realities; in Zambia there’s growing unease with the introduction of public surveillance systems that could be undermining of basic human rights in the absence of regulatory safeguards; and in Zimbabwe, which has become emblematic of the threat situation regionally, access to justice digitally is a frontier which has its challenges.

What this edition serves to spotlight is that privacy and data protections remain and will continue to remain areas that regional civil societies have to be seized with going forward. The same with access to internet and telecommunication services.

And what should also not be lost sight of, and which should shine through the articles in this edition, are that activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens face threats and challenges to their privacy, data security and access to digital services and spaces.

It should be clear, that while this edition speaks to contexts across six countries the issues discussed reflect trends and practices playing out across the whole Southern African Development Community (SADC) region to greater or lesser degrees.

Some of these trends and practices are continental as well and are topical in discussions of the state of human rights on the continent. Advocacy efforts around these topics and issues remain substantial and strategically significant.

We invite you to read and engage with the content of this edition of the digest, and to reflect on what is happening against the backdrop of what is unfolding where you are.

Available in this second edition:

Editorial (by Frederico Links)

Botswana showcases e-government's privacy pitfalls (by Thapelo Ndlovu)

Eswatini strives for digital sovereignty amid technological advancements (by Ndimphiwe Shabangu)

Unveiling the landscape: Malawi’s data protection journey and the evolving digital rights terrain (by Moses Kaufa)

Rights watered down in draft privacy and data protection bill in Namibia (by Frederico Links)

Unregulated CCTV in Zambia sparks data privacy concerns (by Mwazi Sakala and Maureen Mulenga)

Zimbabwe’s digital leap falls short in bridging access to justice gaps (by Nompilo Simanje)

Download the full Southern Africa Digital Rights Issue Number 2 here