Welcome to the second African Internet Policy & Media Law Roundup compiled by Ephraim Percy Kenyanito. This edition of the roundup explores notable events affecting, or affected by, African internet policies and media laws from May through July 2014. Part one of this series on analysis of notable events affecting, or affected by, African internet policies and media laws is available here.
Strategic plans towards harmonization of ICT policies and regulations in Africa: During the fifth meeting of the heads of the ICT Units at the African Union Commission (AUC), the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD), Regional Economic Communities (RECs), and Associations of Regulators on Harmonization and Coordination of Regional and Continental ICT Programs, Projects and Activities all adopted a strategic plan, the “Continental ICT Strategy for Africa (CISA), for development up to 2024.” The plan emphasized the following areas: post and telecom infrastructure, capacity development, e-applications and services, enabling environment and governance, mobilization of resources and partnerships, industrialization, and research and development.
The month of May also saw the African Telecommunications Union present a draft strategic plan for 2014-2018 to its members. This plan emphasized the promotion of an optical fiber-based system and other infrastructure developments, innovation, and locally-created apps aimed at enhancing economic productivity in agriculture, livestock, and other fields.
Nearly 1/3 of African countries in the bottom 10% of the world rankings in a bi-annual UN E-Government Survey: The UN E-Government Survey assesses levels of digital interactions between the government and citizens, government agencies, government employees, and the private sector. This is important, as E-Government lowers the cost of the provision of services in a transparent government environment. The Survey found that Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Ghana are the only African countries with an open government data portal, a database of government data such as budgets and expense reports that is free to re-use without copyright restrictions. Such portals are important, as they facilitate government transparency and accountability. Kenya was also noted as the only low-income country in the world with a portal that provides a section for web developers to integrate data.
African states working towards common cybersecurity norms and regulations: At a May 12-15, 2014 meeting, experts from the African Union members’ justice ministries undertook a thorough review of the draft African Union Convention on the Confidence and Security in Cyberspace (AUCC). The draft was adopted and scheduled for presentation at the 23rd African Union Summit, June 20-27, 2014 to be held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. The AUCC was adopted as the “African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection.”
Internet freedom threatened by “terrorism” laws in East Africa? On May 23, 2014, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) released a report assessing the state of internet freedom in East Africa. The research highlighted legislation and state actions that limit internet freedom under the guise of fighting terrorism, cybercrime, and hate speech. The report determined these actions to be in contravention of constitutional rights provisions.
African internet users to worry about digital rights, not just access: The third annual Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF), which ran from May 27-28, 2014, held discussions on the state of internet freedom in Africa. Participants highlighted emerging challenges to human rights online across Africa, some of which included: privacy, cybersecurity, and data protection.
Botswana to implement a new five-year plan: The new Botswana Draft National Broadband Strategy (DBNS) aims to improve internet access in rural areas through addressing issues of poor network performance, limited or lacking services, and reliability. More specific priorities include increasing digital literacy and fostering content programs.
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Central African Republic orders telcos to block SMS services: In a letter to mobile service providers sent on June 2, 2014, the Telecommunications Ministry ordered a nationwide shutdown of SMS service. This decision came after SMS was reportedly used to relay a general strike call. The government finally lifted its order on Friday, July 26, 2014.
Plans to privatize Comores Telecom (Comtel) shelved: The Comoros government encountered strong opposition from members of parliament as a result of their initial plans to privatize the country’s incumbent fixed line operator, as recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This plan was part of the Comoros’ initiative to reach the completion point of its Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) external debt relief program, the cost of which amounted to EUR 133 million (USD 174.7 million). The opposition’s argument was based on the fate of Comores Telecom’s more than one thousand employees, as their futures would have hung in the balance had privatization plans continued.
Egypt government to monitor social media? A leaked “call for tenders” document outlines plans by the government to introduce a new system to carry out indiscriminate mass surveillance of social media in Egypt. The targeted websites include Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and possibly mobile phone applications such as WhatsApp, Viber, and Instagram. Government officials defended their surveillance plans, stating that monitoring the internet would counter “terrorism and the spread of information about manufacturing bombs and IEDs, as well as [prevent terrorists from] getting hold of manufacturing materials, electric circuits, the knowhow of remote explosions, and killings.” This development comes hot on the heels of the imprisonment of activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah.
Bloggers and citizen journalists continue to come under attack: Members of the Zone9 bloggers’ movement were taken to court to face charges for accepting assistance from a foreign NGO and “inciting violence through social media.” Zone9 bloggers wrote critical articles about the Ethiopian government regime and conducted online campaigns to raise public awareness about repression in the country. This attack on freedom of expression was challenged by seven international press freedom and human rights organizations.
Zone9 bloggers previously detained for nearly three months were charged with terrorism for having links to an outlawed group. The group, which began in the year 2012, had been inactive since October 2013. On April 25, 2014, Ethiopian government officials arrested Zone9 bloggers for resuming their online activism.
Efforts to block chat and call apps including Viber and other VoIP services cause losses? Gambian telco companies reported massive “revenue loss” as a result of “technical hitches over the use of popular Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype and Viber.” Earlier in March, Gambia was without internet access for forty-eight hours. Economist Sidi Sanneh, who served as the country’s foreign minister in the mid-2000s, said the blackout resulted from government efforts to block chat and call apps such as Viber and other VoIP internet-based messaging and phone services.
Skype likened to a public broadcast? Gambian activist Lasana Jobarteh was found guilty of broadcasting without a license after using Skype on an iPod to broadcast a political rally to Gambians abroad. The conviction was made despite the fact that the Information and Communication Act (ICA), under which the activist was charged, was drafted to regulate television and radio broadcasts and not social media.
Communication regulator, National Communication Authority (NCA), cracks the whip on Expresso: Ghana’s Communication Regulator, NCA, banned the telco Expresso from implementing sales or marketing promotions until the end of May. This was a result of Expresso’s failure to meet the country’s Quality of Service (QoS) standards in the Northern, Eastern, and Volta regions during February 2014. The regulator measured four key items including Stand-alone Dedicated Control Channel (SDCCH) Congestion Rate, Call Setup Time (CST), Call Congestion Rate and Call Drop Rate (CDR). Expresso network was not accessible in all three Northern regions during the period of testing due to total outage of its systems. This triggered the disciplinary measures levelled on the company.
Vodafone’s Ghana subsidiary barred from signing up new customers until the end of July; In June, Ghana’s telecom regulator, the National Communication Authority, directed Vodafone to investigate and rectify issues on their core network. Vodafone was instructed to submit their Consumer Compensation Plan to the Authority for approval after millions of Vodafone subscribers could not make calls, top up credit or use data bundles as a result of network outages during the first week of June. The telecom regulator banned Vodafone from acquiring new subscribers, selling new SIM cards, porting subscribers from other networks to Vodafone, introducing new services, and also banned them from promotions, offers and from all marketing communications. The ban was, however, lifted in the first week of July after Vodafone met all conditions set by the regulator.
Data protection bill ready for adoption: The Kenyan ICT Cabinet Secretary disclosed that a draft data protection bill was ready to be forwarded to parliament. The bill states procedures on personal data collection and storage, outlining that these duties would be carried out by an unspecified “agency.”
Cybersecurity strategy unveiled by government: Kenyan ICT Cabinet Secretary unveiled a Master Plan for cybersecurity with the following four key pillars:
● Provide national leadership by defining the national cybersecurity vision, goals, and objectives, and coordinating cybersecurity initiatives at the national level.
● Foster information sharing and collaboration among relevant stakeholders to facilitate an information-sharing environment focused on achieving the strategy’s goals and objectives.
- Build national capability by raising cybersecurity awareness and developing Kenya’s workforce to address cybersecurity needs.
- Enhance the nation’s cybersecurity posture in a manner that facilitates the country’s growth, safety, and prosperity.
Kenyan bloggers put under investigation for alleged hate speech: Kenyan government’s National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring (NSCMM) was reported to be “compiling an exhaustive list of bloggers allegedly engaging in hate speech and incitement to be handed over to the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) for action by June 9, 2014.” These developments come immediately after the release of a report detailing that actions and legal provisions aimed at controlling hate speech have had an impact on intermediary liability, free speech, and media freedom online, as well as on privacy of communications.
Freedom of expression versus hate speech regulation; As a result of political tensions in Kenya, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) sent a warning to broadcasters regarding hate speech. The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), had called for a political rally to air out their grievances, but Kenyan police questioned eighteen politicians from both the ruling party, Jubilee Coalition, and CORD (the opposition party) for engaging in hate speech. The warning resulted in a lack of media coverage for CORD’s rally.The regulator’s warning followed an event at which the ministry of ICT had unveiled #StopHatespeechKenya, a hashtag aimed at curbing online hate speech.
Kenya leads in requests for user data from Google: A report released assessing trends in government requests for user data found that out of fifty African countries, Kenya had the most requests, lodging eight demands in the last half of the year. In the first half of the year, no requests were lodged.
Mandatory SIM card registration by 2015: Due to a review of the Communications Act, Malawi will soon require mandatory SIM card registration. The goal of mandatory registration is to reduce the criminal misuse of mobile phone. This move raised no eyebrows, despite the fact that photographs and identification documents will be recorded when one registers for a new number.
Internet Governance Forum launched in Malawi: The IGF was launched by the Malawi government and the New Partnership for Development (NEPAD) with the goal of bringing together businesses, non-governmental organizations, government, and end users for discussions about internet-related policy issues, ideas, and best practices.
Draft information society law in Mauritania infringes on digital rights: The Mauritanian government was said to discuss a draft information society law that potentially infringes on digital rights. Activists cited Article 18 of the draft as one of the most infringing provisions, as it stipulates that “all provisions in conflict with this law are annulled,” undermining other laws that “require interdiction prior to jailing journalists.” Other sections of concern included provisions addressing (and prohibiting) encryption, which would limit freedom of expression and privacy online.
Journalists, bloggers, and rappers continue to be under threat: Eleven protesters, including Ayoub “Simpson” Boudad, a student activist with Student Union for Educational System Reform (UECSE), and the National Students Union of Morocco (UNEM), were arrested during a protest aimed at voicing concerns about social and political issues affecting youth in the country. All arrested protesters were members of the February 20 Movement, a pro-democracy movement that began in February of 2011 during the immediate aftermath of the Arab spring. In another incident, Moroccan blogger and rapper Mouad Belrhouat, also known as El-Haqed (“The Enraged”) was arrested under circumstances in which witnesses stated that police officers intentionally picked a quarrel with him.
Electronic transaction law proposed: Namibia was considering the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) during 2014’s Namibian elections. Ministry of Information and Communication Permanent Secretary Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana pointed out that the government anticipated passing the Electronic Transaction Law during the course of this year, as the electronic voting machines (EVMs) that were intended for use during this year’s national elections were “data-dependent.” By use of the phrase “data-dependent,” the Ua-Ndjarakana seemed to mean that the EVMs would be used to store data. The passage of the law was important to outline how electronic evidence would be treated or stored during the elections.
Regulator champions for anti-competitive practices? The Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) accused the communications regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), of promoting anti-competitive practices through its policies, thus threatening the existence of small and medium enterprises in the ICT field.
Wikipedia Zero comes to Nigeria: Airtel Nigeria disclosed a strategic partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation, which will allow Airtel Nigeria consumers to access to Wikipedia through their mobile phones, free of data charges. Wikipedia Zero was launched in 2012 with a “goal of working with every mobile operator on the planet so that everyone can access all the free knowledge on Wikipedia, even if they can’t afford the mobile data charges.”
Wikipedia Zero comes to Rwanda; MTN Rwanda disclosed its strategic partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation, whereby MTN Rwanda consumers would have access to Wikipedia through their mobile phones free of data charges.
The balance between counter-terrorism and free expression: An amended counter-terrorism law in Somalia contains bans based on vague terms such as “disturb the peace,” “jeopardize the safety and security of society,” and “create fear in people’s lives,” which are broad in interpretation and could be used to suppress the freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights. The law was amended on July 10, 2014, by the Council of Ministers, and the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) raised concerns about the law as it threatened freedom of expression.
Draft media law legalizes closure of media houses? At the beginning of July, Puntland Parliament passed a media law giving itself authority to leverage penalties, fines, and suspensions against journalists. The law allows for closure of media houses and restrains editorial independence of media outlet, simultaneously giving the Ministry of Information the power to unilaterally withhold or revoke media house registrations. According to this law, the ministry will also have the authority to issue and withdraw journalists’ identification cards. Plans to come up with a media law had begun in July 2013, with the Minister of Information, the late Ahmed Sheikh Jama, promising that the law would comply with international standards of freedom of expression.
Government concerned about fake Twitter account for the Deputy President: The government released a press statement stating that they had made a request to Twitter to close a fake account impersonating the country’s Deputy President. This resulted in tweets from the fake @CyrilRamaphosa Twitter account that questioned the government’s priorities:
“Gov should worry about service delivery, education, health care, but it releases statements about fake twitter accounts.”
Despite the government request, the account remains active.
Better internet under regulated communications nationwide: South Sudanese government officials disclosed the government’s plan to procure a bandwidth provider for its own operations and, simultaneously, a National Communications Authority (NCA) to regulate communications in South Sudan. It is not clear whether the regulator would be government-run or independent.
Facebook and Whatsapp to come under control? Sudan’s National Telecommunication Corporation (NTC) was reported to be engaged in technical studies on social networking sites, specifically Facebook and Whatsapp, in an effort to control their use in Sudan. This was the result of a report submitted to parliament by the minister of communications, which outlined various “security” and “political problems” caused by social networking sites.
Contempt of court charges over critical articles: On July 17, 2014, the Swaziland’s High Court in Mbabane found two Swazi activists guilty of contempt of court as a result of articles published in The Nation magazine between February and March 2014 that criticized the conduct of Swaziland’s Chief Justice, Michael Ramodibedi.
Leaked cybercrime bill to infringe on digital rights? The law is criticised due to vague statements, as Article 24 provides for six-month imprisonment and a 5,000 Tunisian Dinar (about $2,900 USD) fine for anyone who uses, “information and communications systems to spread content showing obscene acts and assaulting good morals.” Also under Article 31, Ministers of Interior and Defense can authorize government access to users’ identification and traffic data.
Tunisian activist Azyz Amami arrested on fabricated charges? On May 12, Azyz Amami was arrested on charges of marijuana possession. Critics challenged the charges as an ongoing trend of Tunisian authorities disguising politically-motivated arrests. Azyz worked on the Ammar 404 campaign to demand an end to state surveillance and censorship. He was also one of the most vociferous advocates on behalf of the families of those harmed or killed during the 2010-11 uprising, and, since 2008, has blogged against state abuse and police aggression.
Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to regulate social media content and internet usage? The UCC’s executive director Godfrey Mutabazi stated that there was a need to enforce discipline among internet users so that the rights of other people were not infringed upon. Mutabazi disclosed that the UCC would work with security operatives and IT experts to monitor internet activity and content to make sure that people use social media and internet responsibly. There was no immediate reaction to this, though it is notable that in April 2011, Mutabazi’s office asked Internet service providers to black out Facebook and Twitter for 24 hours, “to eliminate the connection and sharing of information that incites the public.”
Google super-fast internet comes to Kampala; Google executives disclosed that they chose Kampala as the first capital city in Africa to benefit from Project Link. Project Link is Google’s fiber-optic network building project. The network will run throughout the metro area and will connect local internet providers to high quality infrastructure.
Government orders diplomats abroad against reading online news: The Zambian government expressed concern that its diplomats abroad are relying on online publications for information. The government accused these online publications of peddling lies about the president. This order could not, however, be enforced, as various Zambian diplomats are located in locations outside of government control.
Zambia drafting a national child online protection strategy: The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) put forward the strategy in an effort to protect youths from cyberbullying.
Progressive court ruling about criminal defamation: Zimbabwe’s highest court declared a criminal defamation law unconstitutional. Local journalists say the law was used to restrict the freedom of the press. The Court had “found that the applicants had discharged the onus of showing that Section 31 of the Criminal Code was not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society for the protection of the public interest in public order or public safety.”
Facebook Zero comes to Zimbabwe; Telecel disclosed a strategic partnership with Facebook, which would allow Telecel consumers to access to Facebook through their mobile phones free of data charges. Subscribers will not be charged for any text but will be charged for images, video clips, and third party sites they choose to view.