MFWA commences Internet Freedom project

Internet

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has commenced a long-term advocacy to promote internet freedom in the West Africa region.

The project is aimed at enhancing freedom of expression online by limiting governmental restrictions and increasing opportunities for greater access and use of the internet among citizens.

In a statement issued Friday July 26, MFWA said initial interventions under the project, which is focused on Ghana, are being carried out in partnership with London-based Global Partners and Associates (GPA).

"Activities under the initiative will include research on the internet environment, media and civil society capacity building in internet freedom and digital rights advocacy, and formation of national internet freedom coalitions" said the statement.

In line with its commitment to enhance internet freedom in the West Africa region, the MFWA, in partnership with US-based Freedom House Inc., recently trained its freedom of expression rights monitors from 13 out of the 16 countries in the West African sub-region.

According to the Foundation, the training was aimed at enhancing capacity of the monitors to effectively track and report on emerging freedom of expression rights issues with indicators on digital rights violations.

"Current figures indicate that internet usage in Africa is increasing at an annual average rate of approximately 36%, predicting an overwhelming internet penetration and use in Africa within the next few decades" said MFWA.

The statement further stated, "While the increasing internet penetration and use in Africa is viewed as a positive development, there is evidence of increasing resort to sophisticated and legal restrictions by several governments to limit citizens' access and use of the internet."

Methods of restrictions, according to the Non-governmental Organisation, have included surveillance, blocking of sites and the passage of new laws or application of existing ones, to restrict user anonymity, user privacy and general free expression online.

"Early this month for example, the Gambian government passed a new legislation meant to stifle freedom online. The new law - Information and Communication Act 2013 - allows for a 15-year jail term or a whopping US$90,000 fine, or both, for the offence of 'publication of false news' about the government on the internet", the Foundation revealed.

Also, the statement revealed that in Nigeria, which is West Africa's biggest economy and Africa's leader in internet penetration and use, there is an on-going process to finalise a number of draft laws - generally considered restrictive - meant to regulate various aspects of the internet and its use.

There are similar attempts by many other governments in the region to resort to legislative processes to limit internet freedom and freedom of expression online, the statement said.

Media Foundation for West Africa also bemoaned the lack of commitment by governments in the region to involve or consult civil societies in the development of legislation and policies for the regulation of the internet.

The also observed that majority of African civil society groups have limited or no capacity to engage governments on internet-related policy and legislative issues - a significant deficiency in the fight for internet freedom in West Africa.