Writing toward freedom: Politics and digital rights in Africa

8 November 2019

Digital Content

Across Africa, governments and nongovernmental political actors repeatedly deploy tactics to interfere with users’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information online, particularly during events of major political significance.

An increasing number of African governments disrupt access to the internet, mobile networks and social media platforms as a strategic tactic to quell dissent and maintain power — particularly during protests, elections and times of political upheaval. Governments and other political actors also deploy tactics that aim to disinform the public during such major events.

Online mis/disinformation and the impact of internet shutdowns on citizens’ rights to freedom of expression in Africa

On July 9, 2019 The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) announced that the African Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) grant was awarded to 10 initiatives, including Global Voices, to advance digital rights in Africa.

   This project is funded by the Africa Digital Rights Fund of The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). Global Voices is part of the inaugural cohort of grantees for the African Digital Rights Fund.

From mid-October to late November, Global Voices’ sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa team, as part of its Advox program, will feature a series of 14 analytical stories that examine interferences with digital rights during key political events — like elections and protests — through tactics that include:

These 14 stories cover seven African countries: Algeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe

The events following the late Robert Mugabe’s ousting on November 17, 2017, showed how social media has taken root as an alternative medium of information in Zimbabwe. The military coup that pushed out Mugabe was preceded by protests that relied heavily on social media for mobilization.

This was not lost on the new government led by Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, who took advantage of the power of social media during the 2018 elections to “batter the opponent”, as reported by Kudzai Chimhangwa Global Voices’ Zimbabwe contributor:

   As a former state security minister, Mnangagwa also appreciated the importance and value of disinformation in Zimbabwe’s political terrain. In a calculated move to consolidate newfound political power and ensure an electoral victory during the presidential and legislative elections scheduled for next year, Mnangagwa instructed his ruling ZANU PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) party youth league to “enter the social media and online firmament and batter the opponent,” back in March 2018.

However, this only exacerbated mis- and disinformation in Zimbabwe, due to extreme polarization in the media, impending government censorship of social media, the ineffectual communication channels of the administration and low digital literacy. Read the full article on Global Voices Online here