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Africa: Internet Freedom in a Season of Elections

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Digital rights concerns for Africa seem to be on the rise and so does the need to mount guard for its protection and respect across the region.

Chief among these concerns is the wanton disregard for respect for human rights online by the state authorities. This has spurred many civil society actors to demand dialogues from governments and when this fails, seek legal redress on many of these issues.

This is why Paradigm Initiative from Nigeria was in Court on June 28, 2017, to challenge the inaction of the country’s Ministry of Science and Technology towards the freedom of information request sent to it.

The request was made to ascertain claims that the Ministry was to build and launch two satellites capable of snooping on the private details of citizens. The hearing has since been rescheduled for September 29, 2017.

A few weeks from now, important national elections will be held in three demographically important African states. On August 4, Rwandans will be heading to the polls to elect a President. On August 8 and August 23 respectively, Kenyans and Angolans will also choose their President and Prime Minister in eagerly anticipated elections.

Even though Kenya has recently committed to not shutting down the Internet for the upcoming elections, it has become more imperative not to lose guard of shutdowns incidents that are currently sweeping through the continent.

One of such is the perennial case of Ethiopia. According to the Freedom on the Net report for 2016, the country is one of the two ranked as not free in terms of Internet freedom on the continent. This same antecedent was also duly reported in the Digital Rights Report for Africa 2016.

This also follows in the heel of a recent Internet shutdown in the country on May 31, 2017, to prevent exam question leakages. While it is high time governments got more creative on better means of engaging malpractices during exams other than shutting down the Internet, civil society organisations can also step in to fill the gap constantly created by these excuses by coordinating with authorities on smarter ways that do not disrupt Internet activities in many of these countries.

A Ugandan non-governmental organisation, Unwanted Witness has also joined 22 other international organisations to petition the Malian government on the recent Internet shutdown in the country. Many of these Internet violations occur regularly in these countries because they do not seem to be on the radar of many International human rights observers.

This apathy could also be traced to why the reign of impunity is supreme other than the rule of law in many of these countries.

There have also been reports of Internet disruptions in Congo Brazzaville due to an alleged submarine cable cut. Even though there has been widespread information that the disruption coincides with when the government of the country seems to be having a row with major dissenting voices in the country.

Election time in Africa is usually accompanied by digital rights violations – notably Internet and Internet applications shutdowns.

In 2016, five African countries – Chad, Gabon, Gambia, Uganda, and Zambia shut down the Internet/Internet applications during elections. Authorities in a sixth country, Ghana, threatened to shut down social media ahead of the December 2016 elections but were dissuaded from doing so partly because citizens made it clear it would have electoral consequences for the ruling party.

Ahead of the elections, there is much to worry about as plans are already in place to stifle Internet freedom in these countries.

In Rwanda, the government placed restrictions on the use of social media by presidential candidates, a decision which however has been recently reversed. In Angola, policies put in place in 2016 – plans to regulate social media announced by the President in his new year’s speech, and the creation of the “Angolan Social Communications Regulatory Body” to ensure compliance with new media laws, are threats to digital rights during the elections.

In January, the Kenya Communications Agency warned it could shut down the Internet during the elections, and announced the purchase of surveillance equipment for social media and mobile phones.

In March 2017, a court upheld the original court judgment to stop the installation of the mobile phone surveillance system and the last is yet to be heard of this development.

An opportunity has arisen for civil society actors to rally African citizens to uphold digital rights. Evidence from Africa in 2016 showed that the best results in defence of digital rights were obtained when civil society worked with local actors to defend digital rights, rather than waiting for the international community’s intervention through organs such as the United Nations and the African Union. In any case, an intervention by the international community is made more effective by on-going local action by citizens.

In Zimbabwe, despite government shutting down of Whatsapp during the #ZimShutDown2016 protests, citizens found other ways to mobilise to get their voices heard. In our quest to uphold digital rights during this election season, perhaps when we manage to find creative ways to mobilise citizens despite shutdowns like the Zimbabweans did in 2016, or when as seen in Ghana last year, citizens make it clear there will be electoral consequences for Internet shutdowns, real progress will be made.

Babatunde Okunoye and Tomiwa Ilori works as research assistant and program assistant with Paradigm Initiative respectively.

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E-Business

Improved Security Strategies Required for ePlatforms Uptakes- ITSSP

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By peter oluka ‎

Nigeria requires adequate cyber security measures to sustain the growth of service deliveries through e-Platforms, said information security experts.

Professor Adesina Sodiya, president of ITSSP in a telephone interview with Nigeria CommunicationsWeek, described cybercrime as a growing global threat, but every country has learnt to defend its cyber space.

Prof. Sodiya said, ‎”Cybercrime is a global challenge; and the recent attacks in Nigeria have been affecting critical areas of our activities. That is why this group is concerned about the development of solutions to tackle the menace. We have to continue to discourse the way forward in terms of our national cyber development”‎

He said that, ‎as a country, professionals must be engaged to develop the cyber defence strategies. “Many countries have gone ahead with the development of defence mechanisms in the cyber space; Nigeria must not be left behind. We have not gotten there.‎

“Why do we need to be more serious about cyber space? There is a popular saying today that the next world war will happen at the cyber space.

“As at now, many countries are gathering information about other countries. They are peeping into other countries’ activities, which calls for us to develop our cyber security strategies to monitor inflow and outflow of data”.

Mr. ‎Aderogba Adeoye, former president of ITSSP also told Nigeria CommunicationsWeek that increase in these e-platforms calls for improved cyber security awareness.‎

“Everybody is talking about e-platforms. If we are to run the e-platforms, it entails a need to develop capacities for security. Your data or information can be wiped off in a twinkle of an eye. As far as the e-commerce platforms are concerned, the intention is to make profit.‎

“For us to continue reaping benefits in e-services applications the capacity development of the human capital must be taken very serious. This is what the conference tends to address.‎

“We are not relenting. ITSSP is an interest group of the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS); it is important to us to advocate for focus on issues related to cyber security”, he said.‎‎

He added that recent advocacies have yielded results with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), for instance, introduced information security departments. “That is a right step in good direction. The other day we engaged the Ministry of Justice and the National Security Adviser (NSA) and they were convincing enough on how admitting electronic evidences are helpful in combating cybercrimes”. ‎

“In order to build capacity government has to enhance IT policing activities by ensuring that anybody executing government projects, in IT, are registered professionals. This is another way to elicit adherence to the rules of the business,” Adeoye added. ‎‎

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Stakeholders Frown at Nigeria’s Position on eReadiness Report

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by Chike Onwuegbuchi

Information and communications technology stakeholders have frowned at the recent position of the Nigeria on eReadiness status where the country is placed 119 out of 139 countries.

eReadiness refers to a country’s capacity and state of preparedness to participate in the electronic world.

The state of maturity is commonly measured by the country’s information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and the ability of its government and citizens to utilize the positive impacts of ICT for sustainable development.

Chris Uwaje, director general, Delta State Innovation Hub, who disclosed the country’s position said: “In the e-readiness report just released early this week Nigeria is sitting at 119.”

He said; “eReadiness status is about the aggregate measure of how countries are faring using ICT or within the ICT landscape, it embodied economic, educational and social index, measured along the lines of sustainable development goals. Each country has an index that they need to pass, it just like exam. But the aggregate sum of our domain platform today is really unacceptable. It keeps us into that realm of super consumption country in ICT but less in innovative and creativity and that is wrong.”

He explained that the more we consume the more we cannot create employment. “The more we consume, the more we are funding capital flight, the more we consume the more our educational sector will be malnourished in terms of knowledge, and will not be attractive, that is why more Nigerians are now in Ghanaian universities and in Republic of Benin universities.

“For the country to move up it is about knowledge Olympiad. We need to refine our educational system, government need to invest more on knowledge parks, incubators, and fund incubators. We have to ensure that lectures and those who can replicate knowledge are given added resources and reward system that enables them. Because we need to create a digital army for this country, so that when financial sector, aviation, transport or any other sector is attack can we defend it?”

Amos Emmanuel, chief executive officer, Programos Software, said that Nigeria has a lot to do if she has to move up in the ladder of e-readiness.

“The game of e-readiness has changed; it is no longer like technological transfer from Europe or America the focus is now on innovation base on the environment. Nigeria needs to reformulate its digital policy,” he said.

He blamed the country’s socio-cultural environment as impediment to application of information and communications technology to every sector of the economy.

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FG to Harmonize BVN, Others into National Identity Database

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By Fabian Tarpael, Abuja
The Federal Government has announced its decision to stop what it called proliferation and duplication of biometric-based identity systems in the country.

Mrs. Habiba Lawal, acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation, stated this in Abuja while inaugurating a former governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, alongside eight others as chairman and members, respectively of the Governing Board of the National Identity Management Commission, (NIMC).

Lawal noted that the Federal Government established the NIMC as the primary institution charged with the responsibility of providing and regulating identity management in Nigeria, the issuance of the National Identification Number (NIN) and ID card to all registrable persons as well as the harmonisation and integration of existing identification databases in government agencies and integrating them into the National Identity Database (NIDB).

Represented on the board are the military, Nigeria Immigration Service, Federal Road Safety Corps, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, other government agencies and the private sector.

Among the first task the ex-governor and his team have been saddled with is the harmonisation of databases of Nigerians believed to have been unnecessarily duplicated.

Data expected to be harmonized included the Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) card registration being handled by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC); Bank Verification Number (BVN); Drivers Licence from the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC); and voters card number among others.

Lawal said the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari expects the proliferation and duplication of biometric-based identity systems to stop as it was neither cost effective, nor security smart.

“Apart from being unwieldy, the cost of operating multiple discordant databases and infrastructure is unattainable,” Lawal had stated.

She urged the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to come up with a more effective and innovative identity management system that was devoid of duplication for the country.

Mrs Lawal also said despite the successes of the commission at data capture of registrable persons in the country, “there was still much more to be done.”

She urged members of the Board who were drawn from both the public and private sectors, to take a cue from the countries that have successfully issued unique identity to its citizens and have utilised such identity to transform their society and economy.

“We need change, positive change in our identity eco-system. The change starts with all of us agreeing to make the sacrifices and commitment required, defining clear policy direction and taking collective actions to achieve our common goal.

“The NIMC must focus its energy on ensuring that the remaining component of the National Identity Management System (NIMS) roll-out alignment and switching over by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) through the harmonization and integration framework is successfully implemented.

“The speed of data collection must have to be improved upon, and this will reduce justifications given by MDAs, as reasons for duplicated biometric options.

“Hopefully, the harmonisation programme, being spearheaded by the Office of the Vice President, will help to achieve this, especially, by the commission ensuring that the MDAs switch or at least, align their existing infrastructure as data collection agents to the NIMC system,” she said.

In an acceptance speech, Oyinlola gave the assurance that the Board members will work assiduously to justify the confidence reposed in them by the government.

“We, therefore, pledge our loyalty to our dear nation and Mr President who has recognised our inherent capabilities and made the appointment, based on trust, competence and the confidence reposed in us.

“We shall live up to expectations, especially given the fact that the burden placed on our shoulders is a very sensitive and significant one that must be carried with every sincerity and patriotism,” he said.

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