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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.

Nigeria CommunicationsWeek believes that technology makes life more exciting and helps improve the lives of people around Nigeria and indeed the world. So since 2007, we have devoted our energy to independent reportage of technology and how they affect lives.

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E-Business

Gartner Predicts Global IT Spending to Grow 1.1% in 2019

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Worldwide IT spending is projected to total US$3.79-trillion in 2019, an increase of 1.1% from 2018, according to the latest forecast by Gartner.

“Currency headwinds fuelled by the strengthening US dollar have caused us to revise our 2019 IT spending forecast down from the previous quarter,” said John-David Lovelock, research vice president at Gartner. “Through the remainder of 2019, the US dollar is expected to trend stronger, while enduring tremendous volatility due to uncertain economic and political environments and trade wars.

“In 2019, technology product managers will have to get more strategic around their portfolio mix by balancing products and services that will post growth in 2019 with those larger markets that will trend flat to down,” said Lovelock. “Successful product managers in 2020 will have had a long-term view to the changes made in 2019.”

According to Gartner the datacentre systems segment will experience the largest decline in 2019 with a decrease of 2.8%.

The research and market analysis firm says this is mainly due to expected lower average selling prices (ASPs) in the server market driven by adjustments in the pattern of expected component costs.

The shift of enterprise IT spending from traditional (non-cloud) offerings to new, cloud-based alternatives is continuing to drive growth in the enterprise software market.

In 2019, the market is forecast to reach US$427-billion, up 7.1% from US$399-billion in 2018. The largest cloud shift has so far occurred in application software.

However, Gartner expects increased growth for the infrastructure software segment in the near-term, particularly in integration platform as a service (iPaaS) and application platform as a service (aPaaS).

Lovelock added, “The choices CIOs make about technology investments are essential to the success of digital business. Disruptive emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), will reshape business models as well as the economics of public- and private-sector enterprises.

“AI is having a major effect on IT spending, although its role is often misunderstood. AI is not a product, it is really a set of techniques or a computer engineering discipline. As such, AI is being embedded in many existing products and services, as well as being central to new development efforts in every industry.

Gartner’s AI business value forecast predicts that organisations will receive $1.9 trillion worth of benefit from the use of AI this year alone.”

In November 2018 Gartner said IT spending in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) would reach US$973-billion in 2019, representing a 2% increase compared with 2018.

Lovelock was quoted at the time as saying: “2018 is not a good year for IT spending in EMEA. The 5.8% growth witnessed in 2018 includes a 4% currency tailwind driven by the euro’s increase in value against the US dollar.”

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SON to Deploy Technology to Achieve Operational Efficiency

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Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has kicked off the process for the implementation of electronic demand notes, receipts as well as ports and borders operations clearing processes.

 

This is as part of efforts to enhance a seamless service delivery to stakeholders through improved synergy within its operational units.

 

A statement from the media unit of SON said that Osita Aboloma, director-general of SON, stated this in Lagos at a strategic meeting on the deployment of the solutions.

 

The statement hinted that the transitioning to the electronic demand note and receipt as well electronic ports and border operations would mitigate challenges faced by customers and clients of SON and promote greater efficiency in service delivery.

 

Represented by Mr. Kabir Mohammed, director in the Director-General’s office, the SON Chief Executive posited that the electronic platforms would create a business solution tailored around SON services, aimed at achieving the Organisation’s strategic goals.

 

Introducing the proposed solution, Mr. Mike Aigbe, deputy managing director, Vatebra Limited, said the organisation had helped in creating similar solutions for organisations in Nigeria and other African countries in the last 15years.

 

Aigbe said the company’s objective from the outset was to create a payment engine that could be plugged into all manner of applications for the processing of financial transactions for Organisations, including SON, he said.

 

He listed some of the Organisations that had benefited from the company’s electronic solution services in Nigeria as including the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB).

 

He stated that the strategy meeting with Heads of Departments and Units in Lagos Operational Headquarters was a follow up to an earlier one at the Corporate Headquarters, Abuja to interact with process owners and gather data in order to customise the proposed solutions to their specific needs.

 

The Vertebra Deputy MD enumerated the achievable gains from the proposed electronic processes solutions which include eliminating human intervention in the processes for greater efficiency, cost savings on printing of manual demand notes and receipts and elimination of the stress associated with moving from point A to B  to obtain demand notes and receipts.

 

He stated that the electronic solutions project, which is expected to be deployed within 45 to 60days, would also attend to the compulsory need to join the International Public Service Standard (IPSAS) by the SON.

 

SON Heads of departments and units provided input on their various processes to the Vertebra Limited team in furtherance of the electronic services solutions.

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NITDA to Empower South East Youths on ICT Skills with Start-Up Friday

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National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) on Wednesday, said the agency is set to empower youths within Enugu and the South East region with Information Communication Technology (ICT) skills through its Start-Up Friday (SUF) programme on April 26.

 

SUF programme is a technology entrepreneurs’ gathering designed by NITDA and implemented by its subsidiary —Office for ICT Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIIE).

 

Dr Amina Sambo-Magaji, national coordinator of OIIE, in a statement in Abuja, noted that “the SUF in Enugu, would be the last round of igniting the six geo-political regions across the country.”

 

Sambo-Magaji said that the SUF, being the 12th edition in a series, would ensure that ICT start-ups within the region were encouraged and supported by government.

 

She added that SUF was part of the agency’s activities aimed at developing the technology ecosystem across the country.

 

“The programme is not just for Enugu but also Abia, Anambra, Aba, Ebonyi and Imo states. This completes the first round of our regional technology ecosystem ignition.’’

 

According to her, OIIE will carry out an evaluation to analyse feedbacks from the programmes at the end of the SUF in Enugu.

 

She also said that the SUF would be hosted in collaboration with ICT hubs and universities in the South-East region, which was targeted at bringing together the regional ecosystem stakeholders.

 

The national coordinator added that through the programme, participants would be given the opportunity to pitch their business ideas, where outstanding innovators would be identified and supported by the agency.

 

“Innovators stand the chance to submit their pitch decks and get seed funds to get their start-up off the ground to prototype, to working product and commercialisation.

 

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