Building an African movement on Internet Rights and Freedoms
Building on similar initiatives that have been successful in the offline world, a network of African civil society groups want to build a broader movement for internet rights. To kickstart this, and keep it focused, we will develop a Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms. The Declaration would initially be adopted by civil society, and later by intergovernmental institutions. More than 22 groups have already met to begin work on the initiative, and prepare a first draft. We’re now looking for funds to finalize, launch and promote the Declaration. Funds would cover the costs of meetings, coordination, a website for consultations and outreach, and the launch of the Declaration (at the Internet Governance Forum and Highway Africa).
In Africa there is a history spanning 20 years of civil society and journalists working together to develop pan-African declarations on media, information and expression issues. These declarations have served to: raise issues of concern up the political agenda across the continent; build broad coalitions of civil society groups, activists and journalists on distinct issues; attract endorsement and political authority from intergovernmental organisations (such as the African Commission); and successfully encourage African governments to take on specific actions(such as adopting Access to Information laws). Examples of these initiatives include the Windhoek Declaration, the African Charter on Broadcasting, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa and the African Platform on Access to Information Declaration. The leading civil society groups of each of these initiatives – Media Rights Agenda, Article 19, Media Institute of Southern Africa – are all involved in the present initiative and have committed to playing a leading role in drafting and advocating around a Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms.
African civil society working on internet issues face a double-edged sword – on the one hand many governments have begun to take on internet issues in a very negative way, buying expensive surveillance and filtering equipment that they can ill-afford and harassing those that share content online that is not-liked by those in power. On the other hand, many governments in Africa still ignore the internet when they could have a positive impact if they were to adopt policies which would support expanding access, digitising locally relevant content and creating a stable and permissive legal environment. Given that many governments in Africa are only now beginning to take notice of the internet, and given the great deal of optimism about the internet that is felt across all stakeholder groups, now is an ideal time for civil society and journalists to come together and galvanise their interests into a set of specific asks for African governments and institutions.
Discussions about this initiative began in 2011. In the last year they have moved forward significantly. In 2013, a small planning meeting was conducted as a side event to the African Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, bringing together 9 key civil society groups. Following this, in February 2014 a much larger meeting was held in Johannesburg for 35 participants from 22 civil society groups. At this meeting much broader support and buy-in for the initiative was achieved. Participants discussed the current challenges and opportunities for internet rights in Africa, the benefits and potential scope of the Declaration, learnings from similar offline initiatives, and developing a shared strategy for the way forward for the Declaration. The full meeting report is included as an attachment.
From the strategy, milestones over the next year include:
February – March: Development of the Draft Declaration, first within a small drafting group, then a larger drafting group, and then with feedback and input from all of the Johannesburg meeting participants and key allies (including the African Union Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Pansy Tlakula).
April – May: Draft declaration will be shared online in French and English for public comment with wider civil society and other stakeholders in Africa. Johannesburg meeting participants have agreed to organise face-to-face consultations with wider civil society at other related meetings such as the African Internet Summit, World Press Freedom Day and World Information Society Day. Participants will also target meetings with women’s groups, trade unions, private sector associations and other potential allies from broader civil society.
June – August: The Drafting group will compile public input and produce a final version of the Declaration which will be reviewed and approved with the Johannesburg meeting participants. The Drafting Group will also develop a detailed advocacy and campaign plan around the Declaration. Those involved thus far will be asked to formally endorse the statement in advance of its official launch
September: The Declaration will be formally launched (with a call for public endorsements) at the Global Internet Governance Forum and Highway Africa, both in September 2014.
October – January: Follow up advocacy around the Declaration will take place, particularly with UNESCO and the African Commission, asking them to formally endorse the Statement.
February: Participants from original Johannesburg meeting will re-meet to review the Declaration, responses to the Declaration and advocacy efforts around it, and to make further plans for activities supporting the Declaration and further movement building.
If you have any questions please do get in touch.
In ONE sentence, tell us about your project to strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation.
To build a strong African vision for the internet - a focal point for progressive actors from different stakeholder groups in Africa to converge around shared ideals and demands.
Who will benefit from what you propose? What have you observed that makes you think that?
In the long-term citizens of African countries will benefit – but in the short to medium term the beneficiaries will be African civil society groups and journalists who want to promote internet rights, and who need it in their day to day work. Looking at similar initiatives (such as the African Platform on Access to Information Declaration) it is expected that this initiative will bring a number of benefits beyond the resulting Declaration which in itself will be a solid document for use in national and regional advocacy. Just as important is the process of developing the Declaration which will be a concrete initiative for disparate groups to work on together, building up a strong network for internet rights. The process is also designed to broaden the movement by reaching out to other types of civil society who have thus far been conspicuous by their absence (such as trade unions and associations, journalists and education establishments).
What progress have you made so far?
A core group of African civil society and freedom of expression groups have already met a number of times to plan for the initiative. In February 2013 a wider meeting was held with 22 civil society groups in Johannesburg, where the outline of a draft Declaration was agreed upon together with a roadmap towards the Declaration being adopted. Since then, a volunteer Declaration drafting group has been developing an initial draft of the declaration for wider consultation, first with the February meeting participants, and then with other civil society groups and key actors from across Africa.
What would be a successful outcome for your idea or project?
A successful outcome would be for the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms to be signed on to by a wide range of civil society organisations and journalists (beyond the usual suspect) and then endorsed by at least one inter-governmental body such as the African Commission or UNESCO.
Who is on your team, and what are their relevant experiences or skills?
Global Partners Digital. GPD has extensive experience working on projects to expand the number and capacity of civil society groups in the global South engaging in internet policy and governance. This includes work with a number of groups across Africa.
Media Rights Agenda. MRA works on freedom of expression and access to information issues in Nigeria and Africa more widely. The Director of MRA, Edetaen Ojo, is an experience drafter having been the main drafter behind the African Platform on Access to Information Declaration.
Association for Progressive Communications. APC is the one of the most established civil society voices calling for a free and open internet. They have extensive experience in internet policy and governance issues, as well as strong networks in Africa and internationally.
Global Partners Digital is based in London, United Kingdom.
Media Rights Agenda is based in Lagos, Nigeria.
Association for Progressive Communications is a global organization with headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa.