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Internet Freedom - Africa's challenges and opportunities

Internet Freedom - Africa's challenges and opportunities

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Responses - Stakeholder Government & Parliament

Alice Munyua, Government of Kenya

An open and free Internet is a key means by which individuals and communities can exercise their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Alice Munyua.jpg
Alice Munyua was Chair of the Organizational Committee 2011 IGF, chairs the Kenya Internet Governance Steering Committee and the commonwealth Cyber Crime Initiative Steering Commit-tee. She is, amongst others, the convener of the East Africa IGF, the Kenya IGF and the KICTANet. She is currently leading several policy related research initiatives.

In recent years, Africa has witnessed a steady growth in Internet usage, with an estimated 140 million users now connected. Increased popularity of mobile phones to access the Internet, and social media as a communications sphere, are enabling more Africans to get connected for various purposes. These include the sharing of information, communicating with friends abroad, mobile banking, fighting corruption, lamenting poor service delivery, and calling attention to conflicts.

Despite this increase in access and usage, there are still major gaps that exist. Broadband in particular remains expensive, slow and in many cases unavailable. The reasons for this include a lack of reliable electricity, high operation and maintenance costs of infrastructure, and poor security against vandalism, as well as high spectrum and license fees.

Many Africans still have to learn to consider access to the Internet a basic right and the United Nations' resolution of Internet access as a basic human right is still difficult to relate in a continent that is still grappling with challenges as fundamental as poverty, health, infrastructure, unemployment, civil war and natural disasters. The relationship between the Internet and human rights is also complex. Vint Cerf argues that the Internet is a technology and therefore an enabler of rights rather than right in itself. The Internet, he argues, should be considered among the things needed to lead healthy, meaningful lives.

Enduring innovative solutions have begun to emerge from the region to address the various development challenges, and we are able to witness the transformative potential of the Internet which, with applications ranging from mobile banking to the provision of free education, agricultural know-how and health related information, can serve to improve people's lives. Additionally, several African countries have e-government frameworks and policies that are an acknowledgment of the role of the Internet to enhance public service delivery. The Internet has enormous potential to contribute to social, economic, cultural and human development in Africa and there is therefore a real need to enable its availability, access and affordability.

Some governments are, however, reacting to the increased influence and power of the Internet with methods of control that are becoming more sophisticated, according to the Freedom House 2012 report. This includes, for example, surveillance and new laws restricting user anonymity, free online speech, violations of user privacy, and punishment of individuals who post content deemed objectionable or undesirable. In most cases, the push towards control is an attempt to retain sole access to revenue, and retain ultimate control.

The Freedom House report also notes that some governments are over-zealous in focusing on the problems, real or hypothetical, and, in their over-zealousness, hamper the opportunities of the Internet by placing caveats on the openness and the range of freedoms citizens can enjoy. In a number of countries there have been curbs on Internet rights in the interest of security, arrests of bloggers and orders to Internet intermediaries to pull online content deemed to be hostile or critical to the government.

The push by many governments to curtail freedom of expression and information, while at the same time trying to harness the Internet in the interest of promoting economic development, is a great dilemma. It is difficult and not worthwhile to attempt to distinguish online freedoms from the freedoms we enjoy in the physical world, or to try to keep the Internet open for economic purposes but closed for free expression and political engagement. As US Secretary of state Hillary Clinton notes (2011), “There isn’t an economic Internet and a social Internet and a political Internet: there’s just the Internet.”

The report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion on the right to freedom of opinion and expression exercised through the Internet presented in June 2011 to the Human Rights Council (HRC), and HRC Resolution A/HRC/20/L.13 of July 5, 2012 on “the Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet” affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, and this must apply to the African region. Further, the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and the Internet of June 2011 noted that regulatory approaches in the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors couldn’t simply be transferred to the Internet, and this circumstance is highly relevant in light of the upcoming WCIT.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is primarily concerned with online freedom, and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information have co-signed the Joint Declaration on the Freedom of Expression on the Internet. In addition, the newly formed (December 2011) African Platform for Access to Information (APAI) and the Freedom Online Coalition African Platform on Access aims at advancing the right to Access to Information in all its dimensions, nationally, regionally, and internationally.

Therefore, for Africa to compete, attract investment and capital, spark innovation, nurture entrepreneurship and provide the climate for enterprise development that could provide jobs and enable sustainable growth, there is a need to ensure that the Internet becomes an integral part of both development and exercise of human and civil rights.


The Freedom House 2011 report rates Kenya highly, and considers it a forerunner in the area of Internet freedom in Africa. In recent years, Kenya has taken significant steps to strengthen freedom of expression online. Kenya, after South Africa, enjoys the highest level of Internet freedom in Africa. According to the 2008 Human Rights Report on Kenya, no administrative censorship or technical filtering systems to restrict access to content are employed in the country. Citizens are able to access a wide range of viewpoints. Despite concerns over the use of the Internet to propagate hate speech during the post-election violence in late 2007 and early 2008, and fears that this might be used to justify greater controls on online content, no restrictions have been introduced. However, the regulatory authority, the Communications Commission of Kenya, recently notified telecom service providers of the need to install Network Early Warning System (NEWS), an Internet monitoring equipment, citing a rise in incidents of cybercrime and cyber threats. “This is being viewed as a breach of Kenya’s Constitution which in Article 31 grants citizens the right to privacy, including preventing infringement of “the privacy of their communication”. The newly promulgated Kenyan constitution guarantees protection for Freedom of Expression (FOE) (Art. 33), Right of Access to Information (FOI) (Art. 35) as well as Freedom of the Media (FM) (Art. 35). In addition, Kenya is a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (ACHPR) and the World Summit on the Information Society's (WSIS) Declaration of Principles.


The Internet has become a great amplifier of human potential and continues to open up new horizons for connecting people, and for sharing ideas and information. This is already having a profound impact as an enabling medium for democratization, the promotion, exercise and enjoyment of human rights, as well as for realizing human development and exercising of economic, socio-political and cultural rights. The multi-stakeholder model has kept the Internet up and running, and it is important in ensuring the future growth of the Internet, which contributes so significantly towards human development and the exercise of human rights. Indeed, it continues to be the best approach towards Internet governance. With the challenges facing African stakeholders in engaging with this model meaningfully, from the lack of adequate participation, to limited resources and skills, an important issue to consider in developing a rights-based approach to the Internet as it continues to evolve, is the impact on the Internet and human rights frameworks by various stakeholders.

Further Reading

  • Communications Commission of Kenya. Quarterly Sector Statistics Report. 2nd Quarter, October-December 2011/2012
Gordon Süß
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