Digital Rights Landscape
With digital technologies at the forefront of socio-economic development in Africa, digital rights issues have become increasingly pertinent. Governments and businesses across the continent, employing digital technologies in the provision of goods and services, with minimal interventions, thereby increasing the risk of exploitation and harm to citizens.
Due to the increasingly digitized nature of the African economy, the continent is in dire need of support to improve the access, development and use of data for good, as well as laws and policies that protect the digital rights of its citizens.
COVID-19 forced millions of people to work, study and socialise online amid lockdowns. This event put significant stress on digital infrastructure, both from a governing perspective as well as the readiness for the “leapfrogging” opportunity. During the past year and a half, governments experienced challenges using data for public good and protecting the digital rights of citizens. There was a struggle to respond to the crisis, increasing threats from cyberattacks, exposed digital inequalities and increasing risks to recognition and the protection of citizen’s fundamental freedoms online.
The main challenges in Africa:
- Poor awareness as government and citizens are not prioritizing digital rights.
- Limited legislation on digital rights.
- Lack of policy harmonization across the continent.
- An increasing growth in the digital economy.
What can be done to solve these challenges?
Africa must not be left behind as the world moves to implement digital rights laws that protect citizens. Additionally, Africa cannot rely on the laws adopted in other jurisdictions (such as EU GDPR) as fit for purpose within the African context.
An example of improvement to help meet some of these challenges is data protection and privacy legislation in Africa over the last ten years. There are now about 29 countries with legislation regulating data protection and privacy, 11 of these have their own data protection authorities. Yet despite some progress, the entire ecosystem remains underdeveloped, and enforcement of these laws continue to be a challenge. In contrast with Europe therefore, frameworks established across the African countries need improved coordination.