State of internet freedoms in East Africa 2014

The use of ICT in East Africa continues to grow steadily, with social media and mobile banking
among the drivers of use. In Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, mobile access rates have
grown to beyond the 50% mark and internet access is also rising.

This according to a new report titled The State of Internet Freedoms in East Africa 2014. The report is a product of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

Here is a summary of the findings.

“… as more East African citizens get online, governments are evidently taking a keener
interest in what citizens are doing with their phones and on the internet. As this research
reports, governments in East Africa are increasingly moving to place controls over the internet
and associated technologies such as mobile phones. These caveats are framed from the angle
of countering terrorism, fighting pornography, or guarding against cybercrime. However,
often they are intended – or result into – curtails on legitimate opinion and affronts to the
enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression. As examples from various countries in East
Africa show, these caveats are often retrogressive and hamper citizens’ right to seek, receive
and impart information and ideas through digital technologies. They also appear to be mainly
aimed at stifling critics of state actions and curtailing citizen organising rather than genuinely
protecting the public good. Poor judicial oversight in surveillance and monitoring of citizens’
communications was noted in some of the countries studied. Meanwhile, “distributed
oversight,” which could see both civil actors and state organs play a role in ensuring that
monitoring and surveillance were in accordance with the law, was virtually non-existent.

This research found that in a number of countries, although national constitutions guaranteed
numerous rights, various legislations curtailed the enjoyment of freedoms of expression and
association online. It was also found that a plethora of laws related to citizens’ online actions
has been introduced between 2010 and 2014. However, in all countries studied, it appeared
there was widespread lack of knowledge on what constitutes online freedoms, coupled with
low levels of knowledge and skills about threats to online safety, including among bloggers,
journalists and activists who regularly use the internet.”

Read the full report at the CIPESA website.