Southern Africa Digital Rights Issue Number 4: A call to action for stakeholders

Download the full Southern Africa Digital Rights Issue Number 4 here!

This report on the state of digital rights in Southern Africa, authored by professor Admire Mare, seeks to shed light on the extent to which countries are living up to the responsibility to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression, access to information, right to privacy and cybersecurity in the digital age. This is very pertinent in the context of existing national, regional and international human rights frameworks which give effect to digital rights. Building on key informant interviews and desktop research, this report highlights the positive developments associated with the passage of progressive data protection laws, setting up of data protection authorities, promotion of free expression online, amendment of access to information laws and promotion of the safety of journalists online.

It also critically reflects on the negative developments as evidenced by the introduction of claw back clauses around the publication and distribution of false news, passage of draconian cybercrime laws, digital surveillance practices, internet shutdowns and throttling, harassment and intimidation of journalists online, introduction of mandatory SIM Card registrations, and the imprisonment of citizens and human rights defenders for online speech. It proffers advocacy interventions that civil society groups in the region including the Namibia Media Trust (NMT), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Regional Secretariat, Spaces of Solidarity, CIPESA, Paradigm Initiative and the Centre for Human Rights can implement to protect the realisation of digital rights in the region.


Available in this fourth edition:


Conceptualising digital rights

Social context: A brief overview of digital and social media in Southern Africa

Methodological approach

Key findings
A) Freedom of expression online
B) Privacy and data protection
C) Access to information
D) Cybersecurity

Call to action

Practical advocacy interventions



Southern Africa Digital Rights is produced under ‘The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms: Fostering a human rights-centred approach to privacy, data protection and access to the internet in Southern Africa’ project.


Read more:

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 1

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 2

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 3


Southern Africa Digital Rights Issue Number 3: SADC's Rocky Path - The challenges of biometric and digital identity systems

Download the full Southern Africa Digital Rights Issue Number 3 here!

Across the continent biometric data collection systems are being implemented at an increasing pace and for a variety of reasons. And yet, as this issue of Digital Rights Southern Africa makes clear, there is no or slow commensurate roll-out of measures to ensure that such biometric data collection and processing systems are secure and to the actual benefit of the societies in which they are being implemented.

As this issue illustrates, the “worrying manifestations” of concerns around these systems cut across the six spotlighted countries and the region as a whole. Eswatini has become the bellwether in terms of violations on the regional digital rights landscape, and in this edition regulatory happenings in that country once again paint a threatening picture.

In Botswana, Namibia and Malawi authorities are struggling to come up with legislative measures to safeguard privacy rights as they seek to craft biometric data collection and digital ID policies, or to implement such systems where frameworks already exist.

In our Zambia contribution there is a call for a citizen-centric approach to implementing such systems, while in Zimbabwe concerns abound about the state’s intentions with digital ID systems.

In the end, it remains unclear what impact these systems will have on the countries under the spotlight, but one thing is certain, the trends are worrisome.


Available in this third edition:

Editorial: Spotlight on the vexing questions around biometrics and digital IDs (By Frederico Links)

Essential reforms needed to elevate biometric data protection: Botswana's Biometric Data Security Challenges and Urgent Calls for Legal Reforms (By Thapelo Ndlovu)

Risk of human rights infringement as Eswatini rushes to regulate the ICT sector (By Melusi Matsenjwa)

Malawi dragging its feet on filling legal gaps to prevent human rights’ violations (By Jimmy Kainja)

Namibia navigates biometric data privacy pending civil registration bill (By Dianne Hubbard)

Biometric ID rollout should foreground citizencentric data protection and privacy (By Levy Syanseke)

Zimbabwe grapples with complex realms of biometric and digital identification (By Helen Sithole)


Southern Africa Digital Rights is produced under ‘The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms: Fostering a human rights-centred approach to privacy, data protection and access to the internet in Southern Africa’ project.


Read more:

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 1

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 2

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 4


Southern Africa Digital Rights Issue Number 2: Privacy at risk - Challenges to data and online security

Download the full Southern Africa Digital Rights Issue Number 2 here!

Throughout 2023 signs and episodes of shrinking civic space continued to mark the Southern African digital rights landscape.

What this edition serves to spotlight is that privacy and data protections remain and will continue to remain areas that regional civil societies have to be seized with going forward. The same with access to internet and telecommunication services.

And what should also not be lost sight of, and which should shine through the articles in this edition, are that activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens face threats and challenges to their privacy, data security and access to digital services and spaces. It should be clear, that while this edition speaks to contexts across six countries the issues discussed reflect trends and practices playing out across the whole Southern African Development Community (SADC) region to greater or lesser degrees.

Some of these trends and practices are continental as well and are topical in discussions of the state of human rights on the continent. Advocacy efforts around these topics and issues remain substantial and strategically significant. We invite you to read and engage with the content of this edition of the digest, and to reflect on what is happening against the backdrop of what is unfolding where you are.


Available in this second edition:

Editorial: A region grappling with digital rights deficits (By Frederico Links)

Botswana showcases e-government's privacy pitfalls (By Thapelo Ndlovu)

Eswatini strives for digital sovereignty amid technological advancements (By Ndimphiwe Shabangu)

Unveiling the landscape: Malawi’s data protection journey and the evolving digital rights terrain (By Jimmy Kainja)

Rights watered down in draft privacy and data protection bill in Namibia (By Frederico Links)

Unregulated CCTV in Zambia sparks data privacy concerns (By Mwazi Sakala and Maureen Mulenga)

Zimbabwe’s digital leap falls short in bridging access to justice gaps (By Nompilo Simanje)


Southern Africa Digital Rights is produced under ‘The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms: Fostering a human rights-centred approach to privacy, data protection and access to the internet in Southern Africa’ project.


Read more:

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 1

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 3

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 4



Regional Stakeholder Consultation on Digital Rights and Inclusive Internet Governance in Southern Africa

On 22 and 23 May 2023, a Regional Stakeholder Convening on Digital Rights and Inclusive Internet Governance in Southern Africa was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. The event was organised by the Namibia Media Trust (NMT) and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) with support from OSF. It was facilitated by Anriette Esterhuysen.

With the project titled: ‘The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms: Fostering a human rights-centered approach to privacy, data protection and access to the internet in Southern Africa’ nearing closure, the partners needed to convene to critically unpack and review the experiences of the last two years, as well as look ahead to how the work implemented by national partners can be carried forward sustainably. A project review meeting with the project team took place alongside the consultation, to review the project implementation experience and outcomes and to strategize around sustaining partner activities in-country, as well as regional collaboration among the partners.

In essence the convening brought together a combined total of 21 participants, 6 males and 15 females from six Southern African countries to discuss the challenges and opportunities related to digital rights in the region. Over the course of two days, representatives from project partners in Eswatini, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe shared their experiences and concerns regarding digital rights violations. They were joined by resource persons from South Africa.

The presentations emphasized the need for improved legislation, increased awareness, collaboration among civil society organizations (CSOs), and engagement with policymakers and regulatory bodies. The discussions revolved around issues such as access to affordable internet, surveillance, freedom of expression, data protection, and the impact of emerging technologies.

This report aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the discussions and outline recommendations for addressing the identified challenges.

Download the full report here.


Southern Africa Digital Rights Issue Number 1: Data and online privacy under attack

Download the full Southern Africa Digital Rights Issue Number 1 here!

Digital rights are under threat everywhere across the African continent at the moment. This is borne out and underscored by a string of influential reports over recent years from prominent regional and global civil society, multilateral and digital rights non-governmental organisations. The constricting of digital civic spaces through lawfare, the use of sophisticated spyware by some governments to invasively and violatingly intrude into and monitor people’s lives, pervasive social media mediated disinformation souring online experiences, rampant cyber criminal attacks and the dehumanising commercial surveillance economy all combine to degrade Africans’ online lives.

This is happening at a time when cyberspace also still shows so much promise as an avenue for achieving broad-based social justice, as well as unlocking socio-political and economic freedoms. African internet users remain resilient in the face of all manner of state-sponsored and private tech-enabled cyber threats and obstacles, and civil society actors across various countries continue to raise and amplify their voices and the hopes and aspirations of their constituencies even as their spaces for free expression, both online and offline, are being squeezed tighter and tighter by a range of malevolent actors and forces.

This project – an initiative of the African Declaration (AfDec) Coalition, supported by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and the Namibia Media Trust (NMT), and funded by the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) – seeks to open up another avenue for elevating the voices of African civil society actors, specifically those scattered across six southern African countries in most of which democratic engagement spaces are increasingly, and in some severely, constrained. The project brings together civil society and digital rights researchers, activists and advocates from about 10 organisations spread over Botswana, Eswatini, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

These individuals and organisations are partnering and collaborating to shine a bright spotlight on the individual country-level digital rights and online civic spaces in which they operate. This six-country digital rights collage captures and portrays broader regional narrative streams in the quest to democratise the sub-regional cyber space. As part of our collaboration we will be bringing you regular updates concerning access to the internet and the state of data and online privacy in our respective countries. We will be bringing you these updates through six regional digests, of which this is the first, that we will be producing until May 2023.

In this first edition, we look at how civil society in Botswana, with regional support, managed to convince the government to make significant and meaningful changes to draft criminal procedures law that would have been a death-knell to digital privacy. We also discuss how in the wake of uprising and unrest ordinary citizens in Eswatini have to navigate a new reality under a newly imposed cybercrime law. Then there is the discussion of how the arrests of journalists and social media users are problematically characterising the digital rights space in Malawi.

In the same vein, Namibia is introducing mandatory SIM card registration and data retention regulations that could become a violation of the constitutionally enshrined right to privacy. In Zambia, civil society actors are pushing for the review and repeal of a cybercrime law that was brought in to suppress legitimate political expression. And from Zimbabwe, we bring you a discussion of how a complex range of issues are impacting the exercising of digital rights in the country. While all this might not make for happy reading, it certainly is important reading, and it showcases the will and commitment of those in each of the countries who continue to fight for freedoms, both online and offline. With all that said, we bring you Digital Rights Southern Africa.


Available in this first edition:

Editorial: Showcasing the will and commitment of those fighting (By Frederico Links)

Botswana CSOs rebuff criminal procedures bill (By Thapelo Ndlovu)

Eswatini passes cyber laws under dark clouds (By Ndimphiwe Shabangu)

Arrests mar Malawi’s digital rights landscape (By Jimmy Kainja)

New surveillance regulations lurk threateningly in Namibia (By Frederico Links)

Lungu law looms dangerously over Zambian digital rights (By Susan Mwape)

Affordable connectivity and privacy violations plague Zimbabwe (By Otto Saki and Nompilo Simanje)


Southern Africa Digital Rights is produced under ‘The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms: Fostering a human rights-centred approach to privacy, data protection and access to the internet in Southern Africa’ project.


Read more:

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 2

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 3

Southern Africa Digital Rights edition 4


Call on the Nigerian Government to Rescind its Indefinite Suspension of Twitter’s Operations in Nigeria.

In a letter to Nigerian president and other prominent departments of ministry within the Nigerian government, Paradigm Initiative in lieu with fellow undersigned organizations have gone on to ask the state authorities to rescind their suspension on Twitter access and operations in the African country.

Privacy and Personal Data Protection in Africa: A Rights-based Survey of Legislation in Eight Countries

The country reports collected here offer an in-depth rights-based analysis of the status of privacy and data protection legislation in Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo and Uganda. This publication was part of a project by the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedom (AfDec) Coalition, “Strengthening a rights-based approach to data protection in Africa”, whose objective was to foster a rights-based approach to the adoption and implementation of this legislation.

In assessing country contexts, the authors gave an analysis of a state’s regional and global commitments to privacy, and the impact of the country’s legislative environment on privacy. They also undertook a specific analysis of the data protection laws as they exist in each country, identified key privacy rights actors and institutions, evaluated data protection practices in internet country code top level domain name (ccTLD) registration, and analysed the status of the country’s data protection authority.

Two key frameworks were used for analysis for this research: Principle 8 of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, which deals with privacy and personal data protection, and the human rights-based approach to policy and legislative development, whose basic principles include participation, accountability, non-discrimination and equality, empowerment and legality.

Each report ends with a series of recommendations to different stakeholders in the respective countries. A key role for civil society identified in the reports’ recommendations is that of monitoring the implementation of privacy laws and other related legislation in order to hold governments to account at different levels. At the local and national level, part of this monitoring involves documenting and reporting breaches of data protection and privacy legislation. At the regional and international levels, the reports note a need for the formation of coalitions by civil society groups in order to strengthen their capacity to monitor implementation of the laws, and increase their engagement with both regional and international human rights mechanisms, such as through submissions to the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review when countries are due to report.

This research provides an important benchmark for this future advocacy.

This publication was produced with support from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ).


African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms Coalition




Privacy and Personal Data Protection in Africa - Advocacy Toolkit

New toolkit offers insights into advocacy around the growing need for privacy and personal data protection in Africa

As online interactions form an ever greater part of our daily lives, a growing amount of our personal data is being collected, stored and mined by different public and private sector players. As a result, issues regarding the right to privacy and personal data protection have become increasingly relevant. The COVID-19 pandemic has sped up this shift to the digital sphere significantly around the world, and Africa is no exception. This makes the recent launch of the Privacy and personal data protection in Africa: Advocacy toolkit especially timely.

The toolkit was developed by the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (AfDec) Coalition. It provides an overview of all relevant national, regional and international mechanisms, duty bearers and rights holders, and a checklist for analysing data protection and privacy-related policy and legislation using the human rights-based approach (HRBA).

The two lead consultants in the development of the toolkit, the University of Pretoria Centre for Human Rights and ALT Advisory, have been prominently involved in privacy and data protection in Africa.

A broad range of African stakeholders from diverse geographical and professional backgrounds validated the toolkit, which is meant to raise awareness among civil society actors, policy makers and human rights activists on the HRBA.

This advocacy toolkit provides an overview of the legal standards concerning the right of privacy and personal data protection in Africa and offers a set of practical tools for stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of data protection frameworks.

At the same time, the toolkit is a guide to engage with, advocate for, and inform policy makers on data protection and privacy in Africa, and can also be used as a manual by trainers in the understanding of data protection and privacy for various actors.

The toolkit is divided into three parts, with the first one providing an introduction to the international and regional human rights frameworks, while part two delves into the content of the right to privacy and personal data protection. Part three, on the other hand, deals with duty bearers and rights holders. It focuses on issues such as data protection terminology; key principles of data protection law; the rights of data subjects and obligations of duty bearers; and policy guidelines on data protection and privacy.

The toolkit draws lessons from the European frameworks relating to data protection such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is intended to harmonise the collection, storage, use, sharing and processing of personal information across Europe.

The toolkit also highlights the existing African frameworks on data protection, including the revised Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection.

Several recommendations are offered, among them, the need for the African Union Commission to incorporate the right to privacy in the work of other special mechanisms beyond the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. 

It also recommends that the Pan African Parliament, the legislative body of the African Union, develop programmes on privacy, data protection, consumer protection, electronic commerce, cybercrime, the fourth industrial revolution and the implications of technology on privacy and data protection.

On national data protection agencies, the toolkit recommends that their powers, tasks and responsibilities should be to supervise and monitor the application of data protection laws and implementation of sanctions in cases of non-compliance.

The toolkit also spells out the role of law enforcement agencies, which should including working with the data protection agencies and processing personal information in a lawful, fair and transparent manner.

For their part, national human rights institutions are urged to see privacy and data protection as human rights concerns that should fall within the scope of their mandate.

A Safer Web for Women

This comic strip was produced by the Kenya ICT Action Network, and can be used as a training tool.

Most women will attest to being sexualized long before they knew they were women - or being treated less, long before they ever considered what they were or were not capable of. This reality is no different online. In fact, it is amplified. Actions expressing long-established stereotypes of women's worth deriving from their purity, ability to find and keep a husband, bear children and to make and stay at a home are exacerbated online. The domination of patriarchy through violence is magnified online in ways that would not be possible or at least to the same extent in the physical world. In this story of three differently-aged, differently-shaped, and differently-employed women we see what that violence can look like online, how the seemingly harmless can actually contribute to it and what we can all do to prevent it and to create a safer space for women online. As a society, we are only as strong as our least powerful person and we can only hope for a better tomorrow if we stop disempowering them through our actions both online and offline.

Read below about  Lulu, Amani, and Pendo's story to learn about online gender-based violence and creating safe spaces for women online