CIPESA Launches 2023 State of Internet Freedom in Africa with a Mixed Bag of Findings for Nigeria

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Dr. Wakabi Wairagala
Executive Director CIPESA.

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has launched the 2023 edition of the State of Internet Freedom in Africa report titled, “A Decade of Internet Freedom in Africa: Recounting the Past, Shaping the Future of Internet Freedom in Africa”. For Nigeria, it was a mixed bag of the good and the bad for the different thematic issues that the report explores.

CIPESA launched the report on September 29, 2023, at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) which took place in Tanzania. 

The year 2023 marks a decade of publishing the State of Internet Freedom in Africa reports and also coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica). To celebrate these milestones, CIPESA produced this special edition to honour the efforts of various state and non-state actors in the promotion of internet freedom in Africa, while reaffirming its commitment to continue generating evidence-based research and strengthening partnerships and engagement through FIFAfrica.

The report documents trends in internet freedom in African countries and serves as a key reference point for various state and non-state actors on key issues of digital rights and those affecting the digital society and digital economy.

The authors in this special issue of the report reflect on the past 10 years on the state of Internet freedom in Africa through a series of essays, exploring various thematic issues around digital rights, including surveillance, privacy, censorship, disinformation, infrastructure, access, advocacy, online safety, internet shutdowns, among others.

Some of the authors featured in the report include, Admire Mare, Amanda Manyame, Blaise Pascal Andzongo Menyeng, Rima Rouibi, Victor Kapiyo, Felicia Anthonio. Richard Ngamita, Nanjala Nyabola, Professor Bitange Ndemo, Paul Kimumwe, and Edrine Wanyama.

Nigeria was among the 17 countries where the government did not disrupt Internet operations during elections.

The report also considers, as a milestone recorded in public interest litigation against internet shutdowns at both national and regional levels, the July 14, 2022, declaration of the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Court) that the seven-month Twitter blocking in Nigeria was unlawful and incongruent with the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as well as the UN Charter.

It noted that Internet use across the continent was on a steady rise, growing four-fold between 2011 and 2021 and says there were 4.5 million internet users in Africa in 2000, with South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania in the top five countries.

Furthermore, the report cites the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) report that internet use in Africa surged 23% between 2019 and 2021, noting that “Nigeria witnessed similar growth rising from 100 million to 120 million users, propelled by cheaper devices and connectivity, social media uptake, and increased reliance on digital services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

On the downside, the report lists Nigeria as being among the countries that used repressive laws to stifle internet freedom during critical events and in particular to target, threaten, arrest and detain bloggers, journalists, whistle-blowers and critics of the government with the deployment of false news and cybercrime laws with punitive sanctions by the Nigerian authorities.

A black spot that the report highlighted was the suspension of Twitter operations in June 2021 in retaliation for the platform deletion of a tweet from the account of Muhammadu Buhari, the then head of state of Nigeria.

Nigeria, along with Kenya, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea, Morocco, Zimbabwe and Zambia were reported to be using Circles as a surveillance/interception technology for covert spying on citizens’ emails, instant messaging, browsing and search histories.

To download the full report, please click State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2023.