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Project

African Digital Rights Network

Many countries in Africa are experiencing a closing of civic space: a reduction in the freedom of citizens to openly discuss politics, criticise government policies, and to take an active part in key decisions that affect their health, education, liberty and livelihoods.

In Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, for example, when the government arrested journalists and banned public demonstrations, young people responded creatively, using the internet and mobile phones to open civic spaceUsing SMS, social media, encrypted messaging and even satellite TV to connect, organise, develop policy alternatives and successfully challenge the government narrative.

This Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) funded network, brings together activists, analysts and researchers from seven African countries who have tracked and analysed hashtag campaigns like #BringBackOursGirls in Nigeria and #RhodesMustFall in South Africa and advocated against government-initiated network disruptions including through the #KeepItOn campaignSome members of the network have also organised digital security training for human rights defenders to safely communicate online including in dangerous and restrictive environments.  

The network is also studying the growing use of digital surveillance tools by governments and the employment of ‘coordinated inauthentic actors’ such as so-called troll farmsbot armies and cyborg networks to drown out debate and close civic space online.

Digital rights are universal human rights in digital spaces. They include, but are not limited to, the right to privacy, freedom from violence, freedom of political opinion, freedom of expression and freedom of association. The overall objective of the African Digital Rights Network (ADRN) is to produce better understanding of the actors and technologies involved in the opening and closing of civic space online, and to build the capacity of citizens to exercise, defend and expand their rights online and offline. 

To build the network the Digital & Technology Cluster at the Institute of Development Studies is working with the analyst and author Nanjala Nyabola, Berhan Taye from Access Now, Atnafu Berhane from CARD Ethiopia, Koketso Moeti from Amandla.mobi, Jan Moolman from the Association of Progressive Communications (APC), Juliet Nanfuka from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), Natasha Msonza from the Digital Society of Zimbabwe, Kiss Abraham from New Zambian Innovations, Turgay Celik and Iginio Gagliardone from the University of the Witwatersrand, Anand Sheombar from HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, Tanja Bosch from the University of Cape Town, George Karekwaivanane from the University of Edinburgh, Ayo Ojebode from the University of Ibadan, and Sam Phiri from the University of Zambia.

This collaborative research project includes activists, analysts, and practitioners with deep contextual knowledge into a multi-disciplinary research team. The network will begin by producing seven Country Digital Landscape Reports to scope the existing political and technological landscape in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.  

An analysis of existing capacity and gaps will inform the design of a broader programme of research beyond the inception year. We will use the Country Digital Landscape Reports to identify cross-cutting research themes and produce thematic reports that build the knowledge and capabilities of citizens to exercise, defend and expand the rights guaranteed to them in law but denied to them in practice. 

The network is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) through the United Kingdom Research Institute (UKRI) fund for Digital Innovation for Development in Africa (DIDA) in the research area Digital Rights. 

Africa Digital Rights Network website

People

Image of Amy Cowlard
Amy Cowlard

Senior Project Support Officer

David Haddock

Project Support Officer

Image of Kevin Hernandez
Kevin Hernandez

Research Officer

Image of Tony Roberts
Tony Roberts

Research Fellow

Recent work

News

State surveillance of citizens going unchecked across Africa

A new report warns existing laws are failing to protect privacy rights, with governments in Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Sudan overreaching surveillance powers to monitor citizens. With mass surveillance in direct violation of citizen’s constitutional rights and...

21 October 2021

Opinion

State surveillance of citizens reaches far beyond Pegasus

The Pegasus spyware story is just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond the software developed by the Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, there is a multi-million-pound global market in which companies compete to profit from helping states to illegally spy on their own citizens. Rightly there has...

23 July 2021

Opinion

Impact of digital technologies on the civic space

Two days before Uganda’s Presidential elections in January 2021, social media networks were blacked out at the government’s order. The action on social media came after the removal of Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s re-election...

Koketso Moeti

16 April 2021

Opinion

An evolution of Youth, Social Media and Protest in Angola

Despite severe restrictions implemented by governments in many countries to combat the current Covid-19 pandemic, protest and demonstrations have continued to take place around the world. In Angola, like elsewhere in Africa and beyond, these protests are being led by the youth with many...

15 April 2021