Edited Collection

Digital Rights in Closing Civic Space: Lessons from Ten African Countries

Published on 26 February 2021

This report introduces findings from ten digital rights landscape country reports on Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, Sudan, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Cameroon.

The country reports analyse how the openings and closings of online civic space affect citizens’ digital rights. They show that:

  1. When civic space closes offline citizens often respond by opening civic space online.
  2. When civic space opens online governments often take measures to close online space.
  3. The resulting reduction in digital rights makes it impossible to achieve the kind of inclusive governance defined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We know far more about openings and closings of online civic space in the global North than we do in the global South. What little we do know about Africa is mainly about a single country, a single event, or single technology. For the first time, these reports make possible a comparative analysis of openings and closings of online civic space in Africa. They document 65 examples of the use of digital technologies to open online civic space and 115 examples of techniques used to close online civic space. The five tactics used most often to close online civic space in Africa are digital surveillance, disinformation, internet shutdowns, legislation, and arrests for online speech.

The reports show clearly that any comprehensive analysis of digital rights requires consideration of the wider political, civic space, and technological contexts. We argue that countering the threats to democracy and digital rights discussed in the reports requires new evidence, awareness, and capacity. We propose applied research to build capacity in each country to effectively monitor, analyse, and counter the insidious impact of surveillance and disinformation; and a programme to raise awareness and mobilise opinion to open civic space and improve citizens’ ability to exercise, defend, and expand their digital rights.

Cite this publication

Roberts, T. (ed.) (2021) Digital Rights in Closing Civic Space: Lessons from Ten African Countries, Brighton: Institute of Development Studies, DOI: 10.19088/IDS.2021.003


Tony Roberts

Digital Cluster Research Fellow

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published by
Institute of Development Studies


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