The rise in internet penetration and access to mobile devices across West Africa is facilitating communications, commerce and contributions to national discourse and the demand for transparency and accountability. The expansion of the frontiers of expression in particular is, unfortunately, seen as a threat by some governments in the region. As a result, some of them are increasingly using legislation as a weapon to limit expression online. But for the region to participate in, and benefit from the digital revolution, there is the need for a freer and safer digital environment where people can express themselves without fear or favour, innovate, self-develop and participate in governance processes.
Our digital rights work is, thus, focused on promoting a free, open, safe and secured digital space for equitable access and use by all, especially women.
Over the years, we have made significant contributions towards documenting developments (positive and negative) in the digital space and producing policy briefs and reports to inform policy and advocacy interventions. In particular, we have been monitoring and reporting on violations against online expression and issuing periodic reports titled, West Africa Internet Rights Monitor. These reports are used as tools to advocate for reparation of abuses, and the protection and respect of human rights online.
The MFWA has also been actively engaging at the national, regional and international levels where we have successfully made inputs into cybersecurity and digital rights discourses. In Ghana, for instance, we have worked with the Cybersecurity Authority (formerly National Cybersecurity Centre) and made recommendations into Ghana’s Cybersecurity Act 2020 (Act 1038). We have also been engaging government and other stakeholders through national-level forums on digital rights and cybersecurity issues.
Our policy brief highlighting opportunities that exist for African governments and non-governmental stakeholders to engage the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) was the main reference material used to informed the theme and discussions of the 2022 African School of Internet Governance (AfriSIG). The issues and recommendations raised in the policy brief, and their uptake, were thoroughly discussed by the 2022 AfriSIG participants.
One of the priority areas of the digital rights programme is the promotion of women’s rights online – an advocacy aimed at promoting an enabling environment that fosters equitable access and use of the internet by all, especially females. We have, thus, been undertaking activities in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone to highlight women’s rights online issues and improve digital literacy among women (through capacity building workshops). These activities have empowered about 400 women from Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone on issues such as digital rights, identifying online abuses; staying safe online; using digital platforms to boost entrepreneurial initiatives, among others.