Internet Governance Lessons Africa Can Learn From Brazil’s Success Story

Internet Governance Lessons Africa Can Learn From Brazil’s Success Story

By Arthur Gwagwa |

In the past decade, most African countries, with a few exceptions, have increased their technical and legal surveillance capabilities, under the justification of fighting crime and terrorism. State surveillance has also impacted negatively on human rights, in particular the right to freedom of speech, privacy, association and political participation. Therefore the cyberspace continue to present important opportunities and challenges for human rights and governance in Africa. States, the private sector and civil society all have a stake in this dynamic environment. While there is consensus about the enormous potential for advancing development, the control of cyberspace and management of crime and terrorism are still being debated (ISS, 2015). In order to address these disturbing trends, African countries need to develop effective legislative, administrative, judicial and/or other measures to ensure the protection of human rights in cyberspace.

While human rights groups in the Global North have managed to form coalitions to roll back states’ illegitimate exercise of political power in the cyber space, efforts in Africa remain fragmented. As civil society groups, we o largely lack the wherewithal and social capital that come by working together to effectively speak with one voice. At the same time, the cyber discourse in the Global North, for example, debates on net neutrality, are often far removed from Africa’s realities. In Africa, state surveillance is a matter of life and death, as surveillance has, in some cases, been linked to politically motivated forced disappearances and abductions. How can African civil society groups confront this challenge? In the absence of relevant guidance or success stories on how to roll back the state surveillance powers, Brazil might offer vital lessons to Africa, not only because of its strategic position in the Global South but shared similarities with African countries.

This paper briefly looks at the Brazilian civil society advocacy strategy which led to the passage into law of the Brazilian Marco Civil da Internet (Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet). It also addresses far reaching positive international impact of the Brazilian domestic reforms on internet governance. It observes how, by focussing its foreign policy on cyber-related human rights, Brazil has increased its global soft power. The first part of the article on Brazilian domestic reforms is based on the presentation by Ronaldo Lemos of the Institute of Technology and Society (the “Institute”). The presentation was made in Sao Paulo on 28 May 2015, during the XIV International Human Rights Colloquium hosted by the Brazilian human rights group Conectas. Any misstatements or errors in interpreting what Ronaldo said should be ascribed to me. The paper is produced as an advocacy tool drawing lessons from the Brazilian case study, especially in proving how domestic reforms can give a country credibility in its foreign and international positions on human rights.

Download the full document here.

The paper is written on lessons drawn during Conectas XIV International Human Rights Colloquium.

Arthur Gwagwa is a freedom of expression activist and lawyer. He mainly writes on networked technologies and society issues relating to Africa.

The views expressed in the article are solely those of the Author.

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