Emerging technologies and new media: Impact on democratic governance, peace and security in Africa

Emerging technologies and new media: Impact on democratic governance, peace and security in Africa

Date | 04 August 2022

Tomorrow (04 August), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will hold its 1097th session on a relatively new thematic issue on “Emerging technologies and new media: Impact on democratic governance, peace and security in Africa”.

Following opening remarks of the Permanent Representative of The Gambia to the AU and Chairperson of the PSC for the month, Jainaba Jagne, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS), Bankole Adeoye is expected to make a statement. The Director of the AU Commission Department of Infrastructure and Energy, representative of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and expert on emerging technologies, Thompson Chengeta, will deliver presentations. Representatives of Amani Africa and Institute for Security Studies (ISS) are also expected to make intervention.

While the PSC discussed specific issues relating to emerging technologies and new media, this is the first time that the Council has a dedicated session on emerging technologies and new media in general, with a focus on their impact on democratic governance and peace and security in Africa. This strategically important session helps the PSC to grapple with a theme whose ramifications and significance have been expanding at a pace that continues to widen the gulf between the rate of change of these technologies and media and the response of policy makers.

The use of emerging technologies and new media including access to the internet and mobile technology continue to contribute positively to democratic governance and the promotion of peace and security in Africa, as in other parts of the world. For example, drones have improved the way healthcare is provided in Rwanda as they are being used to deliver blood in remote areas, thus enhancing access by overcoming geographic limitations. Mobile phones and social media also present opportunities to empower citizens and transform their relationship with the state. Real-time photos and videos uploaded to social media can expose government corruption or abuse and increase government responsiveness to citizen concerns. These technologies have also revolutionized people’s ability to organize and coordinate protest movements as well as electoral campaigns.

A case in point is the 2016 elections in the Gambia. According to one study, 92% of people interviewed believed that social media played the most role compared to traditional media. Especially, they affirmed that social media platforms such as WhatsApp or Facebook allowed the population to receive and spread information, even when the then incumbent government closed the access to the Internet. Furthermore, social media allowed locals to get in contact with Gambians living abroad. The interviewees affirmed that WhatsApp and Facebook ‘dominated the transmission of ideas’ and were able to ‘educate a larger number of people about the necessity of change’. In Mali, the mobile application ‘MonElu’ has been utilized as a medium to strengthen citizen participation in governance by facilitating dialogue with elected officials and in the process increasing accountability to citizens. In Kenya, Kenyan civil society successfully deployed crowd-sourcing technologies (Ushahidi) to map out the unfolding post-election violence in the country in 2008 election.

Council has taken note of the contribution of new media in various at its various sessions including the 589th, 791st and 1062nd sessions convened under the theme of “Elections in Africa”. For example, at  its 1062nd session it stressed ‘the important role of … responsible media, both print and electronic, in electoral processes and encouraged these entities to always contribute more positively towards promoting the integrity and credibility of elections and maintenance of peace and stability in Member States, especially by promoting civic education and accurate public information, as well as refraining from inflammatory reporting and miscommunication that may incite violence.’

In terms of the role of new technologies for promoting clean elections and limiting the rigging of elections, there is a need for identifying optimal conditions under which technologies contribute for enhancing the confidence of the electorate in the role of elections for advancing democratic governance in Africa. This is also important in terms of strengthening the quality of AU election monitoring through the use of relevant technologies and new media both for planning and conducting the election monitoring work of the AU.

In terms of positive contribution of emerging technologies for peace and security, the use of these technologies helps in timely exposing risks of violence and crises thereby strengthening early warning capabilities. Increasing use of these technologies by conflict actors also mean that it has increasingly become possible to establish the positions, motivations and movement of conflict actors, thereby enabling the planning of informed policy responses and mediation and peace-making efforts. The use of these technologies in peace processes has not only enabled mediators and peace support operations to have strong situational awareness, but to also engage in public diplomacy. These technologies also contribute to enhancing the legitimacy of peace processes by enabling engagement with various stakeholders. Admittedly, the extent to which AU peace processes, whether in mediation or in peace support operations, are able to harness these positive contribution of these technologies depend on their possession of the requisite skills and capabilities for using these technologies for such ends.

In the light of the foregoing, one issue that would be of interest to the PSC is the need for examining the current state of how AU and Regional Economic Communities and Regional Mechanisms (RECs/RMs) peace processes are using and harnessing the potentials of emerging technologies and new media for their work in conflict management and resolution.

It is clear from the foregoing that emerging technologies and new media have significant actual and potential contribution for the achievement of AU’s Agenda 2063 broadly and those relating to democratic governance and peace and security in particular. But the optimization of their current contributions and the harnessing of their enormous potentials depends on expanding access to these technologies and the technical know-how of and digital literacy for various areas of public life.

Emerging technologies and new media are not however without peril. Indeed, previous engagements of the PSC and recent and current experiences illustrate the adverse impacts of emerging technologies and new media in Africa.

Internet and social media platforms have been misused for spreading misinformation and inciting violence, particularly during election periods, undermining democratic processes and imposing serious risk to peace and security. In this regard, Council’s 653rd and 713th sessions have been particularly critical in drawing attention to the abuse and misuse of the media space by some political actors, which has the impact of undermining the credibility of electoral processes. A relatively newer trend Council may wish to note at tomorrow’s session is also the manipulation of algorisms by social media platforms to shape perceptions of people during elections, with the core purpose of precipitating artificially engineered electoral outcomes.

Aside from the context of elections, the more general abuse of media space for spread of hate speech and incitement of violence has also been a matter of serious concern in the continent. For example, in cases where it is difficult to trace the individual(s) or group(s) engaged in disinformation or misinformation operations, the distribution of content, such as images, memes, videos, and even voice messages, leads to a high level of violence among communities. In Nigeria, images of corpses in mass graves were used to fuel animosity between the Fulani Muslims and Berom Christians, which resulted in violence and killing. The perilous use of these technologies is something that the PSC has addressed, particularly in the context of its thematic agenda on hate crimes and prevention of genocide. At its 761st session for example where Council highlighted how the misuse of social media has the potential of escalating the ideology of hate and genocide and how the abuse of media space can disrupt social cohesion and endanger national unity, it urged member States to set up mechanisms for monitoring the use of media.

The use of new technologies for surveillance and disinformation by state actors has also become a major source of concern as it dampness the positive contribution of these technologies and new media by exposing people with dissenting voices to serious peril. The 2020 titled a roadmap for digital cooperation noted, ‘new technologies are too often used for surveillance, repression, censorship and online harassment’ and that ‘greater efforts are needed to develop further guidance on how human rights standards apply in the digital age.’ The PSC may in this regard welcome the initiative of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ under its resolution 473 on artificial intelligence, robotics and other new and emerging technologies.

Council’s 850th session addressing the theme of “Cyber Security” has highlighted the ‘importance of a safe and secure cyber space for reaping the dividends of digital transformation of Africa’. On the adverse side, a number of PSC’s sessions on terrorism and violent extremism have expressed concern over the growing use of technologies and media by terrorist groups. In addition to emphasising the concerning use of technologies such as UAVs by terrorist groups, as well as the manipulation of internet for purposes of radicalisation and recruitment, it is also important for Council to reflect on the use of new technologies in armed conflicts and the impact thereof. In recent years, the demand for military drones in Africa has significantly been on the rise, driven by a growing number of internal conflicts and counter-terrorism operations. Libya for instance is often even called the world’s largest ‘drone war theatre’, with multiple countries supporting one of the warring parties militarily in the civil war through the delivery of drones. France is deploying armed drones in the Sahel region against militants in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, and both US and French air strikes in Africa are notorious for injuring and killing civilians, often without any transparency or accountability regarding civilian casualties.

According to the latest drone study reports, African countries have also increasingly acquired and used (armed) drones themselves in their fights against armed groups. At the same time, armed groups are increasingly putting effort into weaponizing small commercial drones, turning these into surveillance and combat drones, of which Boko Haram is a primary example. These developments make clear that military drones have become an essential tool for armed forces in their operations, but that their use gives rise to questions about clear legal norms, wider military-strategic considerations and improved export controls.

The expected outcome of the session is a Communiqué. Council may recognize the enormous contribution and potential of emerging technologies and new media in addressing the socio-economic, governance and peace and security challenges and for the implementation of AU’s Agenda 2063. It may call for the imperative for enhancing Africa’s participation both in the development of and access to emerging technologies and use of new media for the advancement of the wellbeing of the people of the continent. It may express concerns about the threats posed by actors that use emerging technologies to disseminate malicious online contents that diminish trust for democratic governance. The Council may call for the development of regulatory framework for ensuring that technology firms strengthen their supervisory mechanisms to prevent the use of their technologies for destructive purposes. It may request for greater collaboration between member States, RECs/RMs, the AU Commission, and the Private Sector in promoting the development and responsible use of emerging technologies and new media. Having regard to upcoming elections in the continent, particularly Kenya’s general elections scheduled to take place 09 August, Council may also urge all relevant stakeholder to refrain from misuse of new media and task the AU election observers to pay particular attention to the impact of new media with a view to propose ways of more effectively addressing the increasing adverse use to which new media and technologies are used in tampering electoral processes. It may also call on member States to ensure respect of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) standards in their use of new technologies including weapons such as battle drones and UAVs.

Mitigating the threat of Cyber Security to Peace and Security in Africa

Cyber Security

Date | 19 May, 2019

Tomorrow (20 May), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is scheduled to hold a session on cyber security as one of the emerging threats to peace and security in Africa. The Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) are expected to brief the Council. The Directorate of Information and Communication and the Department of Infrastructure and Energy of the African Union Commission (AUC) may also deliver statements.

The main objective of the session is to highlight the threats associated with the expanding use by government agencies, businesses, individuals and other sectors of society of information and communication technologies (ICT). The growth of ICT has enhanced interconnectedness, e-commerce, efficient delivery of services and information sharing. However, this development was also accompanied by the threat of cybercrime which has brought about a number of private and public security challenges. The increased use of ICT by state and non-state actors for undertaking a wide range of economic, social and private activities has heightened cyber risks and vulnerabilities. As a result, government agencies, businesses, individuals, financial institutions and critical facilities operating on the basis of ICT continue to be exposed to cyber crimes and attacks. These threats also pose great risk to national, regional and international peace and security.

Thus while acknowledging the critical importance of ICT, the session will also look into the challenges of how weak networks and information security systems and lack of effective regulation and preparedness have exposed the countries of the continent to cyber security threats.

Although cyber crime is a global concern, African countries like many parts of the developing world, remain particularly vulnerable. Despite the growth of the ICT sector in Africa and increasing dependence of various sectors of African economies and increasing number of people, the readiness and possession of the required technology and know-how for addressing cyber security threats remains weak. There is no adequate awareness and appreciation of the scope and forms of vulnerabilities and the nature, manifestations and sophistication of cyber crimes. Additionally, many countries in Africa do not possess specific cyber legislation and this has made the countries vulnerable to cybercriminals.

Moreover, even already existing cyber laws are not strictly implemented and enforced and there is a general lack of awareness about cyber security measures which all have created the space for cyber crime in the continent. With limited resources most African countries would struggle to effectively tackle cyber crime.

Tomorrow’s session envisages to examine the state of the current legal regime for dealing with cyber security at the regional level and articulate mechanisms and actions through which the nature of this emerging threat is adequately identified and it can effectively be addressed. At the continental level the AU has adopted the African Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection in 2014 at the 23rd AU Summit. The Convention is a broad framework that offers clear guidelines and principles on the management of electronic transactions, on safety systems of personal data and measures to promote cyber security. However, the Convention has not yet entered into force. To date only thirteen countries have signed and four have ratified. As a way of enhancing the digital governance structure the session may call for renewed commitments in ratifying and implementing the provision of the continental legal instrument. The Convention itself tasked the AUC Chairperson to establish a monitoring mechanism that encourages the implementation of cyber security measures, collects and shares information, offers advice to member states and regularly report to the decision making organs of the AU on the implementation of the Convention. The Council may also follow up on the steps taken by the AUC as per the responsibilities articulated in the Convention.

In 2018 the Executive Council endorsed the decision of the Specialized Technical Committee (STC) on Communication and ICT to establish an Africa Cyber Security Collaboration and Coordination committee. The committee which is also known as the AU Cyber Security Expert Group (AUCSEG) has the central role of advising and providing guidance to decision makers on cyber security policies and strategies. The AUCSEG is also expected to facilitate information sharing and cooperation among AU member states. The session may review if steps have been taken to the operationalization of AUCSEG and other related activities.

Despite the steps taken at the continental level, the level of readiness do not match the multifaceted threat of cybercrime. One of the characteristic features of the cyber space is that individuals and groups with expertise in ICT can use it for organizing, mobilizing, or perpetrating criminal acts ranging from identity theft to using malware for attacking businesses and government agencies. Apart from how the internet has been used by groups such as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram for recruiting and mobilizing funds, the cyber space has become a site for circulating false information and inciting division and violence. In this context, the 812th session of the PSC stressed ‘the need to counter the use of ICT technologies by terrorist groups, whether in their fundraising, narrative promotion, and recruitment of others to commit terrorist acts’.

As part of the efforts towards mitigating cyber threats, the PSC may recall its previous 627th session which put forward concrete measures to respond to the challenge. It urged member states to develop national cyber security legislations and to create national and regional computer emergency response teams (CERT) and/or computer security incident response teams (CSIRT).It also supported the creation of a special unit within the Peace and Security Department (PSD), which will be exclusively dedicated to the efforts of prevention and mitigating cybercrime at continental level in close partnership with member states. PSC members may inquire on the progress of such initiatives.

The 749th meeting, held on 27 January 2018, at the level of Heads of State and Government, on the theme: “Towards a Comprehensive Approach to Combating the Transnational Threat of Terrorism in Africa” has similarly welcomed and recalled the need to organize an African Dialogue aiming at combating terrorism online and securing cyberspace. Given that cyber security concerns are broader than national boundaries it is necessary to put in place such kinds of robust and collective defensive cyber mechanisms. It is held that such a dialogue affords an opportunity for facilitating coordination among national and regional CERTs may also play a critical role in creating a continent wide security system. African Dialogue may also serve as a key tool to raise awareness on the threats associated with the use of ICT and on mitigation mechanisms. The PSC may thus wish to request an update on this initiative.

While it is clear from the foregoing that various AU bodies have been seized with the issue of cyber security and they proposed initiatives, their engagement and initiatives lack a common organizing strategy. Beyond and above reviewing the status of the various initiatives, it would be of interest to PSC members to review whether the different initiatives are complementary and the steps required for having a common strategy that ties them all together towards a set of shared objectives leading to a cyber governance and security architecture, anchored on partnership with other regions and international organizations. Also of interest to member states is to identify how to leverage the role of Regional Economic Communities/Regional Mechanisms and AU’s partnerships with the UN and the EU. Additionally, in the light of the legal measures adopted by the EU on data protection, the PSC may review the effectiveness of the personal data protection provisions of the 2014 AU Convention and the implications, if any, of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The expected outcome of the session is a press statement. Previous Executive Council, STC and PSC decisions have already laid out the relevant steps in setting up continental mechanisms and this particular session may provide more guidance on their operationalization and coordination. PSC may wish to offer guidance on ways to spearhead the accelerated ratification of the 2014 Convention on Cyber Security, and more particularly follow up on the work of AUCSEG and its harmonization with the specialized unit within PSD and other relevant AUC departments and organs. Given that cyber security systems require specialized expertise and resources as well as partnerships, the PSC may also put forward recommendations on ways to enhance the capacity of member states and the role of the AU in leveraging their efforts and its partnerships with African and international actors for collective action.