Threats to Individual Privacy To a degree unprecedented in history, individual privacy is now under siege in West Africa.

As Africans gleefully clutch to their mobile phones and savor the benefits of this wonderful communication technology, this social revolution may turn out to be a mixed blessing. And unless many irregularities that find abode in the sub-region are fixed, the celebratory mood unleashed by the coming of cell phones will not last. In fact, this may help doom many of the developing aspirations in Africa’s evolving nations. From Nigeria to Ghana, Cameroun to Egypt, Tanzania to Cote d’Ivoire, cell phones are fast becoming new tools that allow the invasion of privacy, and potential weapons of repression in the hands of power-drunk governments with their ubiquitous and overzealous security arm. With an explosion in the mobile telephony subscriber base, which has now given birth to an unprecedented boom in social and economic activities, African governments now grapple with the flip side of success: being befuddled with an environment where crime festers with dizzying ferocity. As the world’s poorest inhabited continent groans under the pangs of a booming mobile phone-assisted crime wave, seeming helpless sometimes, the glad tiding is that there are new initiatives being put in place to tame the security scourge.

But there is also a snag, for some of the measures seem set to both expand the powers of government and curtail the freedom and privacy of mobile phone subscribers in Africa.1 In a manner that may redefine many things, many African governments are yet to come to terms with the daunting task of crime fighting and respect for constitutional rights of citizens, especially as it borders on privacy, freedom and fundamental human rights. [it might be useful in your project to explain the constitutional rights and the rights of privacy that exist in the different African countries. I would imagine there is a range of protections or lack thereof.]An academic journey around some recent security challenges in some countries in the continent and official responses response will illuminate this cutting fear. The Heart of the Matter Other Forms of Assault on Privacy Legal Bulwarks for Privacy Unfortunately, until law courts begin to test and set the limits on the need to balance national security with people rights, the prospect appears
1

Analyzing the implications of the proposed plan of the Nigerian mobile telephone regulator to install gadgets on masts and towers to monitor the location of customers, Oluniyi D. Ajao concluded that this would invite devastating blows on privacy and rights of the citizenry. http://www.ictworks.org/news/2010/08/06/ncc-wants-track-nigeriansmovements-mobile-phones (accessed on October 2, 2010)

bleak across Africa. Though the various constitutions make provisions for protection of fundamental human rights, including privacy, all the statutes predated the new challenge posed by the mobile communication instrument. While the legal ground rules remain unclear about how to marry security needs with human rights, another vital issue gives weapons to fears that infraction on rights may continue: the absence of freedom of information act, which seeks to open up government to the citizenry, abolish secrecy in the running of government business and endue the people with trust in their government. Of all 16 countries in West Africa, only one – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Liberia – have passed and signed into law this allimportant piece of legislation, becoming operative in these countries in 2000, 2002, 2006, and 2010 respectively.2 The rest have been dillydallying over the issue. Since 1999 when democracy returned to Nigeria, the media and civil society groups have literally been on the war path with the ruling class who cringes that allowing such a law to see the light of the day will strip will invite chaos and expose national security. In effect, what this means is that it is only one country –
2

While several countries of the world have added this important legislation to their statute books, Africa lags behind, watering the impression that the continent prefers shadiness as opposed to transparency; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_information_legislation

Liberia - out 16 nations in West Africa that has taken a bold step in ensuring signed this Ditto other African nations, leaving over 300 million mobile phone subscribers to continue to exist at the mercy of overzealous government agencies.

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