On 26th March 2017, the Pan-African Conference on Freedom of Expression (FoE) and Access to Information (ATI) in Africa adopted the Kampala Declaration of Pan-African Conference on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. The declaration calls upon the African Union, European Union and African governments among other stakeholders to take measures to advance freedom of expression and access to information in Africa.
The two-day conference was co-hosted in Kampala, Uganda by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and the Government of Ugandaunder the auspices of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (Partnership) with support from the European Union. It drew over 50 civil society leaders from 29 African countries who over the two days discussed the status of freedom of expression and citizens’ right of access to information in Africa. Both rights are protected by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and recognized the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This meeting was birthed in November 2015 in Kigali, Rwanda during the EU-AU Human Rights Dialoguewhich adopted recommendation of the Civil Society Seminar on the Subject.
At the conference, participants focused on reviewing the state of FoE and ATI in Africa as well as exploring the changing legal and regulating framework of internet, the promotion of FoE and media to support democratic governance and the protection of Journalists and challenges faced by women advocating for FoE in Africa.
Mr. Jean Louis Ville DEVCO Director for Development and Migration noted that today’s threats to FoE often know no boundaries and that the Freedom of expression is in decline in most parts of the world –a trend that is also agreed by all major watchdog organizations such as Reporters without borders and Freedom House. , etc.
Hon. Aidah Nantaba, Uganda’s Minister of Information, Communication, Technology & National Guidance called one African countries to expedite the adoption and effective implementation of citizens access to information laws. She observed,
“…as Africa, we can still do better! Almost seven decades after the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and almost three decades after adopting the African Charter on Peoples and Human rights, some parts of the continent have not attained the envisaged level of freedoms of expression and access to information”
The minister thus called on governments to scale up efforts to aggressively take legislative and other measures to promote the right to information and freedom of expression.
To stress the importance of freedom of expression, European External Action Services’ Luigia Di Gisi concluded that without freedom of expression and freedom of media, an informed, active and engaged citizenry is impossible.
Participants noted that there is a diversity of contexts in the legal and regulating frameworks of internet in Africa. Majority of African countries do not have legislation on internet, only 16 countries have Data Protection Laws, 14 have Data Protection Bills that are being discussed and the others have not even a thought to start the process yet.
As a whole Civil Society Organizations in Africa promoting FoE and ATI are mostly concerned about the threats, harassment, intimidation, physical violence and even killings of journalists while carrying out their work which are neither investigated nor perpetrators punished. The continued violation of the rights of human rights defenders in the various sub-regions of Africa, in their efforts to promote and protect universal right to freedom of expression was also noted as a major concern.
The Kampala Declaration provides an important advocacy document with which to engage with States, Inter-Governmental bodies, CSOs and media on the promotion of freedom expression and access to information in Africa.