Navigating the Digital Terrain: How Digital Rights Laws Shape Online Engagement for Nonprofits in West Africa

Navigating the Digital Terrain: How Digital Rights Laws Shape Online Engagement for Nonprofits in West Africa

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In the realm of modern society, digital rights have become pivotal, especially amidst rapid technological advancements. In West Africa and beyond, the convergence of technology and legal frameworks significantly impacts citizens’ daily online interactions. Understanding the nuances of digital rights laws is essential, not only for safeguarding individual freedoms but also for fostering a supportive online environment. As we proceed in this article, we will be examining the cyber laws of Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal as case studies. The selection of Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal as case studies within the broader context of West Africa is deliberate and serves to provide insight into the diverse approaches to digital rights legislation within the region.  

These countries were chosen based on their unique legal frameworks, socio-political landscapes, and advancements in digital technology. Nigeria, as one of the largest economies in Africa, presents a case study with its Cybercrime Act of 2015, offering a perspective on combating cyber-related crimes and its implications on digital rights. Ghana’s Data Protection Act, 2012, is emblematic of efforts to regulate the processing of personal data and safeguard privacy rights, reflecting initiatives towards bolstering digital rights protection. Senegal’s Electronic Communications and Transactions Law of 2008 provides insights into the legal framework for electronic transactions and communication, highlighting challenges and considerations regarding freedom of expression and censorship. Through these case studies, a nuanced understanding of digital rights dynamics in West Africa emerges, informing recommendations for stakeholders’ collective actions. 

Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act of 2015 

Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act of 2015 represents a landmark legislation aimed at combatting cyber-related crimes within the nation. While addressing critical issues such as cyber fraud, identity theft, and hacking, it sparks discussions on its potential impact on digital rights. Particularly contentious are Sections 21-24, 27, and 28, granting law enforcement agencies the authority to intercept communications under specific circumstances, without requiring a court order. This provision raises debates on its alignment with the right to privacy enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. 

Moreover, the Act criminalises online activities perceived as offensive or threatening. While aimed at shielding citizens from cyberbullying and harassment, there exist apprehensions regarding its potential misuse to curtail freedom of expression. Critics voice concerns over the vague definitions of offences such as “cyberstalking” and “cyberbullying,” warning of possible arbitrary enforcement and censorship of online content. 

Ghana’s Data Protection Act, 2012 (Act 843) 

Ghana’s Data Protection Act, 2012 (Act 843) aims to regulate the processing of personal data, ensuring the protection of individuals’ privacy rights. By establishing the Data Protection Commission (DPC) tasked with overseeing compliance and enforcing data protection principles, Act 843 represents a significant stride towards bolstering digital rights in Ghana. However, its effectiveness faces hurdles due to implementation challenges and limited awareness among citizens. 

A noteworthy provision within the Act mandates data controllers to obtain consent from individuals before processing their personal data. This provision empowers citizens with control over how their information is collected, used, and shared online. Nonetheless, the efficacy of enforcement mechanisms necessitates enhancement to hold entities accountable for data breaches and ensure the adequate protection of citizens’ privacy rights. 

Senegal’s Electronic Communications and Transactions Law of 2008 

Senegal’s Electronic Communications and Transactions Law of 2008 provides a legal framework for electronic transactions and communication within the nation. While aiming to foster e-commerce and digital interactions, certain provisions raise concerns regarding digital rights. 

Of contention are provisions regarding online defamation and insult. While defamation laws serve to shield individuals from false and harmful statements, overly broad provisions could potentially suppress legitimate criticism and dissent online. Moreover, the law grants authorities the power to block websites deemed to contravene public order or morality, thereby raising apprehensions about censorship and freedom of expression. 

In the domain of nonprofit and civil society organisations, integrating digital rights and data policies into organisational strategies is indispensable. This proactive approach not only shields organisations from potential regulatory pitfalls but also ensures the protection of community members and staff. The ability to navigate these cyber laws provides valuable insights into how nonprofits can adeptly manoeuvre the digital landscape with efficacy and ease. 


As we navigate the complex landscape of digital rights in West Africa, it becomes increasingly evident that proactive measures are essential to safeguard individual freedoms and foster a supportive online environment. Drawing upon the insights gleaned from the analysis of Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act of 2015, Ghana’s Data Protection Act, 2012, and Senegal’s Electronic Communications and Transactions Law of 2008, it is imperative to translate our understanding into actionable recommendations.  

Scale up Education and Awareness: Governments, civil society organisations, and tech companies should collaborate to raise awareness about digital rights laws among citizens and organisations. This includes conducting workshops, seminars, and public campaigns to disseminate information and build digital literacy. 

Strengthen Enforcement Agencies: This involves investing in resources, training, and capacity-building for regulatory agencies and law enforcement personnel. Authorities must ensure the effective implementation of digital rights laws, including robust enforcement mechanisms and monitoring systems.  

Advocacy and Engagement: Civil society organisations should engage in advocacy efforts to advocate for the protection of digital rights and to influence policy decisions. This includes lobbying for amendments to existing laws to address gaps and protect individual freedoms. 

Promote International Cooperation: Countries in West Africa should collaborate with regional and international bodies to harmonise digital rights laws and standards. This facilitates cross-border cooperation in addressing transnational digital challenges and ensures consistency in legal frameworks. 

Encourage Community Empowerment Initiatives: Nonprofits and civil society organisations should empower communities to understand and assert their digital rights. This involves providing legal education, offering support services for victims of online abuses, and facilitating community-driven initiatives to promote online safety and digital empowerment. 

Call to Action 

It is imperative for all stakeholders – governments, civil society organisations, tech companies, and citizens – to collectively champion digital rights in West Africa. Key stakeholders can ensure a fair and inclusive digital environment that upholds individual freedoms and fosters innovation by advocating for robust legal frameworks, promoting awareness, and empowering communities. Let us join forces to navigate the digital terrain responsibly and create a future where digital rights are respected and protected for all. 


For further reading: 

  1. Cybercrime Act of 2015 (Nigeria) 
  1. Data Protection Act, 2012 (Ghana) 
  1. Electronic Communications and Transactions Law of 2008 (Senegal) 


First Published by SIDC Centre



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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.