It has been uncovered that 31% of civil society organisations (CSOs) in West Africa experienced a digital security attack in the last 12 months. 25% of attacks happened multiple times. From these statistics, Nigeria had the highest percentage of attacks at 10.75%, with Ghana following closely behind.
The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) shared this discovery on Wednesday April 19, 2023, during the launch of a recent groundbreaking research report “Landscape Mapping of Civil Society Digital Security in West Africa.”
The study further revealed that, while 45% of CSOs were unaware of national laws and regulations on digital security, CSOs in the region faced a multitude of digital security challenges that threatened their efforts in pursuing their mandates.
Through concrete evidence and empirical data, the 144-page report demonstrates the terrible nature of digital insecurity among CSOs in West Africa and puts forth actionable recommendations on how to combat the menace.
The report, a result of extensive research work led by Evans Tindana Awuni, a Doctoral Researcher at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt in Germany, examined the state of digital security among 284 CSOs. These organisations were sampled from a pool of over 2000 CSOs across the fifteen ECOWAS countries, plus Cameroon, Chad and Mauritania.
Among other things, it assessed the most common digital security threats that CSOs in West Africa encounter; the level of exposure of CSOs to these threats and attacks, and their preparedness in tackling them.
It also shed light on efforts made by states regarding national-level policies mounted to address issues of digital insecurity while also looking into organisational-level digital security policies among the CSOs as well as the major challenges that hinder their ability to respond to these threats.
The report revealed that a higher percentage of the victims were community-based organisations and local NGOs compared to international NGOs.
It also came out that the majority of CSOs did not have adequate knowledge and training on how to protect themselves from digital threats and attacks whereas limited financial resources prevented many CSOs from allocating a budget for information security.
While uncovering the inadequate preparedness of CSOs towards responding to digital security threats and attacks, the study also found that only a small portion of CSOs (23.6%) had computer and information security policies in place. Even that, just a handful understood its contents not to talk of applying these policies.
Addressing over 100 attendees at the virtual launch, Executive Director of WACSI, Nana Afadzinu said the Institute, in its 2023 to 2027 strategy, has a priority of ensuring that CSOs in the region were adequately supported to leverage technology to promote their developmental initiatives.
This, she explained, informed the Institute’s decision to commission the research to gain a holistic appraisal of how digital security affects the work of CSOs in the region.
Although there has been considerable research work on the adverse and positive impacts of digitisation on CSOs, Afadzinu noted that the extent to which the work of civil society actors is aided or hampered by digitisation has not been comprehensively examined.
“While this is critical in informing and shaping the Institute’s work going forward, it constitutes a rich body of knowledge that can inspire a diverse pool of stakeholders to contribute, together with WACSI, to improve the digital landscape to enable the work of CSOs,” she added.
Presenting some of the recommendations, Evans Tindana Awuni, the lead researcher on the project charged CSOs to increase awareness on digital security, invest in digital security infrastructure and also train employees on digital security.
These efforts, Awuni said, are proactive measures to “prevent attacks, data breaches and intrusions.”
While the report boldly sets the records straight on the yawning gaps in digital security among CSOs in West Africa, it has the potential to trigger further research into key technological issues in the civil society ecosystem.
It comes as a wake-up call to civic actors and development players to become well informed and proactive in the face of fast-growing digitalisation especially in ensuring that technology does not become “a helper but an enemy” asset in the work they do.
Access full report here.
Watch the official launch here.