Advancing Strategic Litigation on Internet Shutdowns Cases in Africa: Promises and Pitfalls

This article discussed strategic litigation experiences in digital rights and identified opportunities that could be explored in Africa. It highlighted litigation experiences from local, regional, and international perspectives. Further, the article discussed the comparative advantage of lodging digital rights cases particularly on internet shutdown before the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights and the associated challenges. In recent times, several strategic litigation cases against internet shutdowns have been lodged to international, regional, and national mechanisms with the aim of promoting the protection and respect of the right of access to information. Both the judiciary and civil society have played a central role in the enforcement of digital rights and freedoms including on access to information. Best experiences show that under the different mandates of the Regional Economic Communities, and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, strategic litigation cases resulted in positive outcomes when they are pursued through collaborative efforts of likeminded organizations. This was the case under the recently applauded decision of the ECOWAS court. Decisions within the mandate of the Regional Economic Communities also set positive policies on access to information and freedom of expression. They contributed to creating accountability and implementation modalities on digital rights cases. There are however several obstacles to the successful litigation of internet shutdown cases including those that relate to the submission of applications by CSOs and individuals, the lack of political will, and the requirements of exhaustion of local remedies. Other obstacles include case backlogs that impede timely execution of the petition. Strategic Litigation of a case including one that focuses on Internet Shutdowns cannot happen in vacuum and cannot occur independently. One way of persuading member states in Africa on strategic litigation is connecting regional strategic litigation efforts with other continental initiatives instead of focusing on the intrinsic value of human rights in isolation. These continental integration initiatives aim to bring the continent on the forefront of the global environment as one single nation rather than as an individual state.