Freedom under Siege: The Shrinking Civic Space and Violations of Freedom of Association and Assembly in Sub-Saharan Africa: Strategies for Countering Restrictions

Sub-Saharan Africa has recorded an increasing number of national governments cracking down on civil society organisations addressing human rights and social justice issues over the past two decades. Human rights activists, journalists, social movement leaders, political activists and trade unionists are amongst those who have shone the spotlight on gross human rights violations, authoritarian tendencies, corruption, lack of service delivery and social justice challenges – holding national governments and leaders accountable for development, good governance and respect for human rights and the rule of law. Their civic participation and activism have often been met with brutal force, including, physical assaults, arbitrary detention, torture, killings, intimidation and surveillance by the intelligence, breaking of cyber laws to effect internet shutdowns and enforced disappearances, amongst others. Politically sensitive periods such as elections, including the pre, during and post-election periods, have witnessed an increase in the curtailment of the freedoms of association and assembly. Attacks and persecution against activists working on land, environmental and indigenous rights are also on the increase. This briefing paper provides an overview of the shrinking civic space as well as the situation on the violations of the rights to freedom of association and assembly in sub-Saharan Africa. The briefing paper also highlights innovation and strategic advocacy approaches employed by sub-Saharan Africa’s civil society to defend their civic participation space.