Harmonizing Africa’s Information Governance: Challenges and Options


By Donrich Thaldar

The institution of a single information market throughout African nations guarantees important socio-economic benefits, facilitating unrestricted and fluid information change. This idea has captured the eye of political leaders and has been prominently featured within the African Union’s (AU) Digital Transformation Technique for Africa, in addition to the AU’s Information Coverage Framework. Additional, entities like Good Africa are actively championing the reason for creating an African single information market.

To remodel the imaginative and prescient of an African single information market into actuality, and to unlock its potential advantages for the continent’s populace, establishing regulatory alignment is paramount. This necessitates the mixing of markets, the implementation of uniform on-line fee techniques, the standardization of taxation and duties, and cross-border commerce facilitation. This text delves into two essential authorized dimensions of cross-border commerce facilitation: information privateness and information possession.

In relation to information privateness, there are evident alternatives for authorized harmonization. Nonetheless, the state of affairs is markedly completely different within the realm of information possession, the place a elementary conceptual readability is noticeably absent. This lack of a stable conceptual basis poses a major impediment, and till it’s resolved, the aspiration of an African single information market dangers remaining an unrealized supreme. The journey towards this bold purpose necessitates not simply coverage alignment, but additionally a deep and shared understanding of the foundational authorized ideas that underpin information possession and privateness throughout the continent.

A promising level of convergence for information privateness

Within the realm of information privateness, the African Union (AU) Conference for Cyber Safety and Information Safety, colloquially known as the Malabo Conference, stands poised to play a transformative position. Contemplate the next harmonization strategy: Each African nation ought to legislate to mechanically deem some other African nation that ratifies the Malabo Conference as offering satisfactory information safety, and govern private information flows to such a rustic in the identical means as home transfers of non-public information. Consequently, private information transfers between African nations that undertake this coverage can be as seamless as home information transfers, successfully eliminating the necessity for added authorized hurdles in cross-border information transactions. This might create a streamlined system for guaranteeing constant information safety requirements throughout the continent. Nigeria, taking the lead, has already adopted an implementation framework in 2020 that gives for unrestricted cross-border information transfers amongst African nations celebration to the Malabo Conference.

Nonetheless, the potential for an much more strong information safety regime emerges when one considers the synergies between the Malabo Conference and the Up to date Conference on the Safety of People with regard to Computerized Processing of Private Information — identified succinctly as Conference 108+. Conference 108+ boasts a possible international attain and is commonly seen because the worldwide gold normal for safeguarding particular person privateness rights. Remarkably, six African nations have already utilized to accede to Conference 108+. In mild of those concerns, an revolutionary proposition emerges: African nations may discover it helpful to undertake a dual-ratification strategy, embracing each the Malabo Conference and Conference 108+ as conditions for facilitating cross-border private information transactions devoid of authorized impediments. This strategy, as advocated by students like Townsend, holds the promise of harmonizing information safety requirements throughout the continent whereas concurrently aligning African nations with international greatest practices.

The dearth of a conceptual foundation for information possession

The prospects for equally harmonizing requirements throughout Africa with respect to information possession relaxation on weaker footing. The Digital Transformation Technique for Africa merely requires coverage growth in the direction of guaranteeing information possession, however doesn’t present any additional element. The Information Coverage Framework, launched in 2022, handles information possession in a profoundly complicated means: It requires authorized readability and certainty on information possession, however just a few pages later it dismisses possession of uncooked information with out citing any authority. It proceeds to conflate information possession with mental property rights, and to current a superficial dialogue and plainly fallacious interpretation of a South African courtroom ruling. This disappointing engagement with information possession within the Information Coverage Framework exhibits a essential lack of authorized experience. Furthermore, at a sensible degree it exhibits a puzzling lack of appreciation of the significance of possession as a foundation for business transactions.

The AU’s blunder stands in stark distinction with China’s coverage on information commercialization, which was additionally launched in 2022. As mentioned by Xiong et al., China’s coverage realizes the significance of offering conceptual readability concerning authorized rights in information, and units out a classy mannequin of “modular” rights in information based mostly on the sensible actuality of the assorted role-players concerned in as we speak’s cloud-based digital economic system. Amongst others, information processors have proprietary rights modules in information, which can—within the case of non-public information—be encumbered by a privateness rights “module” of information topics. When it comes to the essential recognition of each privateness and proprietary rights in private information, and the encumbrance of proprietary rights by privateness rights, China’s coverage is just like the place in South African legislation, as analyzed by my analysis group. Nonetheless, positions within the different 54 nations of Africa stay unclear.

Working in the direction of a pan-African place on information possession 

The African Continental Free Commerce Settlement (AfCFTA) is a landmark commerce settlement, signed beneath the auspices of the AU. The first goal of AfCFTA is to create a single continental marketplace for items and providers, with free motion of individuals and investments. This can pave the way in which for a continent-wide customs union. AfCFTA is anticipated to be one of many world’s largest free commerce areas when it comes to the variety of nations, protecting a market of greater than 1.2 billion individuals and a mixed GDP of over $3 trillion. One of many main pillars of the AfCFTA is the dedication by nations to take away tariffs on 90% of products.

The AfCFTA, in its present kind, doesn’t straight tackle information as a digital good. Nonetheless, there’s ongoing dialogue and planning across the introduction of a protocol on digital commerce beneath the AfCFTA’s umbrella. This protocol is anticipated to encapsulate numerous aspects of digital commerce: from digital items and providers to digital commerce facilitation, and — importantly — the circulate of information throughout borders. Its ambit shouldn’t be restricted to simply monetary and cloud providers, however also needs to embody pivotal sectors reminiscent of information analytics and well being analysis.

The introduction of this protocol on digital commerce could possibly be a game-changer in streamlining Africa’s information governance and in paving the way in which for an African single information market. But, its realization will depend on efficiently addressing information possession. It’s crucial that the protocol gives a authorized mannequin for proprietary rights in information — discerning their acquisition, stratification, and interaction, particularly when information accommodates private data that provides rise to privateness rights of information topics. Drawing from the insights of China’s coverage, this authorized certainty is crucial for fostering intra-African collaboration and in the end the expansion of the African digital economic system.


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