In recent years, the rise of technology has ushered in an era where information spreads rapidly and seamlessly across countries and borders worldwide. This trend has come with some democratic opportunities but also major risks to democracies, chief being the lack of information integrity. West Africa is no exception to this trend, with Russian disinformation campaigns targeting the region to exploit political instability and degrade trust in democracy. It is within that context that NDI, with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), set up a regional conference in December to examine the theme of information integrity and how that is affecting democracy in Africa.
The conference’s main aim was to foster collaboration between civil society and media players to discuss and determine national and regional courses of action to counter Russian disinformation, protect information integrity and prevent the regression of democracy in the region. The conference also examined the political context and security of the media in light of the digital boom and the restriction of public space and freedom of expression in countries where democratic governments have been overthrown by the military. This conference and work is a continuation of NDI’s wider efforts in the region on "Strengthening Information Integrity To Counter Democratic Backsliding In the Wider Sahel."
A total of 55 representatives from 35 media and civil society organizations (CSOs) from Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Conakry, Mali and Niger spent three days working together to analyze threats and define courses of action in the fight to protect information integrity. On the Ivorian side, representatives of the Ministries of Communication and Defense took an active part in the proceedings, as did a representative of the Swiss Development Agency of Niger (SDC), a representative of the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) and a member of the Swedish Embassy in Burkina Faso. The Accra-based Centre for Journalism Innovation & Développement (CIJD) also sent one of its experts. Her presentation on the state of information integrity and defense techniques in English-speaking countries such as Nigeria and Ghana was highly appreciated by participants.
Using assessments and case studies on the techniques used by domestic or international illiberal and anti-democratic information manipulators from each of the five countries, participants discussed courses of action such as raising awareness among consumers of social and traditional media, fact-checking and cybersecurity. Six working groups developed operational recommendations for action, a catalog of innovative methods and tools, Information Integrity, and a Community of Practice (a virtual permanent working group that meets periodically to exchange expertise and reflect on lessons learned). Another working group focused on drafting a Charter for the Framework for Cooperation between Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the media in the fight to protect information integrity in West Africa. This platform had been created at a previous workshop and showed the continuing value of convening and building on regional work.
In the next stages of the program, the Community of Practice will finalize the charter governing its operation, which will be presented for adoption to all member organizations. The Community of Practice will then organize training courses on innovative tools NDI has developed that will enable users to verify information and images before publishing them, cybersecurity and other resources the community can use.
NDI is also continuing this work with our continuing grant to the Burkinabe Groupe d'Action pour la Sécurité Humaine (GRASH), who have developed a virtual resource center (redosh.org), which will be expanded with information and tools for media and CSOs to take action against information manipulation and democratic backsliding in Africa.
As West Africa continues to deal with the modern challenges of information integrity, they face a complex and fast-moving landscape. These challenges of speed, evolution, and the ever-changing Russian playbook will continue to plague the region and risk undermining democratic principles and values if they are not properly addressed. NDI, with the support of NED, will continue to help our partners push back and make the new and emerging technology an opportunity for democratic actors rather than a weakness.
Author: Aly Maiga, Program Officer, NDI Mali
NDI’s engagement with this program is implemented with the support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) program.
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.