Data for Democracy Action: Countering disinformation in African elections through open access to data and journalism as a public good

African democratic landscapes are characterised by continuity and change. What continues to stay the same in much of Africa is that a free and independent media, along with human rights, in particular, the right to access to information, assembly and association and freedom of expression, are drivers of democracy and sustainable development. In addition, a constant factor is that elections can be meaningful and contribute to peace and stability, or they can fan conflict. This depends in large part on the information environment. In this context, journalism remains a public good in the information cycle as vital to elections as a critical moment that can determine whether African countries continue with social inequalities and poor governance or whether they can move forward.

What has changed in recent years is that digitalisation is happening rapidly, even if unevenly. Massive amounts of data are being generated in digital form (personal and non-personal data). How Africans use, protect, and govern this data will have a profound effect in regard to many things, not least on upcoming elections. Digitalisation processes affect actors across the spectrum – from young people using social media, through to journalists having to adjust their business models, and extending to governments trying to develop digital public services. Other stakeholders include researchers supporting evidence-based policy, the media development sector, civil society-based democracy and human rights advocacy groups, and private sector actors (including those investing in sustainable economic development).

With the support of Team Democracy, a regional team working on an assignment from Sidaʼs Africa Department, and the Swedish Embassy in South Africa, two workshops to discuss these issues took place in November 2023. They addressed the nexus between digitalisation, data for democracy, and media development, and were convened by Research ICT Africa (RIA) and International Media Support (IMS) on 16 and 17 November 2023. This report presents the headline insights that emerged, as well as more detail on the discussions and outcomes.

Key insights included:

  • Unless media, democracy and human rights groups are able to document, report on, influence and monitor what happens with data in African communications, the impact of data-driven processes will escape public attention.
  • Unless researchers have access to related data, and the skills needed to do the analysis, then those Africans involved in development will not have the evidence they need to influence policy and create digital products and services.
  • Unless journalists, media outlets and media development actors on the continent integrate data issues into their activities, related literacies among the public and policymakers will remain insufficient.
  • And unless there is much more and more focused collaboration between disciplines and stakeholders (including business), things are not likely to change. However, there is a widely felt need to do better, be more effective and have more impact – particularly as regards the integrity of elections.

Download the full report on the outcomes of two workshops hosted in Cape Town by Research ICT Africa and International Media Support on 16 and 17 November 2023