Celebrating Data Privacy Day on our African continent

Data is the growth catalyst of the Digital Economy and in this era, data is more valuable than ever as it’s the key to the smooth functioning of everything from the government to citizens’ everyday life and to business operations.

With such value, there is a huge responsibility to always uphold the right to data privacy for everyone. January 28 is celebrated around the world as Data Privacy Day with a focus on raising awareness and promoting best practices.

In Africa, with nearly two-thirds of our 55 countries now having enacted some form of data protection legislation, being educated on our rights and how to avoid risks is key. Data privacy is about empowering everyone of us to make informed choices as to who can process our data and for what purposes. It is about balancing our rights with the desire to access interesting, advertising-funded content and applications. The trust we place in the holders of our data is reliant upon having a transparent and robust framework providing reassurance that our data is used in a safe, secure and responsible manner.

According to EY Global Consumer Privacy report 2020, security, control and trust remain key in the attitude toward the fundamentals of data privacy. The most important factors among consumers when they share personal data with an organisation is that it has secure data collection and storage.

The GSMA’s ‘Smart Data Privacy Laws’ report (2019) also notes that people must be able to trust the data-driven businesses, governments and the digital ecosystem that they engage with on a daily basis. If individuals trust the organisations that use their data, then governments and industries, including the mobile industry, can benefit through greater uptake of new technology and business ideas, increased economic activity and a thriving, digitally enabled population.

Convening for Good
In the last few years, we saw countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe introduce new data protection laws while Nigeria is currently consulting on draft laws. But trust in data is not confined to national borders, it also needs to flow across the continent, for instance, cross borders data flow will be key to the success of the Africa Continental Free trade Area agreement that entered into force in 2019. Collaboration and learning from each other is a vital element in building the trust required among different countries to ease the free flow of data across borders.

At the GSMA one of our key goals is to enable meaningful dialogue between senior government officials, intergovernmental organisations and the leaders of the mobile industry where critical issues such as this can be debated, and practical solutions are arrived at.

We do this throughout the year in regional and national engagements and at our MWC and M360 events. Our mission is to increase consumer trust by promoting high standards of data protection and privacy and advocating for greater transparency and choice over how personal data may be used.

On data protection day we also celebrate the many other collaborative data privacy initiatives underway in Africa. Last year, for instance, the Ghanaian Personal Data Protection Commission in partnership with the African Network of Personal Data Protection Authorities and the Smart Africa Alliance brought together actors and experts from the digital ecosystem as well as data protection organisations from seven countries with a goal to establish a national data governance strategy, among other things.

Smart Africa is also supporting the creation of a harmonised framework for data protection legislation across Africa through the Smart Africa Data Protection Working Group which aims to produce a mapping of legal frameworks, and implementation guidelines for Smart Africa Member States, as well as recommendations on enhancing harmonisation and collaboration mechanisms between Data Protection Authorities.

The African Union’s Agenda 2063 is continuing on its path to deliver on a set of aspirations, moving closer to achieving its vision of becoming the global powerhouse of the future. Last year the Union published its Data Policy Framework, which examines international, regional, and legislative trends in data protection. Specifically, the framework outlines guiding principles on fairness, inclusiveness, trust, safety and accountability. It also makes recommendations on consumer and data protection, cybersecurity, data ethics, and open data sharing systems for intra-African cross border digital trade and e-commerce cross-border transfers. The Malabo Convention was due to come into force once 15 countries ratify it (currently eight countries) and the hope is that it happens later this year.

As we celebrate this year’s Data Privacy Day, let us also consider what more we can do together in 2023 to keep up the momentum in advancing individuals’ rights over their data across the entire African continent. Let us continue to collaborate and continue efforts to build a positive data economy.