Personal data protection in Africa: A concern?

The issue of personal data protection is of great concern world over. In the case of Africa the issue is even of greater concern. The main concern with personal data is the potential for misuse and abuse that processing of such data carries. Most people are concerned with giving personal information like, age, tribe, gender, health, and their financial information. The concern escalates where a person uses such information to profile or target another for whichever reasons.

Why is protection of personal data important?

First, the knowledge economy controls the world today and therefore, information is a big asset. For instance, for big tech businesses, information is their top asset. Information held by these big tech businesses largely constitutes information supplied by people who use their platforms.

A quick example of how information supply occurs is, information that you supply to Google maps, Facebook, Twitter etc. In most cases you would disclose information on your location (for navigation purposes), email address, name, sex, date of birth, etc. Doubtless, this is all crucial personal data.

Secondly, most digital platforms track user behaviour. For example, you may have noted that Facebook, Google, etc. tend to bring up advertisements of items that you have searched online or purchased online.

Moreover, these platforms structure promotions run to audience based on their user behaviour. An example is, if a person ordinarily clicks on links shared on Facebook, they are more likely to be targeted for Facebook ads that aim for link clicks.

All these aspects of the digital world make protection of personal data a big deal.

Arguments for & against protection of personal data

There have been ongoing discussions around concepts around protection of personal data. Some common concepts include, ‘the right to be forgotten’ and ‘the right to information erasure’. The discussions have increased as people are increasingly aware of the need for protection of their data.

The big tech enterprises have pushed back on these concepts with counter arguments for right to access to information and freedom of speech. Additionally, since big tech enterprises are privately owned, they tend to have absolute control over use of their platforms.

The question arises as to the extent that private enterprises should enjoy the right to property while being held responsible. It is for this reason that there is a big need for data protection laws.

Data protection law in Africa

As a starting point, the Africa Union (‘AU’) adopted the ‘Africa Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection’. The convention was adopted on 27 June 2014[1]. Of the 55 African states, only 14 have signed the convention and only 8 states have ratified the Convention[2]. Thus, the convention does not have sufficient signatories to enter into force.

Of note, the convention lays a very good framework for personal data protection. The provisions in the convention cover these aspects among others,

  • limitation of processing of personal data.
  • need for institutional framework for protection of personal data.
  • powers of national protection authorities.
  • Conditions governing personal data processing.

The convention is a fair framework that African states could use to base their national legislation on personal data protection. Be it as it may, some African countries do not have personal data protection laws[3]. This is in addition to most African countries having not signed the AU convention. Of note, the convention gives a good start towards protection of personal data in Africa.

Evidently African countries are less than vigilant in protecting personal data within their borders.

Why is the lack of vigilance by Africa concerning?

Many reasons some to mind on why the lax attitude by Africa policy makers is concerning. Top most is the danger it presents to African economies. This is especially noting that the knowledge economy is the key economy running the world today[4]. Of note, the knowledge economy runs on information. This being the case, Africa risks losing out in harnessing the potential that the knowledge economy holds.

Additionally, the Africa economic base is being eroded by foreign digital businesses. This is the case where digital businesses from outside Africa earn revenues from Africa which Africa is unable to tax or control. Thus, Africa is also losing on tax revenues.

Of note, it may be argued that in most African countries right to protection of African personal data is a secondary right. This is because most African citizens are not even getting basic rights like access to affordable health care or food. Be it as it may, lack of concern for protection of personal data exacerbates the cavalier attitude of African states in protection of rights of citizens.


It is paramount that Africa policy makers pay closer attention to the issue. If not for their concern of their citizens, then because of the potential economic losses.

We have done a full podcast on this issue. Listen to the podcast here or watch it on YouTube here. Leave your comments on this issue of personal data protection in Africa.

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