African cybercrime laws have loopholes, most countries yet to draft tough legislations

South Africa ranks third worst in cybercrime report, courtesy
South Africa ranks third worst in cybercrime report, courtesy

Big loopholes lurk in African cybercrime law – where it even exists reports

Since May 2011 the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the UN agency that specialises in information and communication technology – has worked with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to help countries mitigate against the risks posed by cybercrime.

Large-scale gaps

According to the ITU, out of the 52 countries that it looked at in Africa, 44 do not criminalise computer-facilitated offenses. Only two have legislation deemed sufficient to combat online sexual abuse, and 40 do not have any legislation at all addressing online child sexual abuse. Nearly all – 49 countries – do not criminalise the simple possession and distribution of indecent images of children, and 51 of the countries do not mandate Internet Service Providers to report on the activity that they facilitate. ITU cautioned that children in Africa have yet to be identified as among the most vulnerable in the online community, an omission it is working hard to address.

The scale of the legal gaps illustrates just how far there is to go before there is adequate and appropriate legislation in place to protect individuals across the continent, particularly children.

Diversity of legislation

A 2013 report warned of Africa becoming a “safe harbour for cybercrime” is frequently quoted in articles about online security. It cited increased internet availability at lower costs, a rapidly growing internet user base and the dearth of cybercrime laws on the continent as contributing to this threat.

At that time, only South Africa had a cybercrime law in place, with Kenyan legislation on the horizon (this has now been passed).

The diversity of laws in those countries that have now begun to address cybersecurity is also a hindrance to international cooperation. For example, the Tanzania cybercrimes bill, passed by parliament in April 2015 and awaiting ratification from president Jakaya Kikwete, attempts to address a wide range of issues but has attracted criticism for seemingly favouring the powers of police over the protection of citizens. Read more