IGF 2021 Open Forum #18 Harmonising African regulation for cross-border data flows

Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (15:15 UTC) - Tuesday, 7th December, 2021 (16:15 UTC)
Conference Room 7

Data governance and trust, globally and locally: What is needed to ensure that existing and future national and international data governance frameworks are effective in mandating the responsible and trustworthy use of data, with respect for privacy and other human rights?
Data transfers, trade, cooperation and trust: What is the role of local and international norms and principles in facilitating trustworthy international data transfers for trade and cooperation?

Round Table - U-shape - 60 Min


The African Union recently created a continental data policy framework that (among other things) facilitates the free flow of data between its 55 member states. African ICT ministers are working towards implementing and domesticating this ambitious framework on regional and national level, with the hope that the free flow of data can help Africans benefit more from datafication processes. The advantages and challenges of establishing policy frameworks on a continental level to enable the exchange of data will be discussed during this Open Forum.

Online participants will be able to post questions in the chat, which will be introduced to the discussion by the on-site moderator. Two rounds of Q&A will be conducted during the OF. In the beginning, participants will be encouraged to post questions in the chat and up vote questions of other participants. When the Q&A starts, online questions will be taken first, followed by offline questions. An equal ratio between questions raised by offline and online participants is desired.


GIZ DataCipation- Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit

  • Moses Bayingana, Head of Information Society Division, African Union Commission, Government, Africa
  • Johannes Wander, Policy Advisor, GIZ DataCipation, Technical Community, Europe
  • Souhila Amazouz, AUC Information Society Division
  • Michuki Mwangi, ISOC Africa
  • Pilar Fajarnes, UNCTAD 
  • Pren-Tsilya Boa-Guehe, Google Africa
  • Lorrayne Porciuncula, Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network


  • Alison Gillwald, Research ICT Africa
Onsite Moderator

Alison Gillwald (Research ICT Africa)

Online Moderator

Mahlet Tesfahun (GIZ)


Anri van der Spuy



Targets: AU's continental data policy framework directly encourages domestic technology development, research and innovation in developing countries by ensuring a conducive policy environment for data and digital development

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

The African Union Commission’s initiative to develop a data governance framework for Africa is not only unique and innovative on and for the continent, but also in the world. It is geared towards creating an enabling data policy framework that facilitates the development of a data economy across Africa while addressing the uneven distribution of opportunities and harms in the current global data ecosystem.

Covid-19 has not only highlighted the importance of ensuring digital equity, but has exposed significant inequalities when it comes to the global digital economy. While some African policymakers might turn to data localisation mechanisms to address these risks, more sustainable ways of ensuring Africa’s equitable participation in the global digital economy need to be developed.

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

African policymakers should think beyond prohibitive notions of “data localisation” by supporting more empowering, transformative and cutting-edge policies for the continent, like the AUC’s data governance framework. This framework will enable Africa to not merely be a lucrative market to extract data from: it and its citizens should actively participate in the global digital economy.

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions

Open Forum #18 Harmonising African regulation for cross-border data flows

Tuesday, 7 December 2021 (16:15 CET-17:15 CET)

Moderator: Alison Gillwald

Online Moderator: Mahlet Tesfahun

Panellists: Souhila Amazouz, Michuki Mwangi, Pilar Fajarnes, Pren-Tsilya Boa-Guehe, Lorrayne Porciuncula

Rapporteur: Anri van der Spuy

The session provided an opportunity for the African Union Commission (AUC) to share recent developments pertaining to its Digital Transformation Strategy in general and its Data Policy Framework in particular. It also enabled various stakeholders – including a lively audience – to engage with the opportunities and risks of datafication processes in global South contexts, and to share their views about the proposed policy frameworks. 

Featuring panellists from a diversity of stakeholder groups, including civil society (Lorrayne Porciuncula), NGOs (Michuki Mwangi), the private sector (Pren-Tsilya Boa-Guehe), intergovernmental organizations (Pilar Fajarnes) (stakeholder categories loosely defined), the session explored the importance of putting in place adequate data governance frameworks for both the development of more inclusive digital economies and for enabling more people to participate actively in socio-digital societies on the continent. This is especially the case for women, refugees, people living in poverty, and other marginalised communities on the continent.

Panellists noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has not only highlighted the importance of ensuring equitable digital inclusion that result in meaningful opportunities and outcomes (or digital equity) around the world, but has exposed significant inequalities when it comes to datafication and the global digital economy. This is especially the case in Africa, where low levels of Internet penetration has made the socio-economic impacts of prolonged lockdown periods more damaging than in better connected societies. Finding ways of addressing these inequalities is therefore important, and the African Union Commission’s draft data governance framework endeavours to so in a way that is not only ground-breaking for the continent, but also for the world. As the moderator explained, the framework adopts a data justice conceptual approach to enable the development of a data economy across Africa while addressing the uneven distribution of opportunities and harms in the current global data ecosystem.

Souhila Amazouz, representative from the AUC, explained that the framework was developed using a wholly multistakeholder approach, with participants from various relevant stakeholder communities, and is currently being examined by the AU’s policy organs. The framework builds upon other policy efforts on the continent, including the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection (the Malabo Convention), and ultimately aims to support African countries to leverage the transformative power of digital technologies to improve Africans’ lives. It also supports the draft interoperability framework for digital identity, which is currently being considered by the AUC and was also discussed in a separate session at the IGF (see the session report for the IGF open forum #27).

Some panellists warned about the tendency, especially prevalent in the global South, of certain policymakers to opt for data localisation governance mechanisms to address these risks. One panellist, Lorrayne Porciuncula from the Internet & Jurisdiction Policy Network, pointed out that data localisation measures have more than doubled in the past four years. She called for a more informed debate about the nature of data and how we enhance the opportunities while mitigate the risks of data sharing. A data governance approach which embraces considerations like socio-economic growth and development while enabling adequate protection and justice is critical for the continent, and requires thinking beyond data localisation as a narrative.

From a supply side, some panellists argued that investments in training, creativity and innovations on the continent need to be bolstered in order to avoid Africa being primarily a consumer as opposed to a producer in digital economies. One panellist argued that Africa’s data markets currently largely being merely a lucrative market for foreign entities to extract data from, and that Africans need to be empowered to become more than raw products that are exploited for benefit elsewhere.

From a demand side, panellists from Google and the Internet Society pointed to the importance of ensuring that appropriate infrastructure is put in place to enable the technical architecture of Africa’s data economy to thrive. Pren-Tsilya Boa-Guehe (Google) noted that organisations like Google are investing in sub-sea cables to increase network capacity on the continent, while Michuki Mwangi (Internet Society) stressed the crucial significance of ensuring better data flows for optimised performance. Mr Mwangi argued that policymakers need to be engaged to think more critically about points of interconnection rather than countries of interconnection.

To conclude, panellists and audience members agreed on the need to encourage African policymakers to think beyond prohibitive notions of “data localisation” to more empowering, transformative and cutting-edge policies for the continent. Many panellists and audience members congratulated the AUC for its effort to harmonise data policies, which some pointed out to be a rather unique approach to data governance. One audience member noted that the data policy framework could indeed serve as an example to countries in the global north.