West African countries helped to harmonize cyber laws at UNCTAD workshop in Ghana

01 April 2014

Policymakers and legislators from seven West African countries called for awareness raising, capacity building and regional cooperation on cyber security issues in the region, during an UNCTAD-ECOWAS workshop in Accra, Ghana from 18 to 21 March.

The mobile phone revolution and the increased capacity of submarine fibre-optic cables connecting Africa to cyberspace, as well as increasing cybercrime threats, have made it even more urgent for African governments to prepare effective legal frameworks for activities conducted online.

Twenty-one particpants from Ghana, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde gathered during the four-day workshop on cyber legislation in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region organized by UNCTAD, the African Centre for Cyberlaw and Cybercrime Prevention and the Council of Europe.

The objective of the conference was to strengthen regional harmonization of electronic commerce laws, to ensure implementation at the national level of regional cyber security frameworks for electronic transactions, data protection and cybercrime, and to strengthen cyber legislation and criminal justice capacities.

Dr Edward Kofi Omane Boamah, Minister for Communications of Ghana, said the conference responded to the need for strategic collaboration in the region to deal with the issue of cybercrime.

Table 1 - Status of cyber security laws in ECOWAS (March 2014)
E-transactions Privacy Cybercrime
cyber security laws in ECOWAS
Source: UNCTAD

In the ECOWAS region, only Cote d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana and Senegal have so far passed cyberlaws, according to representatives at the meeting who attended a similar UNCTAD workshop in Senegal in February for 23 representatives of French-Speaking ECOWAS countries.

Eight countries have prepared bills (Table 1), while Guinea, Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone have no draft legislation on this issue.

The workshop follows a TrainForTrade distance-learning course on the Legal Aspects of Electronic Commerce in October 2013, in which 221 representatives from public and private sectors in the region participated.

The UNCTAD-ECOWAS project aims to support the implementation at the national level of the existing legal frameworks on e-transactions (Supplementary Act A/SA.2/01/10), cybercrime (Directive 1/08/11) and personal data protection (Supplementary Act A/SA.1/01/10). It also addresses other important areas such as consumer protection, intellectual property rights, online content and taxation. The project is financed by the Development Account and the Government of Finland.

The main recommendations formulated by the Accra workshop included continued transposition of ECOWAS instruments, cyberlaw awareness campaigns, capacity building for policymakers, legislators, police, judiciary and prosecutors, and strengthening enforcement agencies and regional cooperation between them.

As a follow-up to this seminar, all participants are due to complete a questionnaire to feed into a regional comparative review on cyberlaw harmonization in the ECOWAS region.

At the Accra meeting, the government of Ghana also launched its Cyber Security Strategy, signing a memorandum of understanding with the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI).