July 27, 2022 , Africa Meetup

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Africa Meetups

Date: Wednesday, July 27th

Time: 3pm SAST / 1pm UTC / 4pm EAT / 9am EDT

Who: Facilitated by Mardiya & Tawanda

Where: BigBlueButton link will be shared in the following rooms on the IFF Mattermost one or two hours before the start of the meeting: Sub-Saharian Africa.

Notes: Please put notes here: https://pad.riseup.net/p/africa-meetup


Trustworthy VPNs and Access: the Case of Eswatini and Malawi

  • During last year’s unrest in Eswatini where pro-democracy groups were fighting against the monarchy, social media such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook were blocked. Thus, created the need for VPNs. While the Digital Society Africa (DSA) tried to get individuals to download TunnelBear (some licenses were made available) , unfortunately there was communication about a VPN which was also a spyware. The VPN asked individuals for their usernames and passwords for different applications, which also collected banking information, leading to a mass financial fraud. The issue was partly because of the educational gaps regarding what VPNs are. Meanwhile during times of distress people are unable to carefully verify the services and tools they use. While the DSA attempted to engage in an educational campaign on VPNs, the sentiments shared by the people was that they would rather be offline than have their money stolen while trying to remain connected to the internet.
  • Malawi last year, the government sent out information claiming there was a potential internet shutdown. In response, state entities began to recommend government sponsored VPN. Meanwhile this was an attempt of the government to increase surveillance, and target CSOs and the citizens
  • In The Gambia digital rights orgs. try to make communities know about VPNs and they help to pay for VPN licenses like ExpressVPN, however, spaces such as Saudi Arabia have had issues with licensing because some countries are very strict about how they manage licensing.

Common VPNs used in the Region

  • Psiphon : People and digital security practitioners would push for Psiphon however there would be a push back that it looks too technical because it did not have a fun looking interface.
  • Tunnelbear : Most preferred because of its ‘fun’ and ‘less technical’ interface.
  • Other Recommendations: Outline VPN community in NYC : It’s a DIY VPN solution, specializing in censorship evasion. You can set up your own server and give access to your own friends.

Use Cases of VPNs In Africa

  • In Gambia digital communities ask the question of which VPNs will give them meaningful connectivity in the rural areas? This
  • Similarly, VPN connectivity is low outside of capital cities such as Mogadishu.
  • The primary use of a VPN in many African regions is when internet shutdowns happen. DSA is attempting to shift such a notion through educational trainings. Yet, when governments realize the people continue to use VPNs, then there's a total internet black out such as the cases of Uganda and Zimbabwe.
  • People’s engagement and use of a VPN is also based on the user interface being more engaging is

Kenya Elections and VPNs

  • In preparation for the Election, the tech community is working towards strengthening digital security. However, VPN has become a buzzword and many people know just a little bit about it, and what it does. * * There is a need for more education on what VPNs are, what they do, not do, when people need them and how people should use them.
  • Some of the message they are trying to send out is that people need to get VPNs now, just in case there will be a shutdown, and not wait until it’s too late to get a VPN.
  • Digital security trainers in Kenya are trying to address these educational gaps but are only able to do so much since their work is limited to Nairobi.

Feedback: Improving Communication between Developers of VPNs with the Community

  • Feedback depends on being able to communicate with the developers.
  • VPNs are not designed with African’s realities and contexts in mind, thus most people face challenges with data and internet infrastructure.
  • There are language issues and the technicalities with the VPN terminologies that makes it hard for the layman to understand and give feedback.
  • During shutdowns there is a lot of work that goes into giving people trustworthy feedback on which VPNs to be used. Developers can improve their SEOs that rank different VPNs to make it easy for people to make informed decisions.

Additional Points for Reflection:

  • Having direct connection with developers will make a lot of difference for the VPN ecosystem in Africa.
  • More conversations around trustworthy VPNs
  • How can VPNs be audited to make sure they are trustworthy and not predatory?
  • What about regionally effective VPNs that have been audited by the community?
  • Can different regions suggest trustworthy VPNs that people can use?

Review getouline.org and leave feedback! What languages should be added? Feedback on translation, ie. Is the translation too technical, etc.