Sub-Saharan Africa Program

ICNL promotes an enabling legal environment for civil society in Sub-Saharan Africa. We work with partners across the continent to advance freedoms of association, assembly, and expression; encourage public participation and philanthropy; and support civil society when its rights and activities are threatened.

We are privileged to collaborate with civil society leaders, activists, government officials, lawyers, media workers, and academics in thirty countries across Africa. Working together, we amplify the impact of local partner organizations and regional civil society networks, through technical assistance, research and knowledge-building. With our partners we have helped develop progressive regional and global norms as well as national laws and policies that expand civic space throughout the region.

Be sure to browse our Focus AreasCountry Overviews, Key Resources, and Recent News.


Two people sitting at a table with open laptops. They are taking notes on a notepad between the laptops. Only their hands are visible.
Positive Practices in Implementation of FATF Recommendation 8

This ICNL Guide for State Actors and Civil Society explains how states can comply with the FATF Recommendations relevant to the non-profit sector. Concrete examples of positive practices and strategies are provided from peer countries, which state and civil society actors may adapt to their specific contexts to comply with the FATF Recommendations.

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ACHPR Checklists for Law Reform Advocates

ICNL is pleased to share two checklists developed to help people use the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa. The ACHPR adopted the Guidelines in 2017 to deepen understanding and compliance by States and other stakeholders with their obligations to promote and protect the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly. View the checklists here. 

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania city sky view (photo credit:
FATF Standards and Their Misuse in Africa

Governments are increasingly introducing or amending laws to tighten regulation of the non-profit sector, often claiming the need to comply with the standards required by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) around anti-money laundering and terrorist financing (AML/CTF). In the past two years alone, governments have introduced or are contemplating FATF-inspired legislation in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This briefer, developed together with ECNL and ICNL, explains FATF, why its standards matter for civil society in Africa, and how nonprofits can take action to address over-regulations that the governments justify on the basis of addressing money laundering/terrorism financing threats. Read the full briefer on ECNL’s site here.

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Forum on the Fundamental Freedoms of Kenyan Civil Society Online

Digital space has become a major forum for civil society, which has only accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some governments have reacted by instituting legal barriers that have affected fundamental freedoms online, many times due to lack of knowledge regarding emerging technologies.  To address this issue, in March 2021, ICNL in collaboration with the Civil Society Reference Group (CSRG) and Article 19 Eastern Africa, hosted a digital forum on the protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms of Kenyan civil society online. Experts and participants, successfully outlined five key topics related to digital space in Kenya were outlined. Learn more here. 

A close up picture of the coronavirus (Photo: CDC/Unsplash)
African Government Responses to COVID-19

This page provides information on African government responses to the coronavirus, using information from the ICNL-ECNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker. To date, we have identified 141 new measures by governments responding to the pandemic in 46 countries. These include legislative action (passage of laws and regulations, orders/decrees), executive orders/decrees, and other practices that have not been codified. Learn more here.

Current Trends

Anti-Terrorism and Anti-Money Laundering: Impact on Civil Society

ICNL works with civil society, government regulators, and multilateral entities such as the Financial Action Task Force and its regional bodies, to ensure that the regulation of anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism in Africa complies with international standards while respecting civic freedoms.

Workshop participants discussing the closing space for civil society and media in East Africa. (Photo Credit: ICNL)

Strengthening Local Partners

ICNL values the knowledge and experience of our local partners. We are pleased to support their work with technical assistance, legal education, training, fellowships, and grants.

Graduate students and civil society practitioners attending the ICNL-Centre for Human Rights-organized advanced human rights course on Civil Society Law in South Africa, July 2017 (Photo: Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria)

Creating Knowledge

ICNL conducts innovative research on the laws and trends shaping civic space on the African continent. Our research informs policy discussions and supports the development of practical approaches to address key issues facing civil society.

The United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai speaks to a government official during an official visit to Rwanda in January 2014. (Photo credit: Jeff Vize)

Enhancing International Norms

ICNL works to develop progressive norms and promote compliance with international obligations at the state and regional levels. We facilitate civic engagement and information-sharing with the United Nations and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’Rights.

ICNL and the West African Civil Society Institute partnering to establish a West African FATF network (Photo: WACSI)

Communities of Practice

ICNL supports national and regional communities of practice to deepen their expertise and equip local experts with knowledge about key issues in civil society law.

Key Resources

Government Responses to COVID-19

This page provides information on African government responses to the coronavirus, using information from the COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker.

Civic Freedom Monitor

The Civic Freedom Monitor provides up-to-date information on civil society law in more than fifty countries and eight multilateral organizations. In Africa, we track developments in the DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, MalawiNigeriaRwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index

The CSO Sustainability Index, published by the U.S. Agency for International Development, has tracked the development of civil society for more than twenty years. ICNL, FHI 360, and local partners produce annual regional editions of the index, including the CSO Sustainability Index for Sub-Saharan Africa, which covers thirty-one countries.

Global Grantmaking Country Notes

In partnership with the Council on Foundations, ICNL documents developments in thirty-four countries to help U.S grantmakers undertake equivalency determinations for foreign grantees. In Sub-Saharan Africa, reports are available for Ethiopia, KenyaNigeriaSouth Africa, and Uganda.

Enabling Environment National Assessments

Designed by ICNL and CIVICUS, this action-oriented tool assesses the legal, regulatory, and policy environments for civil society in twenty-two countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia.

Explore our full global resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.

Country Overviews