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 many talented civil society leaders, activists, government officials, lawyers, media workers, and academics in more than twenty countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Working together, we strengthen local partner organizations and regional networks, provide technical assistance, and create knowledge through research and teaching. With our partners we have helped develop progressive regional norms as well as national laws and policies that expand civic space throughout the region.

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


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.

Protection of Civic Space in East Africa Online Platform and Consultation on COVID-19

In September 2019, ICNL, in collaboration with the East Africa Civil Society Organizations’ Forum (EACSOF), launched the Protection of Civic Space in East Africa online Platform. This platform aims to facilitate information-sharing on current and emerging civic space trends in the region among civil society actors and media practitioners, as they seek to navigate restrictions and capitalize on opportunities to influence positive legal reform. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it has become a crucial tool for the growing regional community of over 70 CSO members in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Recently, members organized a digital convening to discuss how government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are being used to restrict civic space in East Africa. Read the full story from our 2019-2020 annual report here.

Civil Society in Africa Law Course

In September 2020, ICNL held its annual Civil Society Law course in partnership with the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria under its Advanced Human Rights Program. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we piloted a four-day virtual course, which attracted 40 participants from 10 countries across sub-Saharan Africa. The course featured several lectures, panels, interactive question and answer sessions, and group work led by ICNL along with external resource persons. Presenters included the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Clement Voule; and a representative of Prof. Christoff Heyns from the UN Human Rights Committee, amongst others.

ACHPR Guidelines on freedom of association and assembly cover image - Green and yellow illustration of African continent with a group of people icon.
Landmark Guidelines on Association & Assembly Rights in Africa

In 2017, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted its landmark Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa. These groundbreaking standards are rooted in international law and model practices and are designed to help states, national human rights institutions, and civil society organizations protect and advance these key rights. The guidelines represent a major victory for CSOs that worked with the ACHPR on their development, including ICNL, which provided extensive technical expertise and financial support.

Together with our regional civil society partners, ICNL is a member of the support group that works with ACHPR’s special rapporteur on human rights defenders to increase awareness of the guidelines and monitor states’compliance with them. The guidelines are available here for download in Arabic, English, French, and Portuguese.

Freedoms of Association & Assembly in the Digital Age

In February 2019, ICNL, together with the Civil Society Reference Group and Collaboration for International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa, convened a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, of more than thirty-five civil society organizations from twenty countries. The meeting’s purpose was to facilitate contributions by African CSOs to a report on key freedoms in the digital age by the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Civil society and media organizations identified priority issues and developed recommendations for ways in which states, internet service providers, technology companies, the UN, and CSOs can protect and advance fundamental civic rights. Read the recommendations and communiqué from the meeting here, the UN special rapporteur’s full report here, and ICNL’s summary of the report here.

Focus Areas

ICNL’s work in Sub-Saharan Africa includes technical assistance, research, instructional curricula, and capacity building with our local partners.

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.

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.

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.

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, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, 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, Kenya, Nigeria, South 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