Building a Safe Digital Space in East Africa

Civic space is tightening across East Africa with increasing attacks on civil society organizations, journalists, and human rights defenders.

In September 2019, ICNL and the East Africa Civil Society Organizations’ Forum (EACSOF), joined local partners to launch the Protection of Civic Space in East Africa Platform. The platform’s goal is to facilitate collaboration among members of the media and civil society from across the region. It provides a safe space for members to reflect on emerging trends, share best practices, and build solidarity to navigate increasingly restrictive legal environments. With over 70 organizations, it has formed a vibrant regional community focused on protecting civic space.

When COVID-19 began its global spread, governments from across the region used the pandemic as justification to further restrict civic space. Measures included bans on public gatherings, restrictions on access to information and freedom of expression, broad surveillance practices, and limited redress for victims of human rights violations. During this time, the platform became an essential tool for East African civil society.

In June 2020, upon the request of the Protection Platform community, ICNL and EACSOF mobilized a digital convening to discuss pressing issues facing civil society in East Africa and the emerging impacts of government pandemic responses. The event brought together diverse actors from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, South Sudan, as well as partners from Europe and the US.

The collaboration resulted in new initiatives that will have lasting impacts. This includes the creation of a regional Gender-Based Violence Working Group. The pandemic has fueled an increase in domestic and gender-based violence while reducing the capacity of organizations to support survivors. This working group aims to establish permanent regional mechanisms that can mitigate the effects of crises like the pandemic on gender-based violence and ensure that survivors can continue to access the support they need.

girl on phone (credit:

“The quest for an enabling environment for civil society in Kenya has been long. But through strategic partnerships with organizations like EACSOF and ICNL, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The Protection of Civic Space in East Africa Platform, in particular, has served to raise our work’s profile.”


—Suba Churchill, Civil Society Reference Group Presiding Convener and Protection Platform member

This story is from our 2019-2020 Annual Report. Each story in the report shows how our partners across the world help protect and, where possible, expand civic space.