Sub-Saharan Africa Program

program photo

Left to right: Emerson Sykes, ICNL; Commissioner Reine Alapini Gansou, ACHPR; interpreter; interpreter; Julian Pepe Onziema, SMUG; Djidjoho Hermann Nounawon Kekere, Ministry of Justice, Benin

ICNL believes that civil society law reform must be designed and led by local actors. We have had the privilege of working with civil society leaders, government officials, lawyers, academics, and other stakeholders in more than twenty countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We seek to empower local partners by providing comparative information, international legal expertise, and technical assistance on the legal framework for civil society.

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  • On February 21-22, ICNL, along with our partners the Civil Society Reference Group and CIPESA, convened a consultative meeting in Nairobi, Kenya with the UNSR on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Clément Voule, to discuss digital space and the protections of Freedoms of Association and Peaceful Assembly in Africa. Please find the final communique here and the group’s overview of key issues and recommendations here.

  • The ICNL co-hosted an Advanced Human Rights Short Course on Civil Society Law at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria School of Law on Jun 8-10, 2016. More information is available here:

  • The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) launched the Report on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa (also available in French) during its 56th Ordinary Session in April 2015.

Current and Past Programming

  • ICNL co-organized an African regional workshop with CIVICUS, the Community of Democracies, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association on “Protecting Civic Space” on November 17-18, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. Read the Workshop Report here.

  • ICNL has provided technical assistance to partners across Africa in civil society and/or government, including:

    • Nigeria: ICNL has supported civil society partners’ efforts in the face of multiple legal challenges including the proposed Foreign Contributions (Regulations) Bill, the NGO Regulatory Agency Bill, and the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act.

    • Kenya: ICNL provided extensive assistance to civil society, government officials and Members of Parliament working on the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act and subsequent attempts to amend the Act.

    • South Sudan: ICNL has supported Ethiopian CSOs and their lawyers in developing strategies to cope with the highly restrictive Proclamation on Charities and Societies.

    • Ethiopia: ICNL has supported Ethiopian CSOs and their lawyers in developing strategies to cope with the highly restrictive Proclamation on Charities and Societies.

    • Rwanda: ICNL assisted civil society and the government to develop legislation governing national NGOs, international NGOs, and religious organizations, as well as a Code of Ethics for civil servants. ICNL continues to engage with CSOs and relevant government agencies to ensure that the implementation of the NGO laws is enabling of civil society. ICNL is committed to preventing trafficking in persons in Rwanda. Our plan is here.

  • ICNL has provided comments on legislation governing civil society in EthiopiaKenyaMauritius, Nigeria, RwandaSenegalSierra LeoneSouth Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe among others.

  • ICNL has conducted or supported in-depth assessments of the legal framework for civil society in several countries in Africa, including Burkina Faso, Mauritius, Senegal, Somaliland and Puntland, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

  • ICNL has hosted research fellows under the Legal Enabling Environment Program (LEEP) from Burundi (2014), Zambia (2013), South Sudan (2013), Malawi (2012), Kenya (2009), Rwanda (2008) and Uganda (2008). ICNL has also supported seven peer-to-peer fellowships among African CSO.

  • ICNL is committed to preventing trafficking in persons in Tanzania. Our plan is here.

For additional information or to request assistance, please contact Irene Petras, Legal Advisor - Africa, at

Stay up to date with ICNL's work in Sub-Saharan Africa


Online Library

Access our collection of resources by visiting ICNL’s Online Library.

CSO Sustainability Index for Sub-Saharan Africa

The CSO Sustainability Index for Sub-Saharan Africa reports on the strength and overall viability of CSOs in 25 African countries.

United States International Grantmaking Country Reports

ICNL prepares reports describing the legal framework for civil society to assist grantmakers and their advisors. USIG reports are available for KenyaNigeria, South Africa, and Uganda.

Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA)

The Enabling Environment National Assessment (EENA) is an action-oriented research tool designed to assess the legal, regulatory and policy environment for civil society. The research tool was designed by CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the International Center for Non-for-Profit Law (ICNL) under the Civic Space Initiative. Over the past two years it has been implemented in 16 countries worldwide, including in Africa: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.

ICNL Publications

Civil Society in Africa (Vol 16, Issue 2, December 2014) in the International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law (IJNL)
NGO Laws in Sub-Saharan Africa, (Volume 3, Issue 3) in Global Trends in NGO Law.
Sub-Saharan Africa Country Reports, (Volume 12, Issue 2) in the International Journal for Not-for-Profit Law (IJNL)

Civic Freedom Monitor

ICNL produces country profile reports that provide an overview of key issues relating to the freedom of association and the NGO legal framework, with a focus on legal barriers affecting civil society. Civic Freedom Monitor reports are available for the Democratic Republic of CongoEthiopiaKenyaMalawi, Nigeria,, RwandaSenegalSierra LeoneSouth AfricaSouth SudanSudanUgandaZimbabwe, and the African Union.