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Digital topics at the UN Security Council: Africa’s contributions

The UN Security Council inevitably addresses digital topics in its deliberations, from the abuse of digital technologies by terrorist groups to the need to strengthen cybersecurity capabilities and address gender-based online violence. How do African countries contribute to such debates?

Read full report Stronger digital voices from Africa: Building African digital foreign policy and diplomacy.


The UN Security Council is tasked with working to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the UN. The Council is composed of five permanent members (China, France, the Russian Federation, the UK, and the USA) and ten non-permanent members elected by the UN General Assembly for two-year terms. There are three African countries currently serving on the Council: Gabon (2022–2023), Ghana (2022–2023), and Kenya (2021–2022).

Although not highly prominent, the Council inevitably addresses digital topics in its deliberations. Our analysis of records of meetings held between January 2020 and August 2022 reveals that such topics range from the misuse of digital communication tools for spreading misinformation and the abuse of digital technologies by terrorist groups to the need to strengthen cybersecurity capabilities at the national level and address gender-based online violence. What follows is an overview of the positions or main interests of several African countries that contributed to these discussions.1Identified based on records of meetings held by the Security Council between January 2020 and August 2022. 

In debates on maintaining international peace and security, Kenya stressed the need to achieve a balance between fostering digital innovation and addressing the malicious use of technology by both state and non-state actors. In Kenya’s view, the UN should support countries in their efforts to address the impact of the digital revolution on national stability, and the Security Council should ensure that the UN has the expertise and capacity to play such a role. The country also argued that the UN and regional organisations should have a stronger voice in ensuring that militarised AI is developed ethically and in line with the principles of the UN Charter.

Ghana stressed the need for countries to build national capacities to enhance cybersecurity. Gabon noted that technology could help manage and prevent conflict, promote a better understanding of situations, ensure the safety of peacekeepers and civilians, allow for timely reactions, and minimise collateral damage. However, the country raised concerns about the increasing robotisation and digitalisation of battlefields and stressed the need for UN peacekeepers and national armed forces to be equipped with adequate technology to respond to emerging threats. 

Not surprisingly, the links between terrorist activities and digital technologies were brought up in several Council discussions. Kenya noted the importance of ensuring that governments can combat the misuse of digital technologies by terrorist groups. Ghana added that vulnerable countries would benefit from international support in strengthening their digital capacities to address such challenges. The country also called for support for regional platforms for sharing intelligence and information (such as the Accra Initiative2The Accra Initiative, launched in 2017, brings together Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Togo (with Mali and Niger as observers) with the goal to facilitate cooperation in addressing terrorism and transnational organised crime and violent extremism. In 2020, the member countries signed a memorandum of understanding on security and intelligence cooperation. Source: European Council on Foreign Relations. (n.d.). Mapping African regional cooperation.), noting that they could contribute to enhancing the early detection of terrorist networks. Both Ghana and Tunisia noted that sustained efforts are needed to track and cut off terrorism financing mechanisms in the digital economy, in particular when it comes to the use of digital and cryptocurrencies. 

Djibouti and Guinea referred to the need for sustainable financial support and technology transfer to support countries in need in their efforts to address terrorism and to leverage new technologies in the fight against it. Ethiopia added that strategies to combat terrorism and extremism need to be holistic, comprehensive, and address underlying causes as well. One such cause, the country noted, is the increasing social and political polarisation driven, among other elements, by the rise of intolerant speech and hate-filled narratives disseminated through the internet and social media. 

South Africa, Niger, and Tunisia – together with all other members of the Security Council – voted in favour of the July 2020 Resolution S/RES/2535 on maintaining international peace and security which, among other provisions, encouraged member states to act cooperatively to prevent terrorists from exploiting technology, while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in compliance with international law.3UN Security Council. (2020). Resolution S/RES/2535 (2020). Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Djibouti, Kenya, Lesotho, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tunisia were among the countries that submitted the draft resolution. This was reiterated in the December 2021 Resolution S/RES/2617 on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist attacks. The resolution stressed the need for member states to cooperate among themselves, and with the private sector and civil society, to develop and implement effective means to prevent and counter the use of the internet and other ICTs for terrorist purposes while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.4UN Security Council. (2021). Resolution S/RES/2617 (2021). Kenya, Niger, and Tunisia were at the time on the Security Council and voted in favour of the resolution, together with all other members. 

When discussions revolved around women and peace and security, countries brought up issues related to fostering digital inclusion and protecting women and girls in the digital space. Tunisia highlighted the role that modern technology and innovative solutions could play in empowering women and enhancing their full participation in the society and economy. It also called for more efforts to address the legal, social, and cultural barriers to gender equality. 

South Africa called on public and private actors, as well as regional and international financial institutions, to invest in initiatives focused on enhancing women’s access to digital technologies, developing their digital skills, and empowering them to become entrepreneurs in the digital economy. Kenya too noted that partnerships between local women entrepreneurs, peace and development agencies, and international and regional financial institutions could help strengthen the economic empowerment of women. It further stressed that ensuring women’s economic and financial inclusion and participation is key to building peace and called for actions to enhance women’s access to digital platforms. Ghana joined South Africa and Kenya in calling on developed countries and supranational institutions to provide funding and technical support for women’s empowerment initiatives in developing countries and LDCs. 

Kenya urged countries to increase the prosecution of perpetrators of online gender-based violence, harassment, and intimidation. 

International instruments and regulatory frameworks related to digital topics were occasionally brought up in Council discussions. Ghana encouraged support for the implementation at the national level of policy instruments such as the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on Cybercrime (Budapest Convention)5Council of Europe [CoE]. (2001). Convention on Cybercrime (ETS No. 185). and the AU Convention on Cybercrime and Personal Data Protection (Malabo Convention).6African Union [AU]. (2014). African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection Noting that conversations are ongoing, in particular in the Global North, on the regulation of digital technologies, Kenya cautioned that the Global South is not sufficiently included. It further called for increased collaboration and partnerships between states, technology companies, and the UN in addressing cyber challenges such as fake news and encouraged companies to establish regional hubs to better support governments in such efforts. Such cooperation could also foster the development and deployment of early-warning tools to be used within peace operations. 

It is worth noting that digital-related discussions at the Security Council tend to focus more on the impact of digitalisation and digital technologies on core security issues, and less on cybersecurity issues per se. For the upcoming period, we can expect digital topics to feature more and more often on the Council’s agenda, including in relation to the misuse of digital technologies in the context of war and conflict, the potential of such technologies in peace operations, and the overall links between digital and national and international security.

G-77 and Africa’s digital diplomacy

In addition to member states’ direct contributions, the position of African countries on digital policy topics discussed within the UN can also be inferred from statements of the Group of 77 (G-77). 

G-77 describes itself as ‘the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing countries in the United Nations which provides the means for the countries of the South to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity on all major international economic issues within the United Nations System’.7G-77. (n.d.) About the Group of 77. African UN member states – all of which are part of the group – typically contribute to the formulation of G-77 unified positions. 

For instance, G-77 has been particularly active in discussions and consultations following up to the UN Secretary-General’s report entitled Our Common Agenda, which tackles issues related to digital cooperation. In a February 2022 statement, G-77 and China noted that advancing digital cooperation is particularly important when it comes to ‘inclusive digital economy, access to digital networks and connectivity, technology transfer, investment in digital infrastructures, data protection, artificial intelligence, avoiding internet fragmentation, countering the proliferation of disinformation and misinformation, and outlining shared principles for a digital future for all to achieve the 2030 Agenda’. The statement also highlighted the need to ‘avoid unnecessary politicization of technical issues to foster an open, fair, inclusive, and non-discriminatory environment for the development of digital technologies in developing countries’.8G-77. (2022). Statement of behalf of the Group of 77 and China by Ambassador Munir Akram, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, on thematic cluster-III, ‘Frameworks for a peaceful world – Promoting peace, international law, and digital cooperation’, at the informal thematic consultations as a follow-up to the report of the Secretary-General entitled ‘Our Common Agenda’ (New York, 21 February 2022).