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Pan-African Whistleblowing Platform AfriLeaks Launched

BY Philip DiSalvo | Monday, December 15 2014

In 2007, WikiLeaks received and published documents revealing corruption and misconduct perpetuated by the former Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi and his family. The story, which was then front-paged by the Guardian, helped Julian Assange’s nascent whistleblowing platform gain crucial momentum. Now, history is coming full circle asThe African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) has launched afriLeaks, a pan-African whistleblowing platform, by gathering together a dozen partner media companies.

“The primary purpose of afriLeaks is to provide a highly secure vehicle between whistleblowers and the media or investigative NGOs of their choice to allow for both connections and protection between both,” says journalist and ANCIR member Khadija Sharife to techPresident. According to Sharife, “afriLeaks itself acts as a neutral platform” enabling possible whistleblowers to submit documents to selected news outlets and journalists with the help of a safe digital and anonymous conduit that doesn’t track any information about its own sources. The adopted technologies are GlobaLeaks and Tor2Web, open-source software designed and coded by the Italian NGO Hermes Center for Transparency and Human Digital Rights, afriLeaks’ technology partner.

The afriLeaks site will work as a “bridge” whistleblowers can cross to reach out to media and journalists, who will be asked to do the verification work and analysis. Unlike WikiLeaks, afriLeaks itself will not publish material, it will only connect sources to interested and trusted journalists: “AfriLeaks differs from Wikileaks in that the latter discloses confidential information to the public,” explains Khadija Sharife,“this has its own important role and we have seen the powerful impact from it. AfriLeaks is a logical investigative tool that provides a secure vehicle between sources and media in the public interest, but not directly to the public. We champion WikiLeaks but play a different role.”

Whistleblowers Decide
While using the afriLeaks platform to submit information or documents, whistleblowers will be asked to select which news outlets from the afriLeaks network to involve in the process. This paradigm is similar to the approach the Dutch whistleblowing project PubLeaks is pursuing and is usually referred as “multi-stakeholder whistleblowing.” At the moment, afriLeaks is working together with 12 different African newsrooms in different countries. Among these, there are Verdade in Mozambique, Botswana Guardian, Zambian Watchdog and the Nigerian Premium Times. According to Sharife, “over 40 media have applied to become afriLeaks members. Thus far, we have provided basic training to a dozen media from Southern Africa. The training continues until participating media are confident in using the system”.

The platform remains open to enlarge further the spectrum of its own partners, both in number and in typology: “Our formula is simple: who will do justice to the information? Who is a credible media or investigative outfit?” Sharife says. “For example, the Oakland Institute is a selected member even though they do not fit the category of traditional media. Their investigations on land grabbing have been more powerful than many other media combined. We welcome all credible Africa-focused and/or Africa-based investigative entities to apply.”

AfriLeaks isn’t meant to solicit leaks on specific topics, issues or countries, but rather wants to broaden as much as possible its range of activities and aims to contribute to the African public sphere supporting investigative journalism and transparency in general. Asked about issues such as press freedom and accountability in the African media and politics environment, Sharife thinks that “accountability is a critical problem for various reasons. Africa reflects the reality of the global political economy, save that it is exacerbated in countries still developing accountable institutions and systems. Where you have resource-rich countries and multinationals - many with greater influence than some developing countries - you have a situation where revenue leakage through legal and financial secrecy, coupled with demand-side (political corruption as facilitating factor) almost always occurs.”

Supporting African Investigative and Anti-Corruption Reporting
Among the 20 first countries ranked in the Global Right to Information Rating, which measures the development of FOIA legislations worldwide, only four (Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Ethiopia) are African, while no African countries are among the least corrupt twenty in the recent Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. In this scenario, investigative journalism and whistleblowers play a crucial role in fostering accountability: “disclosing critical, and often confidential, information is fundamental to the strengthening of democracy, and to the role that investigative media must play,” says Sharife.

In her latest book Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World, Columbia University scholar Anya Schiffrin points out at how, especially in the Anglo-Saxon context, there’s little knowledge of how investigative reporting has developed in other areas of the world. Does African journalism have a strong investigative tradition? “African investigative journalism differs considerably between regions,” says Sharife, “Francophone Africa is still developing an investigative culture even though there are many individuals there who are very strong journalists. Anglophone West Africa, as well as Southern and Eastern Africa is extremely skilled in pockets and has specific media as well as investigative culture and cultures that celebrate investigative journalism. Some of these media can rank as the best in the world”.

AfriLeaks joins a constellation of already existing online whistleblowing platforms which are using GlobaLeaks as technological infrastructure or the similar Freedom of the Press Foudation’s whistleblowing submission system SecureDrop. At the times of writing, there are other 20 GlobaLeaks-powered leak sites and 15 realized thanks to SecureDrop, including those of major US news outlets such as the Washington Post, Forbes, ProPublica and The Intercept. Also Transparency International used GlobaLeaks to launch Anti-Corruption Alert, its own whistleblowing service in Italy, as TechPresident reported.

AfriLeaks is funded by Free Press Unlimited and Hivos and, at the moment, an initial group of participating journalists are receiving security and technology training. The leak submission system will be operational shortly.

Philip Di Salvo is a researcher and a journalist. Currently, he is doing a Ph.D. at Università della Svizzera Italiana (Lugano, Switzerland), where he works as web editor for the European Journalism Observatory. He writes for the Italian Wired and other publications.