Afrileaks, Secure Whistleblowing Platform Launches Today

Adedayo Ogunleye, Abuja

 Journalists in Africa may expect a boost in access to information as Afrileaks, a secure whistleblowing platform connecting investigative reporters with whistleblowers, launches today.

The web-based service is aimed at encouraging a culture of transparency and accountability while providing training for investigative journalists about how to safely use leaked material.

According to Khadija Sharife, an investigative journalist based in South Africa, Afrileaks is designed to securely connect whistleblowers with media organisations across Africa and is the first of its kind to provide on-going technical training in how to “verify and investigate the quality of leaks”.

The project is expected to encourage whistleblowing as a practice in Africa.

“Many journalists across Africa lack investigative skills and often have little understanding of the dangers they could face in investigating leaks,” Sharife said

“Whistleblowers that we spoke with were not aware of measures such as encrypted email, nor did many have the experience to pursue the safest means of transmitting information,’ said Sharife.

The secure web service, which will become “live” for leaks from today, was developed in partnership with Italy’s Hermes Center for Transparency and Digital Human Rights and the Africa Network of Centers for Investigative Journalism, ANCIR.

According to Sharife, Afrileaks will provide training on skills such as sourcing and cross-examination and how to assess for consistency, bias, contradiction, reliability and metadata, in order to develop a cohort of reporters who are able to hold organisations and governments to account.

The trainings will be provided by a panel of experts, including Friedrich Lindenberg, whose work fuses software development, journalism and open government advocacy, and Luis Nhachote, an award-winning Mozambican journalist.

Africa’s negative records on press freedom, transparency and accountability make this project a timely development. The 2014 Press Freedom Index revealed that three of the ten lowest listings were in Africa – with Eritrea ranked lowest in the world, closely followed by Somalia and Sudan.

Leigh Baldwin, an investigative journalist at Global Witness, a media organisation partnering with Afrileaks, said that it is this tradition of secrecy coupled with issues of censorship and local history that make the platform necessary for Africa.

According to Baldwin, corruption and human rights violations go unreported in Africa because of the risks faced by sources.

“By connecting leakers directly with trusted partners, AfriLeaks provides a way for local and international journalists to work together to expose abuses and get important stories out,” he stated.

For years, companies in South Africa and investigative journalists in Nigeria have employed whistleblowing mechanisms to try and root out internal fraud and corruption, with a degree of success.

The 2013 story of inappropriate procurement of bullet-proof vehicles by Nigeria’s then minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah is an apt example of the impact of whistleblowing in Nigeria.

However, the 2014 Price Cooper Waterhouse Economic Crime Survey charted a recent decline in the practice. In 2007, the report says 16% of corporate crime was detected through whistleblowing.

In 2013, that figure had dropped to 6% though it increased slightly in 2014. The report suggests the drop may be due to concerns over the power of companies and ineffective laws to protect whistleblowers.

According to Sharife, the whistleblowing incidents in 2013 by both Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, have raised the stakes for all parties involved in establishing transparency and accountability.

“We have seen how vicious the response is, but the truth is worth fighting for, whatever the consequences,” she said.






     

     

    Assuring intending whistleblowers and investigative journalists that Afrileaks will try to take steps to protect them, Sharife, however, added that leaking sensitive information always comes with risks, especially in Africa.

    “In terms of investigations, there are various challenges that affect whistleblowers. censoring, surveillance, legal liability, physical risk, intimidation, and other issues. But all these restraints are exacerbated, to a great extent, in African countries.”

    Sharife also stated that Afrileaks, unlike Wikileaks, the globally whistleblowing service, will not publish any information. The service is designed to function only as a facilitator, or as Sharife described it, a “highly secure mailbox”.

    Intending whistleblowers will be able to send files to the site securely and nominate the media organisation they want to want to receive the leaks.

     

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