Tools and tactics for environmental rights defenders in Sub-Saharan Africa

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In many remote regions of sub-Saharan Africa, natural resources such as oil, gas, minerals, timber, agricultural land, forests, wildlife and water are found in abundance.

Communities living in these regions often depend on the land for their livelihoods.

These communities and the ecological environments on which they depend are, however, frequently disregarded by the multinational companies which, in partnership with governments, explore and exploit these resources.

Out of this situation, a community of environmental rights defenders (ERDs) often emerges, made up of people from both within and outside the local community.

ERDs aim to make sure that the extraction of natural resources does not harm the environment and is even of benefit to the local community. They work to defend the ecosystems affected, as well as the people dependent on these ecosystems, from unfair resource exploitation, environmental degradation, land grabbing and pollution.

ERDs also take it upon themselves to mobilise community support and take action against environmental rights violations, and to advocate for transparency in agreements and payments made between governments and private companies for natural resource extraction.

ERDs are sometimes framed by these same companies and politicians as enemies of development - sometimes even criminals. Governments often try to stop ERDs from doing their work so that resource exploitation can continue. Companies often try to stop them so that they can continue reaping profits without due diligence.

To achieve these goals, governments and companies can use digitally-obtained information to attack, harass or disrupt the work of these defenders. This can include information obtained through breaking into accounts with weak passwords, obtaining computers and smartphones through theft or raids, monitoring communications such as e-mails, text-messages or calls, and exploiting vulnerabilities in social networking accounts. Digital security is therefore crucial, in addition to personal and organisational security.

A June 2014 assessment of the digital security status of ERDs in Sub-Saharan Africa, however, revealed that this group has limited digital security knowledge and remains largely unaware of the digital security loopholes that can be exploited by adversaries to harm them or disrupt their work.

This guide has been developed to lead you towards developing a digital security strategy that you can add to other security measures you are taking.

ERDs in Sub-Saharan Africa: digital security risk awareness

ERDs in Sub-Saharan Africa are mostly unaware of the digital security risks they face, and this makes them vulnerable.

A needs-assessment survey conducted in June 2014 found that of the 20 organisational representatives surveyed, only three demonstrated sufficient knowledge of digital security risks.

When asked if they faced any digital security risks, most responded, “Not that I am aware of.”

There is a clear need for digital security materials, outreach, and training, to equip ERDs with a better understanding of their digital security risks as well as the technologies and tactics available to them to minimise these risks.

Using this guide

We recommend starting with the first chapter, which goes through the basics of digital security, before advancing your knowledge in the later chapters.

The guide is designed to be read together with selected chapters in Security-in-a-box. In most cases, links to the relevant chapters are provided.

What you can learn from this guide

This guide has been created specifically for Natural Resource Defenders, and explains the primary tactics and technologies which will be most useful in this context.

Along with the Security in-a-Box toolkit, the guide will be subjected to reviews and updates. Please feel free to send us your feedback to security[at]


These tactics guides cover digital security basics and identify tools related to each topic


Step-by-step guides on digital security tools for Microsoft Windows


Step-by-step guides on digital security tools for Google Android


Guides to web-based services and using social networks safely