As it prepares to open for serious business at the end of November, 2014, afriLeaks, a whistleblowing organisation that focuses on Africa, claims that its purpose is different from that of Wikileaks. Khadija Sharife and Friedrich Lindenberg, from the African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR), say that afriLeaks only connects whistleblowers to investigative media partners via a secure technology, rather than to the public.
The Africa Report: What is aFriLeaks?
Khadija Sharife and Friedrich Lindenberg: Wikileaks plays a fundamental role disclosing data to the public, including media. afriLeaks provides a highly secure vehicle allowing for whistleblowers to directly connect - either confidentially or anonymously - with media houses or research organisations of their choice. Basically, it's a tool for media and whistleblowers to trigger investigations.
whistleblowers can be dangerous to deal with for many reasons
Is there a difference between Wikileaks and afriLeaks?
Wikileaks, Assange and his team, played a visionary role in breaking the silos of control and exclusivity concerning who accesses information, how, why and for what known or unknown purpose. More often than not, critical information would never be disclosed, let alone for justice. This influences every aspect of the world we live in. Electoral democracy cannot work - and often doesn't, because its impact is reduced to an opinion on a system that effectively locks us out.
Capital is power and vice versa - and this speaks to how realities are narrated. The state of political economy is often reflected in the media. So Assange turned technology into a vehicle for the public good, used it to start a revolution and it took colliding with the constraints of power to see that if information is unfree, neither is society.
afriLeaks is a different animal: we connect whistleblowers to investigative media. We use technology as a tool for the public good through the medium of investigative media. It serves a specific purpose. We are starting off with a dozen media houses across Africa who are receiving afriLeaks technological training as well as basic investigative capacity training - how to forensically check the veracity of documents and sources, how to conduct cross-examination on the substance of the story to avoid bias corroboration, among others. The process of verification is crucial because it is the difference between being useful and being used. Not all leaked documents are legitimate or true, or leaked for the right motive. The leak is not the story, it is a smoking gun.
Is the technology behind afriLeaks 100% secure?
The platform uses GlobaLeaks open source software developed by Hermes Center, so it is as close as it comes. The GlobaLeaks platform is based on a strong understanding of cryptography and has excellent security mechanisms. For example, it is impossible for the people running the servers to access documents that are submitted to a news organisation.
Still, there is the need for both the whistleblower and the recipient to be extremely conscious of vulnerabilities in their use of the technology. We provide information and digital security training so that journalists can think through different possible gaps in handling the submitted documents and learn about the tools and practices that can help to plug them.
When do you launch?
The media houses are undergoing training but we are aiming for the end of November with about a dozen media houses or more.
Who are the parties behind afriLeaks?
We use Hermes Center's trainers and technology. Our servers are operated in the Netherlands. The project is kindly supported by Free Press Unlimied and Hivos. The African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) is the coordinating entity.
How are media houses selected to participate? Is there elitism?
None. We started with our own members (candidate or formalised). We are happy to broaden to as many credible investigative units or media houses on the continent, and outside of the continent, where it relates to African investigations. But we have to make sure that it is responsibly rolled out, so we are taking our time to ensure the integrity of the concept and the processes.
ANCIR has non-media members like the Oaklands Institute that are also non-African?
Yes. Investigative research organisations like Oaklands Institute should be considered one of the best sources of land-related investigations. With 100 Reporters, it is a brave outfit that covers the continent, and utilises a stable of African investigators. While not physically based here on the continent, it is involved in the African investigative narrative, just like some African media houses.
On the subject of non-media, we have to redefine both the geography of what constitutes investigative narratives and the changing media ecosystem. It is a fine line for some research organisations where it relates to advocacy, yes. But it is also a fine line for some media houses where it relates to corporate or political interests. So, we have no formula that informs our judgement except one: who are the best partners for the purposes of investigation in a rigorous manner?
Aside from technological risks, is there a danger for whistleblowers connecting to the media?
The question can be asked both ways: is there a danger for journalists receiving leaks? Yes. Documents can be used as a set up - to undermine issues, governments, political or corporate rivals, etc. Even where information is true, it can be strategically used by the source for ulterior purposes that speak to a bigger picture the journalist may not be aware of.
Information, we must always remember, is a weapon - used for right or wrong reasons. So, whistleblowers can be dangerous to deal with for many reasons. Similarly, journalists can be at the mercy of media houses that have their own motives, little time or resources to do justice to the content, or with limited knowledge of the contextual importance of the leak.
Moreover, in many African countries, media is weakened through legal, political and other factors and actors. We are conscious that media can be used against the public good. We choose good media partners. We listen and analyse, constantly, the character of those partners. If problems arise, we act.
And we encourage whistleblowers to send to more than one media - even if outside your country if the subject is big enough for international interest, and to consider other partners where relevant. ANCIR also works with top investigators directly as part of our iLab, which we are slowly developing and we also accept leaks.
How do you foresee the development of afriLeaks in the next year?
We may broaden to include individual journalists, develop an in-house team of editors and experts to assist the media houses in developing stories, beyond the initial training we provide. It depends on whether we get the right talent and the funding necessary. We turn down money where and if strings are attached.