From the apparently simple to the most elaborate, digital security strategies and self-protection are fundamental to quilombola populations

Drafts, notes or reminders – some of the names for something that’s become increasingly common: that group on a messaging app in which only the smartphone owner participates.  They are generally used to note down important things – ideas, appointments, agendas, etc.  Despite being common practice, this is not a secure strategy.

The companies that have created the most prominent apps usually claim that every message is “protected by cryptography”.  However, because these are private companies, the truth is there’s no way of ascertaining whether or not they fulfil this promise, and therefore no guarantee that these messages aren’t being monitored or that important details about your daily life aren’t being shared.

In addition to this, it is best to avoid sending passwords or holding meetings through these apps. Using open source and free software communication platforms may be an alternative for greater protection.  For people who experience land conflicts, for example – as is the case for many quilombola leaders – particular attention is necessary.

Security in communication was one of the items of the “Gbani Webinar: Community Self-protection and Digital Security” run virtually by the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) on 22 and 23 July.  Gbani’s target audience consists of quilombola leaders; given this context, the discussion about secure communication led to other debates: such as one about inequality in internet distribution.

The internet is a global network linking computers for the exchange of information.  And for this to occur, an entire physical structure is activated, including a network of cables that runs, for example, from Europe to the United States – all underwater, crossing oceans.

So if this structure to link countries in different continents exists, why isn’t the internet a reality in all quilombola communities?  Why is the internet in these communities generally of such low quality? This creates barriers to communication for these populations and could involve other risks.  Unequal internet distribution, just like the unequal distribution of land, water, food and income, is intentional.

The MariaLab educator and founder of Gbani explained that these structures are at the service of specific people – businessmen and women.  “This entire structure has an owner. There is no policy for internet distribution in Brazil.  People close to urban centres were better able to follow their classes during the pandemic.  Year after year, not taking internet infrastructure to our population has been a political choice made by our government.”

In the virtual environment, these are some of the elements that permeate the debate about secure communication.  And this discussion is not restricted to the online world.  It relates to the Gbani Webinar’s other agenda item: that of self-protection.  This subject was addressed by the Association of Lawyers for Rural Workers (Associação de Advogados/as de Trabalhadores/as Rurais: AATR), which provided guidance to leaders regarding more concrete strategies to prevent and confront risky situations.

These strategies include activities such as the collective formalization of reports about attacks or threats, dialogue with and strengthening of support networks, and access to emergency funds for institutional strengthening in the movement.

The discussion also focused on the potential and vulnerabilities of the respective communities.  Regarding their potential, the quilombola leaders at the meeting highlighted the movements’ collective action for the creation of candidates to contest public posts at all levels – federal, state and municipal – in order to guarantee their representation in these arenas.



The Gbani Webinar was run by CESE with the AATR, MariaLab and a master consultant in Media Communications.  Gbani has support from the Ford Foundation and is aimed at raising awareness and helping to strengthen tools for autonomous risk management and community security in the struggle for rights.

For Rosana Fernandes, CESE Projects and Training Advisor, it is essential to protect communities and organizations from the quilombola movement for the advance and attainment of rights.  “It’s challenging for organizations to deliver quality services to these communities and I see that this is another way of preventing the movement from progressing and getting organized to claim rights.  Gbani has proven to be a successful experience in the field of community protection and digital security”.