They play an essential role by investigating government policy, exposing corruption and human rights violations, advocating for the rights of minorities and vulnerable communities, and providing social services. However, their work is under threat due to a backlash from the continent’s leaders against the imposition of ‘Western’ ideas of human rights. This policy briefing highlights the shift in human rights discourse among African leaders towards more anti-imperialist rhetoric and the placing of African traditions above human rights. It provides examples of how local civil society organisations (CSOs) are challenging this view in the face of increasing government attacks. CSOs are crucial to positive transformation and the universal protection and promotion of human rights, and more needs to be done to protect human rights and create an enabling environment for CSOs.