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The Kenya Forum | Internet shutdown in Africa: a barrier to progress and freedom - The Kenya Forum

July 20, 2023

Summary

Internet shutdowns in Africa have emerged as a disconcerting threat to connectivity, freedom of expression, and human rights.

More by Winnie Kabintie

Internet shutdown in Africa: a barrier to progress and freedom

Internet shutdown in Africa: a barrier to progress and freedom

Impacts of Internet shutdowns in Africa

The internet has become an indispensable tool for communication, information dissemination, and economic growth across the globe. However, in various parts of Africa, there has been an alarming rise in incidents of Internet shutdowns, where governments intentionally disrupt or block access to online services.

Africa has witnessed a concerning rise in internet shutdowns in recent years.

Internet shutdowns in Africa have emerged as a disconcerting threat to connectivity, freedom of expression, and human rights.

These disruptions not only hamper access to information but also obstruct economic growth and societal development.

Internet shutdowns occur when governments deliberately disrupt internet access within their borders. These shutdowns can be partial or complete, targeting specific social media platforms or restricting access to the entire internet. Governments typically impose these measures during times of civil unrest, protests, or political instability to curb the spread of information, control narratives, and suppress dissent.

Governments justify these actions by citing national security concerns or maintaining public order.
Many countries lack clear laws governing Internet shutdowns, leaving room for abuse by authorities who can interpret vaguely-worded legislation as grounds for shutdowns.

The political goodwill to put legislation in place has also been lacking is most countries as in some cases, governments view the Internet as a threat to their power and control over information, making it difficult to create effective regulatory frameworks.

Impact of internet shutdowns in Africa on societies, economies, and human rights

Suppression of democracy and freedom of expression: In a democratic society, citizens have the right to express their opinions, access information, and participate in public discourse. Internet shutdowns severely restrict citizens’ ability to exercise these. This stifling of free speech undermines democratic principles limiting the ability of citizens to voice their concerns and hold their leaders accountable.

Hampering access to information: The internet serves as a vital source of information, education, and news. Shutdowns obstruct access to critical resources, hindering people’s ability to make informed decisions, especially during emergencies or crises.

The right to access information and communicate freely is today a fundamental human right, protected under various international agreements. Internet shutdowns infringe upon these rights and are in direct violation of international law.

Economic disruptions: In a digital age, internet connectivity is essential for businesses to operate efficiently and participate in global markets. Shutdowns disrupt online transactions, e-commerce, and financial services, causing economic losses and undermining economic growth. The internet shutdown in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has reportedly cost the economy $146 million in 2022.

Examples of internet shutdowns in Africa

Internet shutdowns in Africa pose a significant threat to progress, democracy, and human rights. While governments may justify these actions under the guise of national security and stability, the long-term consequences are detrimental to the very fabric of society.

Ethiopia 2021-ongoing: Africa’s continues to experience a significant internet shutdown that lasted for over two years in the Tigray region. The shutdown was initiated by the government amid the ongoing armed conflict between the federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. The blackout severely impacted communication, access to information, and humanitarian response efforts in the region.

Sudan (June 2019): the government continues to use internet shutdowns to crack down on pro-democracy protests since the Sudanese protests in 2019.

Uganda: internet shutdowns have been a significant issue in Uganda. The government has occasionally imposed internet shutdowns for various reasons, including during times of political unrest or sensitive events. One notable incident occurred during the 2021 elections. Ugandans are still restricted from accessing social media sites such as Facebook.

Zimbabwe (January 2019): Amidst protests over economic hardships and government corruption, Zimbabwe experienced a complete internet shutdown lasting several days. The shutdown was a move by the authorities to suppress dissent and prevent the organization of further protests through social media platforms.

Chad (2018): The Chadian government imposed an internet shutdown in March 2018, blocking access to social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. This move was taken during a contentious presidential election to control information flow and restrict communication among citizens.

Cameroon (2017 – Ongoing): In regions like Anglophone Cameroon, the government has implemented frequent internet shutdowns amid ongoing conflict and protests. Authorities have restricted internet access to control information and communication during periods of unrest.

Democratic Republic of Congo (2019): In December 2019, the government ordered a near-total internet shutdown following the presidential election. The blackout lasted for about three weeks, raising concerns about transparency and access to information.

 

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