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Internet and social media shutdowns on the African continent


Shutting down the internet and social media has become an increasingly popular method used by African leaders to stop the flow of information and suppress political opinions and information available online. Often used in times of unrest and elections, the closings usually do not have the desired effects. Rather, the shutdown of the Internet and social media leads to greater unrest, human rights violations, a lack of credibility in the elections and major economic losses.

Not all shutdowns are created equal

The first Internet shutdown in Sub-Saharan Africa was recorded in Guinea in 2007. In 2020, several countries including Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Sudan, Togo, Tanzania and Zimbabwe saw full or partial shutdowns. During the #endSARS protests in Nigeria, the country’s government also considered legislation that would allow them to shut down the internet.

Trips may vary depending on the destination of the conductor who commands them. A shutdown, according to nonprofit and digital rights activists Get it now, is regarded as “deliberate disruption of the Internet of electronic communication, which makes it inaccessible or effectively unusable for a certain population or within a place”. However, there are also different failures.

An Internet blackout is a complete disruption of access and can include a partial blackout with some Internet service providers. A shutdown of social media is aimed at social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. However, journalists often bypass a social media shutdown with the help of a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Finally, throttling is another method used to slow the internet down to the point where it can no longer be used.

Internet shutdowns are more common in countries that have greater government control over the Internet infrastructure and operate government Internet service providers (ISPs). It’s more difficult in countries with a private ISP, but pressure can be exerted by threatening to revoke operating licenses, which usually leads to compliance. MTN in Uganda has been asked to shut down its internet services during the January 2021 election, which they complied with in order to keep the operating environment stable for them.

The real cost

Internet shutdowns have implications for political, economic, and social problems. In 2019, There have been over 18,000 hours of Internet shutdowns around the world, costing the global economy $ 8 billion. Across sub-Saharan Africa, it was estimated that internet shutdowns resulted in a loss of $ 2.2 billion in 2019. Four years earlier, the global economic loss from Internet shutdowns was $ 2.4 billion. There was 25th Cases of internet shutdown in Africa detected by Access Now in 2019, up from 20 in 2018 and 12 in 2017.

In 2016, Uganda shut down internet access during the elections and was losing nearly $ 2 million a day, according to local estimates.

The most recent shutdown continued to lead to Health problemsas patients lost access to doctors during the Covid19 pandemic, whom they rely on for advice via social media platforms. This is a broader effect of these shutdowns.

When do these occur and why?

One choice is the most common time the internet and social media are turned off. Tanzania used this method in the 2020 elections, and most recently in Uganda in the January 2021 elections. Periods of popular protests and civil unrest are another event that results in internet shutdowns. In 2020, Ethiopia imposed an internet shutdown following the murder of a prominent singer and activist, which sparked widespread protests. These closings are aimed at stopping the flow of information as social media has been adopted as a platform for planning mass actions by citizens.

Political repression is another reason turning off the internet has become so popular. The shutdowns are often enacted in countries with authoritarian rulers – President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda is often referred to as Africa’s last dictator. In 2019 by the 22nd 17 of them are considered authoritarian. These countries and rulers tend to have bad human rights histories.

There are also known shutdowns during exam hours with governments hoping to stop the dissemination of possible leaked exam papers.

Is the job done?

Studies have been documented to determine whether internet shutdowns are having the desired effect. A to learn after the Arab Spring in 2011 focused on protest behavior in Egypt. The study showed that the internet shutdown was the opposite of what it intended, as protesters gathered even more after the shutdown. The theory behind this is that the lack of communication forced citizens to seek information from other people around them.

Other to learn Completed considered the 2015-2018 elections in Africa, during which the Internet was switched off. It was found that the number of electoral irregularities and violence in elections increased during these elections compared to those without internet shutdowns.

These studies show that in many cases Internet shutdowns do not have the desired effect. The shutdowns violate human rights, as defined by the African Commission on Human and International Rights and from the UN Human Rights Council. This has become a more serious issue during the Covid-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the internet has become an indispensable tool for disseminating information and advice on preventing the disease from spreading.

The shutdown of the internet and social media during the elections further questions the validity of the elections and casts doubt on their freedom and fairness. The closures, in whatever form, can also lead to an increase in violence, although they were probably carried out to prevent violence.

The economic impact of the internet and social media shutdowns cannot be ignored either. Countries are losing millions of dollars, causing unnecessary economic loss in countries already suffering from debt and poor economic growth. If countries continue to use this method, investor confidence, particularly in the technology sector, may also decline.

Despite the negative effects, there is likely to be a further increase in Internet shutdowns on the African continent next year. the African Network Information Center, which is responsible for IP addresses in Africa, tried to combat the shutdowns by proposing to restrict IP addresses and numbers for one year to governments imposing shutdowns. However, the organization opposed the decision, stating that restricting IP addresses would actually anger governments. This allows penalties from other bodies. Social media platforms, which are now playing a bigger role in providing information, like Twitter and Facebook, may also need to consider their role and use their position to prevent future closings.


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