Five African countries namely Gabon, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad, and Democratic Republic of Congo have just three months into 2019 blocked connectivity. In Africa, these Internet disruptions are gradually becoming the reality of things. Of the five of them, the common denominator being they all are characterized by an authoritarian government.
It’s no secret that there are higher chances of government imposed shutdowns in countries that are less democratic as noted by the report from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). Building on aforementioned pre-existing evidence of the expensive nature of shutdowns, CIPESA said the impact of government-directed shutdowns persisted even after the time they were initiated.
Applying the Democracy Index of Economist Intelligence Unit the research center posits that in the past five years, 22 African states have stopped their residents from having unrestricted access to the internet. Also taking into account that out of the 22 African states, 23% are considered partial democracies whilst 77% are listed as dictatorships.
Continued discoveries from the research show that the longer a leader has stayed in power, the more likely said country suffers an internet shutdown. Evident in the fact that of the African nations participating in the shutdown, the Presidents have been in office for upwards of 30 years as is the case with Chad, or power was handed down from a father who had spent a considerable amount of time in office much like the cases of Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The shutdowns more often than not came on the back of coup attempts, tense election periods, and anti-government protests.
In recent times, President Idris Déby (Chad) has through his government, blocked access to all social media platforms. In Sudan, protesters are asking for the head of President Omar al-Bashir, calling on him to step down. This month, 82-year-old Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s government also shut down the internet as citizens called on him not to run for a fifth term. Teodoro Obiang, Africa’s longest-serving leader blocked the internet ahead of crucial elections in 2017.
According to reports by the CIPESA of the nations categorized as a “full democracy” as implied by Mauritius or as “flawed” democracies including Botswana, Cape Verde, and Ghana, none of them have ever ordered an internet blockage. States which are listed as authoritarian, like Djibouti and Eritrea are also yet to order internet disruptions, although this owing in part to already-existing staunch internet control measures.
CIPESA, a Kampala-based technology research center, sent a strong warning against the normalization of shutdowns, arguing that it would embolden governments that would otherwise have been averse to disrupting internet communications to join the bandwagon.