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Internet curfew increasingly becoming a resistor tool for African gov’ts

While Cameroon is making headlines as the highest internet blackout offender in 2017 so far, the trend among African governments…

While Cameroon is making headlines as the highest internet blackout offender in 2017 so far, the trend among African governments is not new.

Most African leaders are increasingly taking pride in controlling the masses and preventing protest through internet shutdowns. In 2016, there were internet shutdowns in 11 countries, most of them relating to elections and civil protests.

According to Quartz Africa, the shutdown affected diverse countries from all over the continent: whether they had small populations like Gabon or big ones like Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo; whether in the south of the continent like Zimbabwe, in the north in Algeria, across the east in Burundi and Uganda, and in the west like the shutdown preceding the elections in The Gambia. As such, in 2016, the words “blackouts,” “kill switches” and “internet curfews” became a mainstay in the vocabulary of African political life, alarming civil and digital rights advocates, and in effect, costing African countries hundreds of millions of dollars in much-needed revenue.

For one thing, African governments intentionally disrupted internet in a bid to exert control over the flow of information and expression. Most of these interruptions took place during critical electioneering periods as in Gabon; at protests advocating for social justice and democratic transitions in Ethiopia; or, in the case of Algeria, to stop students from cheating in exams.

Observers say that the harsh measures are a direct result of the exponential growth of the internet as a primary tool for communication and content creation. With more companies digitally encrypting messaging and calling apps to make eavesdropping and surveillance almost impossible, governments are now resorting to shutting the internet to keep a lid on simmering anger on the ground.

According to Deji Olukotun, senior global advocacy manager at Access Now, seems governments are shutting down the net more often to stop people from using the internet and social media to organise themselves and advocate for what they want.

The dictators are rife and their excuse for internet blackout are always indefensible. Cameroon’s house speaker is quoted as referring to the internet as a new form of terrorism bent on creating a social pandemic.

And even in democratic nations like Ghana, the country’s police chief called for the shutting down of the internet during the general elections—a move that was sharply criticised and didn’t take effect when Ghana held successful and peaceful elections in December.

As internet shutdowns become widespread, it will also take creative approaches to spread the message about digital security and accountability to prevent dictators from achieving their aim.

Recently, a pan-African policy paper suggested that government who shut down internet should not be allocated IP address for one year. Such a ban would also affect any transfer of addresses to government-owned entities in those 12 months, according to the proposals made to Afrinic, an agency that manages and allocates the registration of internet IP addresses. The proposals also suggest that if an African government performs three or more shutdowns in a period of 10 years, all services provided to them be revoked, with no allocations offered for a period of five years.

Whether this move will scare African leaders who are willing to hold on to political power at the expense of their country’s economic interests and progress, will be seen in the days ahead.




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