Zambia follows through on internet blackout threat
With the counting of ballot papers underway in Zambia after the country’s general election, authorities have followed through on threats to block digital communication channels.
Social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been inaccessible since 12 August, along with WhatsApp messaging service.
However, some Zambians are still able to communicate through WhatsApp using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to bypass the restrictions.
British High Commissioner to Zambia Nicholas Woolley said he had spoken to the government to express his concern about the social media restrictions.
“I spoke with the Permanent Secretary of Information and Broadcasting this afternoon and expressed my concern about the ongoing social media restrictions in Zambia. The need for transparency on polling day is paramount,” Woolley said.
Global internet watchdog Netblocks said it found that servers in Zambia were unavailable on the polling day.
According to the organisation, there were restrictions on South African-headquartered MTN Zambia, government-owned Zamtel, Airtel Zambia and Liquid Telecom.
“Measurement indicates that WhatsApp frontend and backend servers initially became unavailable from Thursday afternoon, followed by other platforms approximately one hour later. The restrictions are likely to limit the free flow of information online presenting a challenge to election transparency as polls are held,” Netblocks stated.
This week Amos Malupenga, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services, warned the government would shut down the internet if Zambians “abused cyberspace”.
He said, “Government has a duty to ensure that peace and stability are maintained and will not allow any breakdown of law and order during the election period.”
The Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) did not respond to an inquiry about the restrictions at the time of publishing.