AccessNow raises concern over Africa's internet shutdowns
As more countries head to the polls later this year, digital rights group Accessnow has raised concerns over internet shutdowns, placing a number of African countries on a watch list.
Accessnow says governments around the world continue to weaponise internet shutdowns during elections to disconnect, disenfranchise, and deny people their right to participatory democracy.
Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Togo, DRC, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Togo and Gabon are some of the countries that Accessnow has placed on the watch list ahead of presidential and general elections set for this year.
The digital rights organisation said election related internet shutdowns prevent voters from accessing or sharing essential information, decreasing the fairness, credibility and transparency of elections.
According to a report by Access Now, a member of the #KeepItOn coalition of digital rights organisations, for instance, in August 2022, Sierra Leone’s government shutdown the internet to silence the anti-government protest while in 2018, the government switched off the internet in order to stop the election results from being disseminated.
In Zimbabwe, the report said the government has interfered with people’s rights to free speech on multiple occasions over several years, imposing internet shutdowns to quell protests.
As the country (Zimbabwe) prepares for its general elections this year, the report said, “authorities must cease this attack and keep the internet on throughout the elections period and beyond.”
Also, the report said as Liberia go to the polls in October, authorities must uphold people’s rights by ensuring unfettered access to the internet and all digital communications platforms before, during and after the elections.
According to the report: “The DRC was a major perpetrator of shutdowns-including elections shutdowns under the previous Kabila (Joseph) led administration between 2016 and 2018.
"There has not been a recorded shutdown in DRC under the current government, and representatives have reached out to Access Now and partners to discuss policy measures, legal reforms and best practices to improve digital rights and press freedom in the country.
"The #KeepItOn coalition is calling on DRC authorities to set the stage for reversing the trend toward authoritarianism across the region by ensuring people have access to the internet during DRC elections.”
Commenting on the report, Alfred Zulu, a senior researcher at the Computer Association of Zambia said: “Most African governments are using internet and telecommunications blackouts to foster repression and to subdue opposing views.
"Therefore decision by Access Now to put some countries on the watch list will serve as a reminder that the world is against such behavior.”