As 2016 comes to a close, a new report reveals that many African governments banned their citizens’ access to the Internet this year.
Human rights lobby group Paradigm Initiative Africa produced the report, entitled, “Choking the Pipe: How Governments Hurt Internet Freedom on a Continent That Needs More Access,” Thursday, writing that governments’ blocking of the Internet is due to its intolerance to criticism.
“While such Internet gags by governments are meant to intimidate citizens using repressive laws…at times the latter have instead reacted by protesting against such infringement on their freedom of expression,” states the report.
According to Paradigm Initiative, 11 countries have experienced shutdowns, including Algeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Mali, Morocco, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, with such bans also being prevalent in other parts of Africa.
In addition to curbing citizens’ freedom of expression online, governments also regulate mobile phone users.
“The 11 African countries that experienced Internet bans are the same ones whose states stipulated that their citizens must have their mobile phone Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards registered by communication regulators,” states the report.
African governments also use repressive media laws, such as defamation, to curb Internet freedom. For example, two Tunisian journalists were arrested this year for breaching the country’s penal code by criticizing the government.
In Zimbabwe, attempts by the government to introduce the Cyber Crime and Data Protection Bill this year were met by resistance since it reduces social media communication and blocks citizens’ democratic rights. The bill is yet to be passed.
African governments also use legislation to monitor online communications without regard for the protection of citizens’ privacy, such as the 2009 Rwanda Media Law and the 2015 Telecommunications Facilities Bill in Nigeria.
Fear of how public opinion can influence voting behavior is a reason for clamping down on the Internet. For instance, in Gabon, the government shut down the Internet during the presidential election held on December 1st. The ban was only lifted after the election results were announced.
And in Uganda, the government blocked the Internet during President Yoweri Museveni‘s inauguration earlier this year, prompting a public outcry. In Zambia, citizens protest against the 2016 presidential election outcome led to an Internet ban.
The report states that such bans happen because most African state officials are ignorant about Internet laws.
“There is a need to train advocates and government players about technology and why it is important to use legislation to protect the freedoms of people who want to use it to communicate,” adds the report.
Rather than trying to stifle citizens’ Internet rights, the report insists that African citizens, human rights groups, and governments need to collaborate on Internet laws so that they can be beneficial to all.