25 C
Abuja
Saturday, November 23, 2019

How and why do governments shut down internet in Africa?

No Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp.

That’s what’s becoming increasingly common in some African countries, where governments have periodically shut down the internet or blocked social media platforms. 

It’s a year since Chad blocked access to the most popular social media sites.

Sudan had limited access during anti-government protests, as did the authorities in Zimbabwe.

Digital rights activists say it’s censorship, but governments argue it helps maintain security. 

So how do governments shut down or block the internet in practice?

Blocking access 

A government can limit access to the internet by ordering internet service providers (ISPs) to limit access to their subscribers. 

In the first instance, this is likely to be a block on commonly used social media sites.

As a more extreme measure, the authorities can order service providers to block all internet access.

In 2018, there were 21 instances of partial or total internet shutdowns, compared with 13 in 2017 and 4 in 2016, according to Access Now, an independent monitoring group.

Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Chad, Cameroon, Sudan, Ethiopia, Mali, Nigeria and Sierra Leone restricted access to the internet last year. ADVERTISEMENT

It’s also a global trend. In 2018, there were 188 shutdowns, compared to 108 in 2017 and 75 in 2016.

Internet shutdowns in Africa

This includes complete outages, social media shutdowns and throttling.Source: Access Now

In each country, it’s down to the individual service providers to carry out these instructions from the authorities to block access.

One method used is known as URL-based blocking. 

This is a filter which prevents access to a list of banned sites. 

A user trying to access these sites might see various messages such as “server not found” or “this site has been blocked by the network administrator”.

Another method is called throttling.

This approach severely limits traffic to specific sites, giving the impression that the service is slow, thereby discouraging access.

This is more subtle, as it’s difficult to know whether sites are being actively restricted or whether poor infrastructure is to blame. 

As a final measure, telecoms companies can be required to shut down their services entirely, preventing all data access.

Can service providers say no?

The ability of governments to censor the internet depends on their ability to exercise control over telecommunications companies. 

Internet service providers are licensed by governments, which means they risk fines or the loss of their contracts.

Operators may have the right to appeal to the courts, but in practice they rarely do. 

However, there have been exceptions. 

Earlier this year the courts in Zimbabwe ruled in favour of reinstating internet access after the government ordered restrictions.

In response, the government of Zimbabwe has implemented new regulations allowing them greater control over the internet.

Zimbabwe’s information minister Monica Mutsvangwa says this will “ensure that internet and related technologies are used for the good of society, not to violate national security.” 

But there are also examples where governments wishing to shut down the net have an easier task.

“There are exceptions like Ethiopia where telecommunications is still not liberalised”, says Dawit Bekele, Africa Regional Bureau Director for the Internet Society.

“There is a de-facto single gateway owned by the government operator that can easily be used to block the Internet,” he says. 

Unless access to the internet has been shut down completely, there are ways that individuals can manage to evade these barriers. 

The most common method is the use of virtual private networks (VPNs).

These VPNs encrypt data paths, making it difficult for service providers to block access to restricted sites.

Governments can also block VPNs, but are less inclined to do so because this also severely inconveniences foreign diplomats and large companies which use them. 

Some African governments have pointed to the rise of “fake news” online as a reason for enforcing restrictions. 

But some analysts and opposition figures consider this an excuse for suppressing groups critical of the government, which often organise on Facebook and WhatsApp.

“Before, during and after elections, governments tend to block the internet because of dissent,” says Mr Bekele.

SourceBBC

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Latest News

DRC inaugurates museum for African heritage looted in the colonial era.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is due to inaugurate its grand national museum on Saturday, that realistically opens door to addressing the passionate issue...

Attack in eastern Mali: 13 more bodies discovered, 43 killed in total

The Malian army on Thursday discovered bodies of 13 missing soldiers after Monday's attack in Tabankort, near the Niger border, bringing the death toll...

Presidential election could resolve Guinea-Bissau political impasse

After weeks of political turmoil including violent protests, an alleged coup attempt and the emergence of two competing prime ministers, Guinea-Bissau is holding a...

Ethiopian Airlines passenger arrested after bomb claim

An Ethiopian Airlines flight in Burundi was disrupted when a man locked himself in a bathroom on the plane and claimed to have a...

Islamic State claims attack in Mali that killed 30 soldiers

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 30 soldiers in Mali earlier this week, Associated Press has reported.A statement...

Cameroon teen wins international peace prize

Fourteen-year-old Cameroonian Divina Maloum has won a children's international peace prize for her work with young people who have suffered extremist violence, particularly in...

Sex-for-grades scandal: 2 Ghana lecturers indicted

Two lecturers at the University of Ghana will face a disciplinary commission after an investigation set up by the university found evidence that they...

Fulani herdsmen killed more Nigerians than Boko Haram in 2018

According to 2019 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) report, published by Premium Times, attacks from herders killed more Nigerians in 2018, than Boko Haram.The GTI...

Burkina Faso says repelled an attack in the north kill 18 extremists

Burkina Faso says 18 extremist fighters have been killed after repelling an attack on a security base in the north of the country.A defense...

Reasons why men like me beat their wives

By Anayo NwosuIf not for restraining curse Mama Obiora, placed on my head the day I married my wife, only God knows how many...

More Articles Like This

- Advertisement -
%d bloggers like this: