Today, on the eve of Tanzania’s presidential and national assembly elections set to kick-off on Wednesday, 28 October 2020, there have been confirmations from different sources of internet disruptions in the East African country. Notably, the throttling or total shutdown of the internet in Tanzania depending on which telecommunications company a person in Tanzania uses, has also been confirmed by Twitter who noted that:

"Ahead of tomorrow's election in #Tanzania, we're seeing some blocking and throttling of Twitter. #TanzaniaDecides2020 Internet shutdowns are hugely harmful, and violate basic human rights and the principles of the #OpenInternet #KeepItOn"

Although there has been no official statement from authorities in Tanzania on why the internet is being throttled or shut down, unfortunately, such activities across Africa ahead or during elections or protests are becoming a rather common occurrence.

History of internet shutdowns across Africa

To be fair, and I need to state, it is not only across Africa that we are seeing a regular occurrence of internet throttling or shutdowns. Since 2011, there has been a steady increase in internet throttling or shutdowns across the world before or during elections and protests.

Over approximately the past decade, there has been a worrying and steady increase in internet shutdowns ad restrictions globally. These typically happen before or during elections of protests by citizens. Tanzania is the latest African country to implement internet restrictions and a shutdown in some cases before its 2020 elections.

Just like across the world, the reasons for the implementation of internet shutdowns and restrictions across Africa are similar. Typically a government in Africa will provide one of the following reasons for shutting down the internet:

  • national security is under threat,
  • prevent students from cheating during exams,
  • to calm down civil unrest.

This instruction to shut down or restrict the internet is most times carried out as either a direct threat at the telecommunications companies that operate in the country or through an executive directive issued by the government. Through the latter, it makes it difficult for the telecommunications companies not to carry out the restrictions or shutdowns as this could jeopardize their operating licenses.

Internet shutdowns and restrictions across Africa over the years have been witnessed during national exams as was the case in Ethiopia, during elections in countries such as Chad, Gabon, Gambia, Republic of Congo, and Uganda. Public protests have also led to internet disruptions in countries like Burundi, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Zimbabwe, and Togo.

Effects of internet shutdowns

A report released on 27 October 2016 by the Global Network Initiative along with Deloitte suggested that the internet shutdown in Ethiopia at the time was costing the East African country approximately $500,000 a day. More interesting is a report released in 2017 by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

In their report, CIPESA states that using their framework, internet shutdowns in Africa have cost approximately $237 million between 2015 and 2017. The report titled "Economic Impact of Internet Disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa" calculates the losses which each country studied lost during the duration of Internet shutdown.

It also reveals that:

  • The economic cost of an Internet disruption persist far beyond the days on which the disruption occurs because the disruption unsettle supply chains and have systemic effects, harming efficiency throughout the economy.
  • Internet disruptions, however short-lived, undermine economic growth, disrupt the delivery of critical services, erode business confidence, and raise a country’s risk profile.
  • Shutdowns have a high economic impact at micro and macro levels, adversely affecting the livelihoods of citizens, undermining the profitability of business enterprises, and reducing the GDP and competitiveness of countries that implement them.

There's also a difficult to quantify human element to internet shutdowns and restrictions. As a method to try and calm down protests, the government of Cameroon decided to restrict the internet in English-speaking parts of the country. This had devastating effects for citizens as we got to learn after speaking to some of them on this episode of the iAfrikan BYTES podcast.

You can listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

It is obvious that internet shutdowns and restrictions are counterproductive, but how do we convince the powers that be to stop with them?

Or perhaps it is not convincing we need to do but forcing them to stop, your thoughts?

Quote of the day

Since 2011, there has been a steady increase in internet throttling or shutdowns across the world before or during elections and protests. The latest such case is in Tanzania. (Tweet this)

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