There is a growing trend of African governments resorting to internet shutdowns as punishment for civil disobedience. In the past few years, countries like Algeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt and Zimbabwe have, for a period, restricted access to the Internet.
In 2016, the Algerian government blocked social media access in a bid to curtail examination malpractice among secondary school students. And now the North African company is back on the radar for yet another internet shutdown.
This time, Algeria has disrupted access to the internet over protests calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to vacate his office, a position he has held since 1999. Apparently, Bouteflika is seeking re-election for his 5th term in office as the president. Algerians have since taken to the streets to express their disapproval.
In retaliation to the protests, the Algerian government has shut down the Internet in places like Tizi Ouzou, Bejaia and some parts of the capital city of Algiers.
This is coming barely one month after a similar shutdown, albeit partial, happened in Zimbabwe. Following accusations of the military committing human rights abuse, the Zimbabwean government had shut down access to social media. This resulted in a lawsuit initiated by two advocacy groups in the country — Zimbabwe unit of the Media Institute of Southern Africa and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
The court eventually ruled in favour of the advocacy groups, declaring the Internet shut down illegal.
Meanwhile, in Nigeria, amidst various cases of government authorities arresting people over their social media activities, the country’s National Assembly recently transmitted the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent.
Coming after several months of legislative deliberations, the bill seeks to address “human rights online and on digital platforms and/or media”. Should the president eventually give his assent to the bill, Nigeria could very well set an example for other African countries as claimed by experts.