Banning Social Media Is Quickly Becoming A Trend In Africa. So Who’s Next?
By Kevin Mwanza Published: July 13, 2016, 8:59 am
A number of African governments have resorted to blocking access to social media sites in their countries for all sort of reasons.
In the last six months, at least six countries — Uganda, Congo, Chad, Burundi, Zimbabwe and most recently Ethiopia — have blocked access to Whatsapp, Twitter or Facebook for reasons ranging from security to allowing students to prepare for exams.
Earlier this week, Ethiopia blocked social media sites across the country after university entrance exams were posted online. The government said the ban was aimed at preventing students from being distracted during exam and to prevent the spread of false rumors, BBC reported.
A week earlier, the Zimbabwe government blocked web-based text-messaging network Whatsapp as workers and students heeded calls from an activist-priest to stay away from work and school on a national shutdown designed to pressure the ruling party over mismanagement of the economy.
Other nations like Uganda, Congo and Chad have also shut access to social media sites during elections in what they said were for “security reasons” or to stop “illegal publication of results” or “spreading lies”.
A 2015 research conducted by Portland Communication, showed that social interaction by Africans on twitter were more political than in other parts of the world, which could be a pointer to why governments on the continent are getting wary of such platforms and are cracking their whip.
In north Africa, social media sites such as Facebook played a key role in fueling the Arab Spring that started in early 2011 and led to regime change in several countries in the region.
“Social media did not cause the Arab Spring but helped to co-ordinate it,” Arthur Goldstuck from technology market research company Worldwide Worx, told the BBC.
It is then without no doubt that other African countries will join the social-media-blocking bandwagon at some point or another.
Ghana, one of Africa’s best example of democracy, announced in May that it plans to shut down social media during voting in a presidential election set for November 7.
“At one stage I said that if it becomes critical on the eve and also on the election day, we shall block all social media as other countries have done. We’re thinking about it,” Citi FM quoted Ghana’s Inspector General of Police, John Kudalor, saying.
Kudalor said that blocking social media sites would enable them to counter the actions of potential ‘troublemakers’ who might compromise security operations during the elections.
In Kenya, where security forces constantly track social media for “hate speech”, there are speculation that social sites could be blocked during the next general elections in August 2017.
The East African country has been ranked as the second for Twitter use in Africa, After South Africa, in recent years, despite only about 14 percent of its youthful 45 million population being able to access the internet.
Other countries that could also join the internet censorship trend include Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria and Morocco, Quartz Africa reported.
Only a handful of African countries have legislation protecting the right to access to information, so in most cases citizens don’t have recourse to the law to prohibit governments from controlling the communications networks, according to the Institute for Security Studies.
But with increased in social media censure, user across Africa are finding ways to circumvent throttling systems place by their governments to deny them access to what is quickly becoming a revolution on the continent, Mail & Guardian Africa reported, and gave five ways to bypass the ban.
Sign up for the AFKInsider newsletter — the most compelling business news you need to know from Africa and the African diaspora, delivered straight to your inbox.