In Africa, there has been a sharp increase of Internet shutdowns with up to ten countries recorded shutting down Internet as of February 2017, during political unrests, anti-government protests and even during elections. In Cameroon, the Internet was shut down for 94 days in English-speaking areas of Cameroon by the government after protests began late last year. These shutdowns led to the arrest and detention of prominent political activist who were unable to communicate easily using widely used instant messaging services. In Uganda, Social media such as Facebook and Twitter, including mobile money services were disrupted in 2016. The first shutdown occurred on 17th of February on the eve of presidential and parliamentary elections while the second incident happened on 11th May, a day before the president’s inaugural ceremony for another term in office.
Although research has linked these shutdowns to state violence, the economic consequences are often bearing on the local population.
Internet shutdowns across Africa are a major impediment to economic development. In fact, research shows that in 2015 alone, Internet shutdowns cost countries 2.4 billion dollars. It is such reliance of the economy on digital technology that led the UN to support “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet.” A resolution that condemns efforts by countries to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to information online. Yet, there has been a sharp increase in the number and frequency of Internet shutdowns around the world. Research carried out by Freedom House on freedom on the Net finds that two-thirds of all internet users, 67 percent, live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family are subject to censorship. The report also finds that in 2016, Internet freedom was in decline for a sixth consecutive year.
But how do these shutdowns occur?
A paper published by the Internet Society, shows that one of the following techniques, DNS-based blocking, IP address blocking, URL-Based blocking, Search Engine platform censoring, and Deep packet inspection based blocking have been used in the past to block or filter content. All of these techniques currently have ways of circumventing them. Although some of these tools worked during the recent Uganda shutdown, non worked in Cameroon. This proves that a method not used before was employed for this shutdown. There are confirmed reports that some institutions like banks and other money transfer services still had Internet access in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon during the shutdown. This brings to question whether it is possible to use infrastructure solutions like a Wireless Ad-hoc Network (WANET), which is a decentralized wireless network which does not rely on any existing infrastructure, an example being Mesh community networks or Mobile Ad-hoc Networks (MANETs) which is an infrastructure-less network of mobile devices that is self-configuring. Mobile applications like Open Garden and Briar , that use a similar idea of ad hoc network with or without Internet come to mind.
With the heavy reliance of the community of the internet, there is a need to document their suffering during such shut downs and to investigate how these shutdowns occur so they can be prevented in future.