Internet shutdowns are a persistent area of concern for African civil rights groups, as it is frequently used by repressive governments in an effort to quell civil dissent and manage the flow of information. Advocacy group Access Now found that in 2019, Algeria and Ethiopia were responsible for most instances of deliberate internet shutdowns, with six incidents in Algeria and four in Ethiopia.
Twenty-five total internet shutdown incidents happened across Africa in 2019, eight more than in 2018. Benin, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Gabon, and Liberia appeared on this list for the first time. The respective governments claimed that the shutdowns were only intended to fight misinformation, hate speech, or calls to violence. Compared with previous years, the internet shutdowns of 2019 lasted longer and were more geographically targeted, and also affected social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Why It Matters
Both Algeria and Ethiopia have been undergoing democratic reforms to open up their societies and liberalize their politics. In Algeria, these efforts have come after prolonged mass protests led by the Hirak Movement, which succeeded in the ouster of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika after two decades in power. Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his conflict mediation efforts and attempts to reform Ethiopia’s political landscape. That these two countries were the greatest offenders of internet censorship indicates that political transitions carry the most risk for supporters of free speech.
Though Algeria has had its election, Ethiopia will have a highly anticipated election in August 2020, and freedom of speech will be further tested under the promising presidency of Abiy Ahmed.