Recent developments in Sierra Leone and Swaziland suggest that more African leaders may have found internet censorship a potent tool for fighting protests. On Wednesday, August 10, internet connectivity in Sierra Leone dropped to five percent moments after residents took to the streets to protest the country’s high cost of living.
Sulaiman Turay, a 19-year-old living in the eastern part of the West-African country’s capital, marched briefly before the police started firing teargas. He told Reuters he later saw demonstrators get shot at from his porch.
“I think people are shocked. It’s not the country we know. Sierra Leone is a peaceful place,” he said.
No fewer than 113 civilians and four policemen were killed in the violent exchange. While protesters claimed they were demanding for a change, Julius Maada Bio, the country’s president, told BBC Focus Radio that the protests were “terrorism at the highest”.
READ ALSO: Bandits Use Walkie Talkies to Bypass Telecom Shutdown in Katsina
According to Netblocks, an internet observatory organisation, the country’s internet was cut off for about two hours at noon, and again at midnight, prior to the government’s introduction of a nationwide curfew.
On Thursday, internet was restored, but the country’s information ministry and National Cybersecurity Coordination Centre (NCCC) issued a warning to its citizens.
Their three-item press release warned citizens against sharing “incendiary information on social media platforms to destabilize the state”. The warning came with a 10 to 20-year jail term threat.
SWAZILAND TAKES CUE, SHUTS DOWN INTERNET AFTER POLICE SHOT PROTESTERS
On Thursday, a day after hundreds were killed in Sierra Leone, a headline of The Washington Post read, ‘Police kill 3 in Somaliland opposition protests over vote.’
It was the second protest that turned violent in an African country in less than 24 hours.
READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: Presidency Meets With China’s Cyber Regulator to Build Nigerian Internet Firewall
According to the police, the protesters were armed with knives, and did not adhere to instructions, forcing security officials to open fire, kill three and injure 27.
What the protesters, believed to be supporters of opposition parties, wanted was for Muse Bihi Abdi, the current president, to not delay the presidential election slated for November 13.
Netblocks found that the internet was disrupted ahead of the protests.
AFRICA: MOST CENSORED REGION IN 2020, 2021 — REPORT
Surfshark, a privacy protection outfit, revealed that Africa has had 88 internet restriction cases since 2015. Thirty-eight happened because of protests, and two countries have permanently banned popular social media or voice-over IP (VoIP) apps.
Africa was the most censored region worldwide in 2020 and 2021, but this year, Asia takes the lead, as it is responsible for 89 percent of the global internet restriction cases. In the first half of 2022 alone, Surfshark registered 72 incidents affecting approximately 1.89 billion people worldwide.
READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What It Would Mean If Nigeria Had an Internet Firewall
According to the Surfshark study, in 2022’H1, there were 66 internet blackouts in six countries and territories: Burkina Faso, Jammu and Kashmir regions of India, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Sudan.
The internet was restricted locally in three countries and territories: the Jammu and Kashmir region of India, and Pakistan. The other three countries — Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, and Sudan — chose to cut the internet connections down nationwide, even though it crippled the economy.
The Nigerian government had announced the indefinite suspension of Twitter in June last year. The ban came after a tweet and video posted by the Twitter handle of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was deleted by Twitter for threatening harm against a section of the country.