By Babatunde Okunoye
In the context of Africa’s socio-economic challenges, elections are a high stakes process where heinous atrocities have been committed. The list includes mass killings, abductions, rape, arson and assassination. At the onset of the digital age, as the power of digital media became apparent by events such as the Arab Spring uprisings, the free flow of information during elections has also come under attack.
In Africa, Internet shutdowns or even limited social media blackouts have mainly occurred around elections or other political events. And we don’t need to look far behind to learn how, because in 2019 already we’ve had Internet shutdowns or social media shutdowns in Congo DRC, Chad, Sudan, Gabon and Zimbabwe – all politically motivated.
In Nigeria, we say ‘’there is no smoke without fire’’. When a few weeks ago the Nigerian Guardian, perhaps Nigeria’s most authoritative news source carried a report citing fears of an Internet shutdown in the country implemented by the government, there was clear concern among civil society activists. Hence our relief was palpable when the government later came out to deny such plans. We hope they keep to their word, unlike the authorities in Zimbabwe did after similar assurances. (See tips here to stay online in the event of internet restriction)
As Nigeria chooses its President and other national leaders starting this Saturday, we urge the authorities to recall that elections are servants of national development. They serve as a vehicle to usher in new leaders and drivers of development for a nation. Their coming must never be heralded by the dark episode of an Internet disruption.
Internet shutdowns are human rights violations. They do not serve the purpose for which they’re implemented – usually to avoid the spread of violence or other trouble. Rather, the information blackout they occasion can be deadly in numerous humanitarian situations such as emergencies. As we all go out to vote to start on Saturday, we urge our leaders to also vote to keep the Internet on.
Babatunde Okunoye leads research at Paradigm Initiative.