Internet shutdowns have become a go to solution for African governments to curb various levels of disquiet in their various countries.
A good number of elections held in this age of heavy social media commentary have seen governments blocking citizens access to the internet while giving reasons that do not stand up to much scrutiny in the light of international standards on internet usage.
Internet shutdowns in Africa are not restricted only to election jitters. Citizens who have used social media to organize protests against their governments have also found themselves locked out. Most of the cases in the recent past have led to serious critiques of the governments in questions but no actual action has been taken against the governments.
Last year alone saw a total of 11 African countries shut down the internet, draining hundreds of millions of dollars from their respective economies. Currently, in Cameroon an internet shutdown in the Northwest and Southwest regions which has been the case since January has led to some serious problems for the growing tech industry.
The impunity with which African governments institute internet shutdowns may soon change in the face of a new proposal to the regional internet registry which could soon be adopted. The policy suggestion asks that at the end of any shutdown, the government in question and any related bodies should not be allocated an IP address for one year.
Furthermore, the ban will affect any transfer of addresses to government-owned entities within that year and if an African government performs three or more shutdowns in a period of 10 years, the proposition mandates that all services provided to them be revoked, with no allocations offered for a period of five years.
The chief executive officer of data and voice company Liquid Telecom Kenya, Ben Roberts, Liquid’s group head of IP strategy, Andrew Alston, and Fiona Asonga, the CEO of the telecommunications service providers’ association of Kenya, co-authored the policy suggestion and submitted them to the African Network Information Center (AFRINIC), a Mauritius-based agency that manages and allocates the registration of internet IP addresses.
Their proposal will be discussed during public policy meetings that will be held in Nairobi May 29 to June 2. Ben Roberts told Quartz;
“Africa is experiencing a technology revolution driven by the internet. And African economies just can’t sustain internet outages of any kind,”
Should the proposal pass, there will now be repercussions for internet shutdowns to the governments as well as the citizens. Hopefully, that will be enough to curb the growing problem and give Africa a better shot at experiencing unfettered internet access. As Robert says, “governments may think twice” before shutting down before calling for internet shutdowns and will start thinking of the internet as ” an essential service just like water and electricity.”