The evolving nature of the internet has seen it grow from just a tool of information and communication to becoming a space where citizens of various countries can speak out against the ills in their countries, protest against corrupt regimes and oppose dictators. The internet has also become very instrumental for advocating for or against various causes.
In countries such as Kenya, Kenyans On Twitter, also known as KOT, have been very instrumental in fighting vices, for or against various policies, bringing out cases on corruption and advocating for different causes.
This situation is replicated in many other countries with a good example being the #FeesMustFall of South Africa that protested fees in higher education in South Africa #EndSARS of Nigeria and #BlackLivesMatter in the USA.
While this is definitely a good thing, it has not gone well with the various governments with the most current one being the Eswatini where The Eswatini Communications Commission ordered network providers, Eswatini Post and Telecommunications, Eswatini MTN and Eswatini Mobile to shut down the internet ostensibly to help in quelling the spiraling protests that had now fully spilled into the streets.
The first wave of protests in the country started in May 2021 after the death Thabani Nkomonye which remains unexplained to this day. The protests have since mutated to include many other reasons why the citizens are dissatisfied with the new form of governance with police allegedly shown in videos using excessive violence to disperse the irate protesters.
In a statement, MTN Eswatini said: “After carefully assessing the directive, and in line with its licence conditions and the group’s digital human rights due diligence framework, MTN Eswatini implemented the directive. MTN Eswatini continues to engage with relevant stakeholders to limit the duration of the service disruption and is reviewing the details of the court application in consultation with its advisers.”
The group added that it was committed to respecting human rights and endeavours to protect the rights of all people who use their services in the jurisdictions of operations and in accordance with globally defined standards.
The actions of the Eswatini government go against the Principle 38 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ 2019 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information specifically states that “States shall not interfere with the right of individuals to seek, receive and impart information through any means of communication and digital technologies, through measures such as the removal, blocking or filtering of content, unless such interference is justifiable and compatible with international human rights law and standards. States shall not engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.”
Well, in that regard, Eswatini is not the only country as a plethrora of countries in Africa have shutdown the internet before and this is most experienced during elections and according to pundits it is to stifle dissenting voices.
The move to shut down the internet to stifle dissenting voices is often very myopic as it does not take into account the sheer number of lives that depend on the internet for life-saving information, transact business, the right to communicate and innovate among others. This in turns causes a lot of untold suffering and abuse of human rights.
Enter the #KeepItOn coalition campaign. Basically, the campaign entails a total of 240 organisations drawn from 105 countries the world over. The coalition has been fighting internet shutdowns and seeks to prevent them through grassroots advocacy , direct policy-maker engagement, technical support and legal intervention among other creative approaches.
You can participate in the campaign by reporting a shutdown by emailing the Access Now organization screenshots of the offline pages, time and date of the shutdown photos along with any other useful information to shutdownalert@ accessnow.org
If a shutdown influenced you, contact the Digital Security Helpline for tech help to get back online.
“Our helpline provides 24/7 direct technical help to civil society groups & activists, media organizations, journalists &bloggers, and human rights defenders,” read a part of their website
You could also contribute as a way of supporting the cause and you can visit the website for details.
While speaking at the #AfricaLawTechFestival heald virtually by the Lawyer’s Hub Kenya, Felicia Anthonio of AccessNow said that apart from blocking the internet, governments are using other means such as increase of taxes to curb internet freedoms.
“If you know elections are near and you sense the government might shut down the internet you should prepare and prevent yourself from being locked out. To do this you can use circumvention tools and Virtual Private Networks (VPN),”she said