Censorship is increasing in Africa. From recent social media blocks during elections in Uganda, Congo and Chad to Ethiopia’s increasing control over the Internet, it appears censorship is on the rise across the continent. In many cases, state-owned telecoms have full control over the Internet and can enact censorship accordingly. In this post, we take an in-depth look at several countries in Africa and the Internet restrictions they face.
A Censored, Not Free Internet Experience in Africa
There are many countries in Africa that do not enjoy a free Internet experience.
Eritrea: Eritrea is reportedly the most censored country in the world, and their repressive climate expands to Internet and journalism which are highly censored:
The government controls the Internet and all media in Eritrea, creating a restrictive environment for the press.
The media is under tight control, and only state media can share news. Others run the fear of arrest, and the Internet is controlled by the country’s only telecommunications company EriTel. All mobile communications must go through EriTel, and all ISPs must use the government-controlled gateway. Access to the Internet within the country is also very limited, with less than 1% of people going online.
Ethiopia: Ethiopia is one of the most censored countries in the world, frequently appearing on lists of countries suffering from extreme Internet censorship. Recently (March 2016), it was reported that Ethiopia is continuing to crack down on journalists and censoring information. With restrictions worsening “Some social media sites have been blocked, and in early March security officials detained two international journalists overnight while they were trying to report on the protests.” In July 2016, Ethiopia blocked several major social media sites including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – as well as messaging app Viber – amidst a leak of university exam finals. The block lasted 5 days, and was said to prevent students from “being distracted” from their studides.
Ethiopian journalists have to choose between self-censorship, prison, or exile.
In early April, Twitter & WhatsApp were blocked in Ethiopia for over a month while the region experienced protests. Facebook messaging was blocked by the state-owned monopoly Ethio Telecom and mobile data connections were also targeted.
This type of censorship has been occurring for some time. In 2015 Ethiopia blocked a substantial number (over 100) of news and opposition websites in advance of elections. Bloggers and activists were arrested, and some were even accused of terrorism. The state-controlled telecommunications company Ethio Telecom is the sole Internet provider in the country and routinely suspends critical news websites.
Sudan: In 2015 slow Internet speeds were reported during “politically contentious” periods. In other words, it seemed the government was throttling these connections. Sudan also has a Freedom of Access to Information Law, which classifies 12 types of information that’s restricted from citizens. The law legalizes censorship and the censoring of news, so people aren’t aware of what was going on. Additionally, online journalists and activists have been arrested and news outlets hacked (and intimidated) in advance of elections.
Egypt: Egyptians have long fought with their government for less oppressive censorship, and within the past few years Egypt witnessed many types of media censorship. You can learn more in our previous blog post.
A “Partly Free” Internet Experience in Africa
According to Freedom on the Net 2015, many countries in Africa enjoy an Internet experience that’s “partly free.” These countries include: Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Nigeria: Nigeria’s concerning Cybercrime Act 2015 was signed into law last year and can violate the right to privacy and freedom of expression. In Nigeria, however, social media is generally used as positive tool to communicate during elections. And, in May 2016, Nigeria withdrew their anti-social media bill, as it was ruled the bill violates citizens’ rights (among other things) – definitely a “win” for freedom of expression in the country.
Rwanda: Rwanda implemented blocking when BBC showed a documentary about the country they deemed questionable. Surveillance of private WhatsApp and Skype messages of a popular singer was conducted, and led to the singer’s jail sentencing.
Zambia: Censorship in Zambia is improving, with no websites blocked. However, there are threats of blocking blogs and websites, and Zambia reportedly purchased spyware to use to conduct surveillance.
Zimbabwe: The Facebook page of a whistleblower was taken down, and two people arrested in conjunction. A citizen who initiated a protest movement on Facebook has also going missing. In July of 2016, Zimbabwe blocked social media sites and apps like WhatsApp. The country is also reportedly looking to build a “single Internet gateway,” or what we know as a “firewall” to filter all content within the country.
Uganda: Uganda recently blocked social media on election day. Check out our detailed blog post to learn more.
A Free Internet Experience in Africa
South Africa: Although South Africa was ranked “Free” for their Internet experience (one of the few countries in Africa to be ranked as such), in late 2015 a new censorship law was proposed by the Film and Publication Board that would “regulate online content” and impose a great deal of censorship. The law would apply to games and films distributed online, and publications that include “forms of sex, violence, hate speech,” with implications for distribution of content. It’s concerning to see a law like this proposed in an otherwise free nation.
Kenya: Kenya is a good example of a free Internet experience. Blogging is popular, and there’s a defined court process for removing “defamatory content.” There is still moderate censorship reported, however, as bloggers and social media users who criticize the government have been arrested for “misuse of licensed telecommunicaitons equipment.”
As you can see, many countries in Africa suffer from some sort of censorship or lack basic Internet freedoms. This censorship seems to be increasing in some places, causing concern for Internet users in the region and for Internet freedom around the world. Also read this great article from BBC on how governments in Africa block social media.
In addition to the linked sources, Freedom on the Net 2015 was used as a reference in this post.