Twelve African countries blocked or disrupted internet connection 19 times in 2021, three more countries than in 2020, said a report by digital rights advocacy group Access Now.
In 2021, authorities deliberately shut down the internet at least 182 times across 34 countries. Access Now’s report – The return of digital authoritarianism: internet shutdowns in 2021 – unpacks the data, trends, and stories behind a year’s worth of internet shutdowns, released Thursday.
“With a gradual return to normalcy following the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a dramatic resurgence of internet shutdowns1 in 2021. During this year, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition documented at least 182 internet shutdown incidents around the world in 34 countries, as compared to at least 159 shutdowns in 29 countries in 2020. We saw a global increase of 23 shutdowns from 2020 to 2021,” said the report.
In Africa, the report says elections and protests were common spurs for shutdowns in Africa, as authorities used them to assert or maintain control of populations, to the detriment of citizens’ fundamental rights and democratic freedoms. “Despotic and authoritarian regimes also learn from one another, replicating rights harming tactics for control.”
“Governments hit the kill switch for the first time in five new countries in Africa: Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Eswatini, and Zambia.
In Ethiopia, people in the Tigray region have been cut off since November 2020: that’s 18 months and counting;
Globally, there were at least seven election-related internet shutdowns in six countries, in Chad, The Republic of the Congo, Iran, Niger, Uganda, and Zambia;
There were important legal actions in Nigeria, Sudan, and Zambia that challenged authorities in their blocking of social media platforms such as Twitter, and their shutting down of the internet; and
Countries such as Benin and The Gambia, which had previously shut down the internet during key national events, kept access open during election periods.”
Globally, India blocked or disrupted internet connections 106 times, to hold the top position for the fourth year in a row.
After India, Myanmar imposed the highest total number of shutdowns in 2021, with 15 disruptions, followed by Sudan and Iran with five shutdowns in each country.
“While 2021 was a year marred by internet shutdowns during protests, conflict, and elections across Africa, it was also a year of fighting back,” said Bridget Andere, Africa Policy Analyst at Access Now.
“Civil society, as well as affected citizens, made unprecedented legal strides in the battle to #KeepItOn, we witnessed elections where democracy was bolstered by access to information and communication online, and we’re continuing this progress in 2022.”