Internet shutdowns taking a toll on Africa’s internet economy

21 Dec 2017 10:15h - 11:45h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

The workshop was moderated by Ms Yolanda Mlonzi, Executive Board Member, Internet Society South Africa Gauteng Chapter, who looked at how to challenge Internet shutdowns in Africa.

Mr Joash Moitui, Research Fellow, Centre for Human Rights and Policy Studies, focused on the implications of Internet shutdowns for national economies. Economic consequences can play an important role in convincing governments not to exercise unnecessary Internet shutdowns. Moitui talked about the results of a study by the Brooklyn Institute that estimated the total cost of shutdowns in eleven African countries since 2015. These totalled nearly 235 million U.S. dollars.

Mr Samuel Bambo, Diplomat, Ministry of External Relations, Cameroon, talked about the consequences of a three-month Internet shutdown in Cameroon. He focused on side effects which cannot be calculated in monetary terms. These included the radicalisation of users, the loss of business opportunities and potential clients, the new migration wave of so-called Internet hunters, and the loss in education where some people attending online courses were unable to finish their studies. Bambo appreciated the crucial role of the international community in the process of negotiating with the government. He also asked why governments shutdown the Internet if they know there is no positive impact on security.

Mr Wairagala Wakabi, Executive Director, Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), explored some other negative economic and social impacts of Internet shutdowns. He mentioned loss of foreign investment, disruption in the supply chain and delivery services, and disruption of mobile money payments. Wakabi referred to a document, “A Framework for Calculating the Economic Impact of Internet Disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa“, recently published by CIPESA.

Ms Aicha Jeridi, North Africa Coordinator, African Civil Society on the Information Society, shared the experience from North Africa. The shutdowns there occur mainly during political unrest and when governments are being brought into question. Jeridi also noticed that the shutdowns have impacts on sustainable development goals (SDGs),namely SDG 3, SDG 16, and SDG 17. Jeridi recommended the adoption of the African declaration on Internet rights and freedoms, and to keep engaging in campaigns and projects such as KeepItOn and the Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project (STOP) by Access Now.

Mr Mohamed Farahad, Programs director, Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights, talked about the international legal framework tackling Internet shutdowns, and questioned if this framework is not obsolete in the current age of information technology. He then provided experience and details from Egypt, where he believes that shutdowns bring more unrest, and drive people onto the streets. The government of Egypt does not sufficiently provide clarification or reasons why shutdowns happen.

Ms Fiona Asonga, CEO, Technology Service Providers Association of Kenya, considered reasons why governments impose Internet shutdowns and asked the audience to start approaching governments, regulators and their local technical community, and to bring their representatives to forums like the IGF to advocate for transparent policies.

The last speaker, Mr Neil Harper, Senior Manager, Next Generation Leaders, Internet Society, described an experience from the Caribbean region and added another perspective on Internet shutdowns: the impact on network architecture and network redundancy. Harper suggested approaching ISPs and network operators who are important actors in the practice of Internet shutdown.

Discussion at the end of the session resulted in final recommendations. These were: to include the enhanced involvement of government officials; education and capacity building for youth and public servants; transparency reports by Internet service providers; the improvement of judicial control mechanisms for Internet shutdowns; a more participative African business sector; and evidence-based reasoning of economic consequences.

By Radek Bejdak