Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.


Zambia mulls turning off Internet as elections loom – report

Article Image
Will Zambia shut down the Internet? A source says the government plans to, when the country goes to the polls on Thursday.

The source, in the country's Ministry of Communications and Transport, says the government plans to shut down the country's Internet from August 12 to 15.

The news, which has been reported broadly, has caused a stir. A group of 40 human rights, technology, and freedom organizations, joining together as the #KeepItOn coalition, has written to President Edgar Lungu asking him to ensure the Internet stays on.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services has replied calling the reports false and malicious propaganda.

Unfree, unfair, unpredictable

The election is crucial, but it's not a fair fight, says the Economist. Zambia, which saw its founding president Kenneth Kaunda voluntarily leave office in 1991, once seemed more likely to follow the path of Botswana than Zimbabwe.

But how things have changed. Lungu's government has engaged in what Amnesty called in June an "increasingly brutal crackdown" on its opponents. The country's external debt has risen by a factor of seven, loans being spent on Chinese-built infrastructure with a helping of graft.

Unfree, unfair and unpredictable is how Zambian researcher Neo Simutanyi characterizes this week's elections. Lungu faces businessman Hakainde Hichilema as the chief opposition candidate, who has the support of half the country in academic polls.

But Lungu has not fought fair. Police have cited COVID-19 rules to stop Hichilema from campaigning, but have forgotten to do so for Lungu's own efforts.

"The internet has given people a platform to speak up, communicate and be informed," tweets Hichilema. "Dictators don't like that. That's why they'll take that power away from you."

For opposition parties, an Internet blackout means not being able to send final campaign messages, tell supporters where and how to vote, and to post incidents of electoral irregularities, violence and intimidation on social media.

After the election, if opposition party supporters suspect the polls have been rigged, switching off the Internet also stops them from organizing protest rallies online.

The country's two largest mobile providers, MTN and Airtel, have not guaranteed they will not shut down Internet access.

MTN confirmed it had shut down the Internet in four other African countries recently during unrest, but said "in all cases, restricting access to the internet is a last resort".

And cases of Internet shutdowns in Africa certainly are on the rise.

Tanzania restricted access to the Internet and social media applications during its October 2020 elections.

In June 2020, Ethiopia imposed an Internet shutdown for close to a month, after the killing of prominent activist and singer Hachalu Hundessa led to widespread unrest.

Among other countries that have restricted access either to the Internet or social media in 2020 are Zimbabwe, Togo, Burundi, Chad, Mali and Guinea.

And of the 22 African states that have disrupted internet access in the last five years, 77% are dictatorships, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's democracy index.

Want to know more about digital inclusion in Africa? Check out our dedicated Digital Inclusion content channel here on Connecting Africa.

The remaining 23% are partial democracies, says Zimbabwean lawyer Mthokozisi Dube.

Meanwhile in Zambia, one opposition supporter tweets "Social media is the only platform on which we criticise the PF (Patriotic Front) government freely".

Furthermore, she adds, it is a less biased source of information than ZNBC news which is "full of praises for PF and never gives opposition views."

Related posts:

— Pádraig Belton, contributing editor, special to Connecting Africa

Innovation hub


Orange Ventures, Digital Africa promise more funding for startups

Orange Ventures and Digital Africa are teaming up to invest more in tech startups in Africa and the Middle East through Digital Africa's Fuzé program and the Orange Digital Center network.


Hot startup of the month: Rwanda's Ampersand

Connecting Africa's hot startup this month is Rwanda's Ampersand, which designs, builds, and manufactures electric motorcycles and battery packs for motorcycle taxis.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Sponsored video

More videos

Follow us on X

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Upcoming events

Africa Tech Festival 2024
November 11-14, 2024
Cape Town, South Africa
More Upcoming events

Africa Tech Perspectives


Uber's Marjorie Saint-Lot on inclusion and sustainability in Africa

Uber's Country Manager for Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, Marjorie Saint-Lot, shares how the ride-hailing company is approaching public-private partnerships, environmentally friendly initiatives and gender inclusion in Africa.


The 100 most influential African leaders in 2023

A new report from Africa Tech Festival and Connecting Africa puts a spotlight on the top 100 African leaders in the telecoms and technology sector in 2023.


Deep dive into East Africa's tech startup ecosystem

New survey reveals a lack of access to investors, reliance on international VCs and global recession trends as the biggest barriers for East African tech startups to access funds.

More Africa Tech perspectives

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: April 2024

By Omdia Analysts

April 2024's telecoms highlights in the Middle East and Africa included a license for Starlink in Ghana, new mobile termination rates in Ethiopia, and 6G trials in Bahrain – that and more in the latest Omdia View.


Leveraging agritech to build resilience against climate change

By Francis Hook

ICT analyst Francis Hook discusses agritech in Africa and how the agricultural sector is using technology to build resilience against the negative effects of climate change and to ensure food security.

More Guest Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up
Tag id test-002