Today marks one year since social media was banned in Chad. Since the ban, access to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Viber, and WhatsApp has been banned. This has greatly hindered communication and business undertakings. Mobile operators initially blamed the problem on technical issues but it later emerged that the block was ordered by the government, led by President Idriss Déby. President Déby was controversially re-elected in 2016 and has been president for 30 years. Following his re-election, a similar blackout hit Chad for 8 months straight.
In March 2018, proposed constitutional changes to allow Déby to remain in power until 2033 were agreed upon. The social media ban followed the agreement as a measure to control information and to prevent uprisings against the government. Although Chad's blackout has been unusually long, internet shutdowns have been going on for short periods of time in some African countries.
For example, just this year, there have been internet shutdowns in DRC, Gabon, and Zimbabwe. The shutdowns all have a similar pattern: they are a means for political control. In DRC, the internet was shut down ahead of hotly-contested presidential elections. In Gabon, internet and broadcasting were shut down as a coup was being attempted by the army. In Zimbabwe, the internet was shut down during civilian protests following a hike in fuel prices.
Internet shutdowns aren't the only trick in the book though. Halfway through 2018, Uganda's president, Museveni, declared that 'Ugandans gossip too much' and this led to an over-the-top tax (OTT) which is essentially a social media tax. Ugandans are taxed to access WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and many others. As a result, many Ugandans don't use social media. And, of course, there is 'The Great Firewall', a revolutionary technique by China's authoritarian government to control its citizens access to social media and to information in general.
Internet shutdowns and censorship are a hallmark trend of authoritarian regimes. Chad itself has been classified as one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. Controlling the internet is a way of controlling information, as people communicate, trade, and even organize movements over the internet. Not only are internet blackouts a human rights infringement, but they are also directly involved in economic losses. Chad, for instance, is estimated to have lost $20 million in the 2016 social media blackout alone.
Aside from the social media ban, other problems Chadians face include workers’ strikes, high levels of hunger and poverty, and an influx of displaced refugees from the Sahel. Since the ban was implemented, the number of demonstrations has dropped and those that have gone ahead have seen smaller numbers.
Deuh'b Emmanuel, a prominent Chadian blogger, told the BBC, "Without Facebook, without access to social media, it's like being in prison without a cell." It seems highly unlikely that the ban will be lifted.
Header Image Credit: CGTN Africa