Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has accused Southern African governments of suppressing citizens’ freedoms by resorting to shutting down the Internet when faced with growing citizens’ dissent expressed through social media platforms.
MISA regional chairman, Golden Maunganidze, wrote a letter to former Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete, expressing concern over the worrying trend.
Kikwete is chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Panel of Elders, an august advisory body on political and conflict resolution issues in the region. Said Maunganidze:
We write to bring to your attention, Your Excellency, the challenges posed by internet shutdowns. In our view, this is the most calculated assault on the right to access to information and expression as outlined in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, which provides for the Internet as a human right.
He said trends in 2021 confirmed regional governments are increasingly resorting to Internet blackouts whenever in uncomfortable situations thereby suppressing freedom of expression and access to information.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (March 21), the Monarch of Eswatini (twice on June 29 and October 15), and Zambia (August 12), switched off the internet in response to protests.
Globally, 14 governments resorted to shutting down the internet in response to internal pressures.
Maunganidze said the security of journalists was threatened.
He added that new proposed laws such as the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill and the proposed Patriot Bill in Zimbabwe, have the potential of killing freedom of expression.
The government of Malawi is also in the process of coming up with an NGO legislation, with the potential to further shrink the civic space in that country.