#KeepItOn: Burundi silences the majority on election day

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Update 5/21/2020: reports indicate the social media block has been lifted.

As millions of Burundians head to the polls to elect their next president today, May 20, 2020, the Pierre Nkurunziza government has rushed to block access to social media including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube. This blatant denial of the rights to access information and freedom of expression casts a dark shadow over the much-anticipated election in Burundi. 

Sources in Burundi have told Access Now that there have been two rounds of shutdowns: the first-round of social media platform blocking beginning early morning around 5:00 am local time; and the second one commencing at approximately 7:00 am with more social media platforms being disconnected when citizens began making their way to the polls. 

The #KeepItOn coalition is alarmed by these deliberate actions, and calls on the government of Burundi to immediately restore access to social media platforms.  The coalition, made up of more than 210 civil society organizations, has sent an open letter to the president Pierre Nkurunziza, and  the telecommunications regulator, Agence de Régulation et de Contrôle des Télécommunications (ARCT) calling on them to protect the integrity and openness of the internet. 

Disrupting the elections before they even begin will tarnish democracy further in Burundi, and cast suspicion over the integrity of polling day, and the validity of the outcome. Shutting down social media during elections will  curtail fundamental rights, deny people access to information and freedom of expression, and harm communities as a whole.

Unfortunately, Burundi is the third African country to shut down social media during an election in 2020.  Togo and Guinea recently shut down social media platforms and the internet during their recent elections, and, much like Burundi, jeopardized the integrity and the outcomes.

Use VPNs to circumvent social media shutdowns

If you are currently in Burundi, follow these simple steps below to help enable you to bypass the ongoing social media blackout. 

The steps in the flyer below outline how to download a VPN which may allow you to regain access to the blocked platforms. A VPN enables you to access the internet as if you are in a different location. (These are also a good idea for increasing personal security, especially when you’re using public WiFi networks.) 

Note: VPNs are only effective if you are still able to access the internet with enough bandwidth to support the service. They will not be able to get around a full network shutdown.

You can also support the global campaign to end internet shutdowns by monitoring the situation in Burundi, using tools from the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) to test your connection and share the results. Here’s how:

Share your story with us

The #KeepItOn coalition also works at all levels to pressure governments to stop shutting down the internet, to bring legal challenges to shutdowns in national and international bodies, and to raise awareness about the impact of internet shutdowns around the world. If you have experienced a social media shutdown, you can help us to wage this fight by sharing your story. Personal accounts help provide the evidence we need to win in court and to tell a more complete story of the human impact of network disruptions. Access our shutdown story forms: French and English.