human impact of internet shutdowns

Tanzania is weaponizing internet shutdowns. Here’s what its people have to say

Tanzania has made it on to the infamous list of countries using network disruptions as a weapon against citizens during elections. In the lead-up to the presidential elections scheduled for October 28, 2020, authorities took a series of actions to restrict the digital rights of the Tanzanian people. Specifically, the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA), acting under the repressive Magufuli government, forced telecom and internet service providers to install internet filtering equipment from the Israeli firm Allot, and then deliberately disrupted Twitter, WhatsApp, and Telegram one day before the election.

The TCRA had previously ordered telco service providers to suspend access to short messaging services (SMS) and voice services, leaving millions of Tanzanians without effective communication tools. As of the publication of this post, authorities are still blocking Twitter. Tanzanians can only access it using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), the use of which the government has effectively banned.

These actions are an attack on Tanzanians’ human rights, including the rights to access information and free expression — rights that are the same online and off. Through the Shutdown Stories project, Access Now documents and shares stories to highlight the impact of internet shutdowns on people’s lives, work, education, business, and relationships. The common refrain is that shutdowns severely disrupt people’s lives and livelihoods. In Tanzania, the government has stopped people from freely accessing information and actively participating in an election, while also making it harder to carry out essential tasks in daily life and operate or grow their businesses.

Below, we share 11 stories to show how the shutdowns in Tanzania are affecting people’s lives. We also share ways you can speak out on their behalf.

Raul Gil is a student at the Dar es Salaam University and a print journalist. She depends on the internet to do her schoolwork and stay on top of the latest news. She also has a beauty business and uses social media for client outreach. None of these activities escaped damage from the internet shutdown.

Shutdowns have greatly affected my ability to communicate, because at times I send messages and they don’t get through to the intended party, and on social media, I cannot send or receive photos. My business is also suffering because I use social media and the internet as a marketing tool.

As a teacher and social media influencer, Godfrey Abely Magehema found himself isolated from a world of information during the elections as a result of the shutdown.

I have not had access to reports and information during the elections period. I am a social media influencer. Not having internet access has affected how much I update my feed.

Zainabu Makombe runs a children’s rights organization. The disruption of the networks created a huge roadblock for its daily operations.

I am the director of an organization that deals with children’s rights. [The internet shutdown] affected the organization’s reporting and communication processes.

Kibiriti Ngoma works in the legal field. The internet is her primary channel to get business and clients. Since the internet shutdown, she and her clients have been forced to rely on VPN services, which often have a technical or cost barrier.

Shutdown victim story: I have been greatly affected by the shutdowns. I have missed several work opportunities, for instance, I could not submit my applications within the deadlines issued by recruiters and employers... My business has also been affected as I am an entrepreneur and I primarily market my wares on social media sites. When there was no internet connectivity, I could not send or post photos to my clients; and whenever the photo would send, the recipient was unable to download it without the use of a VPN.

Kigogo was deeply dismayed by the communication disruption ordered by the government that was not only affecting the internet, but also restricting SMS.

Shutdown victim story: I could not connect to Twitter and several other sites. [I could not send] SMSs with certain words, such as Tundu Lissu, Election, Protests, etc. Personally, I need telecommunication channels to remain open so as to carry out my business. Surely when they curtail internet connectivity and block news reports, one cannot send more than ten SMSs per day… it’s a huge problem! It feels like we are living in 2002 instead of 2020!

Idd Ninga is a social worker in Arusha, Tanzania. The internet shutdown left her community in the dark during a crucial period for the democratic process. He was shocked that the disruption was implemented without any notice or remedy.

Shutdown victim story: The act of shutting down internet services has violated my right as a Tanzanian citizen to the access of information, especially during an election period; it has been extremely difficult to stay apprised of what is happening, especially because not everyone has access to traditional media forms—such as television and radio—at all times. Some of us also do a lot of work online and [internet] shutdowns made it very difficult to perform our duties, affecting even our turnaround times. Work that would normally take a couple of days would end up taking two weeks to complete.

Another social worker, Zaituni Njovu, had to pay a mental toll as the internet shutdown affected every aspect of her life.

Shutdown victim story: I was not able to communicate and I also did not finish my training practicals. I have not had access to the news/information relating to the election period and my right to communicate with other people has been taken away from me. The democratic exercise was ignored during the election period and my economic wellbeing was put at risk as I was not able to complete assignments on time.

As a community coordinator in Dodoma, Tanzania, Maria usually works online with her phone and laptop. During the shutdown, she lost the major means to sustain her work.

My work has been greatly affected as we mostly work online; we have been unable to reach our audience on time, we have suffered huge losses.

The shutdown was devastating news to Florah Amon, a journalist whose entire work depends on the internet.

I have had to shut down my business because I carry out my sales online. I also experienced problems with my work as I had to be in the office physically while I would ordinarily write reports on my mobile phone and send them to the office as I do other things.

Christina Gauluhanga is a writer in Tanzania. The recent nationwide internet shutdown has severely interfered with the work of her and her colleagues.

The internet shutdowns have caused a breakdown in our office communication due to the fact that writers [depend heavily on] the internet to communicate amongst ourselves. I have not been able to send stories and browse the internet.

Kidawa Mwakaseko is an online safety activist. Because of her, her family and friends were able to learn how to use VPN tools to circumvent the blocking and restrictions of online services.

My communications via social media and email have been affected. For about a month, I have not been able to receive important work related information from my family, friends, and colleagues. I have been urging my friends and family to use VPNs at all times so as to remedy lack of services from various programs and websites.

How you can help fight shutdowns in Tanzania

In 2020 alone, the governments of Togo, Burundi, Guinea, Belarus, and Myanmar also disrupted access to the internet and digital communications tools during elections. Network disruptions interfere with people’s rights to free speech, access to information, and participation in the democratic process — and you can do something to stop it.

Help us amplify the #KeepItOn coalition’s call to governments to stop using internet shutdowns to violate the rights of people globally by taking the following steps:

Share this blog post on social media using the hashtag #KeepItOn and #InternetShutdown to raise awareness about the devastating impact of internet shutdowns on people’s lives.

Share our Shutdown Stories form with your network in Tanzania to help us gather more testimonies for our advocacy work, which can help serve as evidence of harm in court and international forums.

Learn more

#KeepItOn is a global campaign that unites more than 220 organizations around the world fighting to end internet shutdowns through grassroots advocacy, direct policy-maker engagement, technical support, and legal intervention.

If you have questions about internet shutdowns, you can get answers by subscribing to our Kill Switch podcast.