African rulers fearful of popular protest and the use of social media to spread information are using various methods to shut down the internet to overcome their tech-savvy opponents, in a growing threat to democracy and economic activity in some of the world's poorest countries. David Pollard reports.
Most of us take it for granted. Getting your connectivity back in Cameroon was reason to party .... After the government shut the internet down - for three months. (SOUNDBITE) (English) EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INTERNET WITHOUT BORDERS, JULIE OWONO, SAYING: "The case of Cameroon is particularly worrying ... We estimated that the country lost five million euros in 94 days of internet shutdown." It forced some developers to move - these relocating from the start-up hub in Buea to New Bonako, to carry on. And basic freedoms appear in danger as much as the bottom line. Since the start of 2016, 13 African governments are thought to have used shutdowns during, mainly, elections or protests - on 21 separate occasions. Triple the number of the previous two years. (SOUNDBITE) (English) EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INTERNET WITHOUT BORDERS, JULIE OWONO, SAYING: "We fear that it is likely to continue because up until now the international community, and specifically allies of the state which have used internet shutdowns, have been quite silent." Activists say newer methods are on the rise. 'Throttling' to reduce bandwidth - or 'filtering' to block specific sites like Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. Or forcing telcos to cut access to mobile customers. Sometimes with help from outside. (SOUNDBITE) (English) EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INTERNET WITHOUT BORDERS, JULIE OWONO, SAYING: "It is a testing ground for authoritarian practices especially in the digital space ... and we have seen some of these western companies selling surveillance products to repressive regimes such as Libya, such as Gabon." 2016 was the sixth straight year of decline in internet freedom, according to one report. While the economic bill goes the other way ... Shutdowns in sub-Sahara Africa estimated to have cost over 200 million dollars - just since 2015. Many users thinking twice about how and where they log on - for fear of getting switched off.