Internet Shutdown During The 2020 Election

While many other African countries with authoritarian regimes have experienced internet shutdowns in the past decade, Tanzania had not until 2020, when the late president Magufuli was seeking re-election. Leading up to the 2020 election, late president Magufuli enacted a series of laws restricting the ability of journalists, CSOs, and citizens to openly share information in an effort to suppress opposition. Tanzania does not have any legislation that explicitly gives the government power to shut down the internet. However, laws such as the Electronic and Postal Communications Act could be used to grant the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to order service providers to block or filter content. In the days leading up to and after the general election, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, and Twitter were blocked on multiple networks, also TCRA ordered telecommunications-service providers to suspend access to bulk SMS and bulk voice services and reportedly censored individual messages with election keywords. Together with the fact that Internet shutdowns have a significant impact on democracy and the economy, there have been no acknowledgements or indications from government leadership in Tanzania to express regret about the 2020 internet shutdowns or indicate that shutdowns will not be used again in the future.  

President Samia Suluhu’s government has allowed the reopening of news media that had been banned, and she has spoken publicly about increasing media freedoms. However, little has been done to reform existing repressive laws. Awareness about internet shutdowns is high, but knowledge is low. With general elections in 2025, now is the time to determine advocacy strategy, build coalitions, and make the case to powerful actors that internet shutdowns are neither necessary nor proportionate. Tanzanians need to be equipped with an understanding of internet shutdowns, the circumvention tools they can use if applications are blocked. Advocacy to prevent or stop an internet shutdown requires a diverse coalition of stakeholders and the ability to engage and communicate the importance of shutdown prevention to many sectors of society.

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