An internet shutdown happens when someone — usually a government — intentionally disrupts the internet or mobile apps to control what people say or do. Shutdowns are also sometimes called “blackouts” or “kill switches”.
Econet’s founder Strive Masiyiwa has confirmed that the Government of Zimbabwe ordered an internet shutdown. He said in a post:
“I was informed that the authorities in Zimbabwe have directed that all Internet services be shut down. As it was a written directive issued in terms of the law, non-compliance would result in immediate imprisonment of management on the ground.
Last week we were issued with a similar order in the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC]. We complied as directed.
Whenever such directives are issued, management call in the legal teams, and review them in terms of the law.
I’m fasting and praying for Zimbabwe, DRC, and Sudan today…
We have staff in all these countries, and we love our customers.
Please, please, stay safe.”
He went on to explain the Statute that enabled this shutdown:
What statute would be used in the case of Zimbabwe to effect this directive? My reply: It is called The Interception of Communications Act Cap 11:20. If the CEO of Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, Mr Douglas Mboweni had refused to carry out the directive this is what section 6 (2), says:
(2) A service provider who fails to give assistance in terms of this section shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level twelve or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
This is a direct quote from that Act of Parliament. It came into effect in August 2007. It could easily have been repealed during the GNU as the opposition had majority legislators. I’m sure you will agree that it is extremely unfair to blame Econet executives and engineers in Zimbabwe for something over which they have no control, and which threatens them with imprisonment should they resist.”
The internet shutdown in Zimbabwe has been triggered by protests that broke out after the Government declared an increment in fuel price, almost double, at $3.11 per liter for diesel, and $3.33 per liter for gasoline from $1.36 and $1.24 respectively. It is currently the highest fuel price in the world.
Many citizens are unable to access their social media and are having trouble making and receiving calls. Others have opted to use virtual private networks (VPNs) as a loophole to access the internet.
Internet shutdowns infringe on people’s rights including freedom of expression, assembly, access to information, all of which you can see more of here.
The cost of an internet shutdown is much greater than the reason they need it switched off, and we have shared a proposal for African governments to stop shutting down the internet.
On the opposite side of the continent, the DRC also ordered an internet shutdown while it was having its elections. Strive also explained that shutdown:
“Our DRC member was offline for some days only to contact me few days ago. He told me that the government had to disconnect the nation’s Internet because of the elections. Unbelievable!
We operate in DRC as well. The telecoms licenses usually have a provision that allows the governments to direct all telecoms providers to shut down any aspect of the service. The authorities through their telecoms regulatory bodies have engineers who have the capacity to walk in and direct the actual shut down.
In one country, last year [it was not DRC or Zimbabwe], policemen smashed and broke computers when they felt our people were not cooperating. Services like WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and many others are all Internet based. Even Apps driving things like Kwese Iflix, Uber, Taxify, Vaya, and mobile money can also be affected. Swipe machines, everything!
Unfortunately some customers think it is the provider interfering with the service, when it is not.
Some even take it out on poor call center operators staff shouting and screaming at them. Some of our staff have been suffered breakdowns due to such treatments.
We just soldier on as best we can.”