Briefing Paper

How Telecom Companies in Africa can Respond Better to Internet Disruptions

The role of internet intermediaries, including mobile network operators, internet service providers, web hosting providers, social media platforms and search engines, is increasingly becoming critical as the internet permeates all aspects of society. The intermediaries facilitate transactions, access to online information and services, and provide platforms for interaction, expression and citizen participation. Despite their facilitative role, intermediaries’ operations are often controlled by autocratic governments whose interests usually clash with those of the intermediaries and of users of digital technologies. In recent years, disruptions to the internet and social media applications have emerged as a common trend of digital repression especially in authoritarian countries in Africa. In 2019, internet shutdowns in Africa grew by 47%, with at least 25 confirmed incidents in 10 countries, up from the 17 recorded in seven countries in 2018. The countries affected in 2019 include Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Togo. In 2020, internet disruptions were reported in Ethiopia, Burundi, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.