This August, Kenya will hold its presidential election and as with many elections across the continent, the possibility of unrest is very real.
This, according to the East African country’s government, may lead it to implement an internet shut down when citizens go to the polls.
iAfrikan reports that the Kenyan Communications Authority told media that the government would be forced to shut the internet down should hate speech and the incitement of violence “get out of hand” during the election period.
“We are using all possible means not to reach a level where the country can be in tension and force us maybe to take a drastic step,” the Authority’s director general, Francis Wangusi is quoted as saying.
And it seems the Kenyatta administration is very serious about its precautionary warning.
“We have also spent around KES600 million [R76 million] on a social media monitoring system and KES400 million [R51 million] on a device management system that will help us closely monitor mobile phones and the activities around them,” Wangusi said.
This move is problematic for various many reasons, primarily the fact that it infringes on internet freedom and freedom of speech.
Kenya has 47 251 449 internet users, roughly 45% of its population.
While the boundaries around internet freedom and freedom and hate speech are can be blurred at times, the notion of denying people’s right to access it sounds more than a little Orwellian. Rather focus should put on dealing with individuals who commit nefarious, rather than issuing a blanket ban.
Added to that is the fact that Kenya joins a worrying trend among African countries that have clamped down on internet freedom during elections and public unrest.
Between July 2015 and June 2016, seven African countries were among 19 worldwide which saw internet and internet service shutdowns. This excludes the WhatsApp and Twitter shutdown that happened in Zimbabwe in July during a national stay-away and the shutdown in The Gambia in December during its elections.
The South African government also showed that it’s capable of clamping down on technological communication when it placed a mobile signal jammer in Parliament during the 2015 State of the Nation Address.
The internet and social media have been powerful tools in helping Africans and citizens in other countries protest against their often dictatorial government, particularly around election periods.
Kenyan citizens have been using the global #KeepItOn hashtag to speak against the proposed shut down.[Image – CC khaase]