The Eritrean government has shut down the internet to prevent the planned protests. This has caused the citizens of the country to turn to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) in order to communicate, BBC Tigrinya Service reported.
This is the second time that the internet is been shut down by the Eritrean government. The last time was in 2017 when a group of students demonstrated the government’s interference in the running of schools. According to africanews, gunshots were used to disperse the students.
In Eritrea, the media is controlled by the government and hence, dissenting opinions are not tolerated. Reporters Without Borders describes Eritrean media as “a dictatorship in which the media have no rights”.
Part of the reason is that the Eritrean government is a one-party-state which has been ruled by President Isaias Afwerki since 1993.
Though 26 years have passed since Eritrea gained its independence, it has the poorest internet penetration. According to the Internet World statistics, by 2018 only 1.3 per cent of the people were connected to the internet which is about 71, 000 people. This is because it is “unreliable” and “expensive”.
A trend among dictatorial African countries
Other African countries that have had internet disruptions this year include: Gabon, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Chad, and DR Congo. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, 77 per cent of the African countries which have had an internet shutdown in the past five years are dictatorships. On the other hand, 23 per cent of those countries are partial democracies.
According to a research done by Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), “internet shutdowns are correlated with the longer a leader has stayed in power.” A good example is Chad where the presidents have stayed in power for close to 30 years.
“Of the 14 African leaders who had been in power for 13 years and above as of January, 79 per cent have ordered shutdowns mostly during tense election periods, anti-government protests, or coup attempts,” Quartz Africa quoted part of the research.