Several Zambian users have taken to Twitter to let the general public know that WhatsApp has been restricted in the country amid the general elections underway today.
The presidential and legislative elections end with a clash between the current president Edgar Lungu and the opposition Hakainde Hichilema.
Internet watchdog organization Netblocks further corroborated these reports, adding that several internet providers in Zambia had restricted access to the US social messaging platform. Some of these networks include Zamtel, a Zambian state-owned company, Airtel Zambia, Liquid Telecom, and MTN.
Just this week, reports have circulated that the Zambian government has threatened to shut down the internet if Zambians “do not use cyberspace properly in this year’s elections.” Reports say the government intended to carry through with its plans from Thursday, election day, until Sunday, when the vote count is expected to be completed.
However, the Zambian government, through its permanent secretary for information and dissemination services, Amos Malupenga, denied the information, calling it “malicious”. Nonetheless, he mentioned that the government would not tolerate internet abuse and that in the event of wrongdoing, it would not hesitate to take appropriate action.
“The government therefore expects citizens to use the Internet responsibly. But if some people choose to abuse the Internet to mislead and misinform, the government will not hesitate to invoke the relevant legal provisions to prevent any breach of public order as the country goes through the election period, ”he added. said Malupenga.
Zambia is not the first African country to witness this in an election, as social media restrictions and internet shutdowns are now a recurring theme for most African states.
Countries like Cameroon, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Guinea, Togo, Benin, Mali and Mauritania faced social media restrictions and internet shutdowns during the elections. A handful of others like Chad, Nigeria and Ethiopia, by contrast, suffered similar restrictions for unrelated events.
Most governments argue that they are enforcing social media restrictions and Internet shutdowns to maintain security during elections; However, it is blatant to see the process as a way to curb the dissemination of vital information among voters and the media inside and outside the country.
Today’s event shows that despite the denial of reports of an impending internet shutdown, the Zambian government is moving in that direction by cutting WhatsApp first. Writing about the WhatsApp restriction, Netblocks also reported that the Zambian government has proceeded with the restriction of other social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and Twitter.
Yet internet users in Zambia are now using VPN services to bypass restrictions on WhatsApp and these other social media platforms. Still, it remains to be seen whether the government will force a complete Internet shutdown.