Benin's government, like many other African countries, has gone on to shut down the Internet during parliamentary elections which started on 28 April 2019. What started off as only an Internet restriction of messaging and social media services at midnight on the day elections were scheduled to commence, has become a total Internet shutdown as all the major Internet providers in Benin have switched off access to the Internet.
It is important to note that the Internet shutdown in Benin follows after protests in the country after all opposition candidates were excluded from the elections and do not appear on ballot papers.
"Internet access has been cut off in Benin as of 11:00 AM UTC, Sunday 28 April 2019, as the country was due to vote in parliamentary elections. Earlier in the day, providers in Benin blocked access to social media networks and communication apps for several hours, according to network data from the NetBlocks internet observatory. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and messaging apps WhatsApp, Telegram and Viber were among the affected apps. Network data shows Benin’s leading internet providers have been fully shut down as of 11:00 AM UTC, following the social media blocks imposed earlier in the day, with the present situation on the ground unclear," reads a statement by NetBlocks, a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance.
Internet and social media censorship in Benin
The actions by Benin's government to shut down the Internet are not entirely a surprise. Previously, during 2018, the country's governemnt introduced a tax for Over The Top (OTT) services like WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Instagram, etc. which saw citizens required to pay approximately $0.008 (5 CFA) per MegaByte of data used while using the apps. However, due to mounting pressure denouncing the introduction of the "social media tax" Benin's authorities cancelled and reversed the legislation introducing the tax.
Benin is also not unique in this case as far as Africa is concerned. Recently, Zimbabwe and Sudan experienced complete telecommunications shutdown while in Chad, the Internet has effectively been off for over a year.
In all cases of Internet shutdowns or restrictions in Africa, it has to do with censoring citizens who are voicing their disapproval of sitting governments or leaders. A worrying trend that has unfortunately become all too common.
Cover image credit: Patrice Talon, President of Benin.