The Southern Africa Non-Government Organizations Network (SANGONeT) and the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) Present The Southern Africa Regional Dialogue on Internet Access taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 5thand 6th November 2019. This conference shall consist of presentations of research papers on the subject of Internet Access and/or Limitations; panel discussions; and commission sessions to chart strategies to advocate and lobby for unhindered Internet in Africa.

The Southern Africa Regional Dialogue on Internet Access taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 5thand 6th November 2019.

This conference shall host delegates from 20 countries of Southern Africa; West Africa; and East Africa regions. ICT stakeholders that will include civil society, academics, government representatives, digital techs, MNOs and ISPs, shall be among other key actors in this event.

Effects of Internet shutdowns in Africa

In view of the Internet shutdowns that happened in Africa since 2016 and, particularly of regional threats to online freedoms, which have manifested in internet shutdowns in the recent past, SANGONeT proposes a proactive response to this serious assault on citizens’ online freedoms.  Internet shutdowns are symptomatic of a broader crackdown on communication and online rights and freedoms on the African continent.

The targeting of online and offline media outlets and journalists is a growing problem which, combined with internet disruption, has a chilling effect on free expression in the region.  Manipulation of Internet infrastructure has often been used to surveil conversations, prevent journalists from reporting securely, or block users in a particular country or region from learning about political events, to name a few use cases.

The shutdowns do more than stunt the democratic process. They can batter whole economies and individual businesses, as well as drastically disrupt the daily life of ordinary citizens, turning the search for mobile service into a game of cat and mouse with the police and driving people across borders just to send emails for work.

Different methods of interference

When certain countries have tried to turn the Internet off—in the whole country or in specific regions—they use techniques that basically interfere with or deny some of the services that people use online, or they take control of the actual pipeline to the rest of the world. The Great Firewall of China is an example of the latter—they filter the web, looking for things that are not appropriate.

On the other hand, when people have tried to turn off the Internet in just one region, or deny access to particular groups, that has typically been accomplished through interfering with a service such as DNS, to make it so that, for at least those that don’t have a ton of technical knowledge, the internet just looks like it’s not working, even though you might have a lot of what is actually needed to have an internet connection. Denying critical services reduces the ability of the internet to work for most people, and makes large coordination a problem.

The Goal of the regional dialogue is to influence democratic internet governance in the region to enable citizens’ free speech and access to information essential for their participation in the democratic governance of the region.

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