Several Zambian users have gone to Twitter to tell the public that WhatsApp has been blocked in the nation while general elections are being held today. Current President Edgar Lungu and opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema will square off in the presidential and legislative elections. Netblocks, an internet monitoring organization, backed up these claims, claiming that numerous internet providers in Zambia have blocked access to the American social messaging site. Zambia’s government-owned Zamtel, Airtel Zambia, Liquid Telecom, and MTN are among these networks.
Just last week, rumors surfaced that the Zambian government had threatened to shut down the internet if Zambians did not cooperate with the government, “failed to use cyberspace during this year’s election correctly.”
According to sources, the administration planned to carry out its preparations from Thursday, election day, through Sunday, when vote counting is scheduled to be completed. However, the Zambian government, through its Permanent Secretary for Information and Broadcasting Services, Amos Malupenga, denied the claims, calling them “malicious.”
Nonetheless, he stated that the government would not allow internet abuse and that if any wrongdoing happened, the government would not hesitate to take necessary 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 relevant legal provisions to forestall any breakdown of law and order as the country passes through the election period,” Malupenga said.
Zambia isn’t the first African country to experience this before an election since social media bans and internet blackouts have been a common occurrence in most African countries.
During elections, social media bans and internet shutdowns have been imposed in countries like Congo, Cameroon, Uganda, Guinea, Tanzania, Togo, Benin, Mauritania, and Mali. On the other hand, a few other countries, such as Chad, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, have faced similar limitations for unconnected reasons.
Most governments claim that social media bans and internet shutdowns are necessary for election security; nevertheless, the procedure is clearly being used to stifle the dissemination of critical information among voters and the media both inside and outside the country.
Despite dismissing rumors of an impending internet shutdown, today’s occurrence demonstrates that the Zambian government is moving in that direction by first disconnecting WhatsApp. In addition to the WhatsApp ban, Netblocks stated that the Zambian government has also imposed restrictions on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Messenger.
Despite this, Zambian internet users are increasingly using VPN services to circumvent restrictions on WhatsApp and other social media platforms. It is still unclear if the government would impose a complete internet blackout.