The Internet has revolutionized the way we live. Today the Internet is used to do a lot of things including interacting and communicating with people around the world as well as running digital businesses. So, what would you do without Internet for a whole day? If it sounds like one of the most annoying things you’ve ever heard, picture living without Internet for 365 days. Well, this is the kind of reality that people in Chad are dealing with right now after the country’s president decided to shut down the Internet for almost a whole year now.
Those who have the means are using VPNs to try and circumvent the ban. It’s costly but it’s working. However, a majority of regular Chadians have been locked out and the sad thing is that there’s actually nothing they can do. The Internet blackout in Chad started last year in March. It came barely days after the country recommended constitutional reforms that would allow current president Idriss Deby to stay in power until 2033. He will be turning 81 by then.
Deby has been Chad’s president since 1990. Despite previously promising to retire and introduce presidential limits on the run-up to the 2016 elections, he backtracked on his word. The Internet shutdown was merely meant to prevent any kind of mobilization against these constitutional changes. Deby knew that his decision to extend his presidency for more than ten years would face opposition from the public. Shutting down the Internet is one of the many backhanded strategies used by the regime to quiet any dissent.
According to Internet without Borders (IWB), a Paris-based nonprofit that advocates for the freedom of speech through the Internet, there were reports from Chad indicating that access to WhatsApp and other social media platforms was literally impossible due to the ban. The IWB believes that the government’s decision to shut down the Internet was partly inspired by the need to stop incitement to violence in the country. At the moment, communal clashes are very common in Chad. At one point, violent videos of these confrontations were being shared widely on WhatsApp. As a result, the state felt that shutting down the Internet would prevent the spread of such content and eventually, it will work to reduce incitement.
But even then, IWB believes that the government has taken advantage of this situation to implement a nationwide ban for a long time. Even though it’s possible that there were some good intentions at first, it seems that the primary goal of the shutdown is to suppress dissent and freedom of expression. This is not the first time, however, that the people of Chad have had to endure without the Internet. In 2016, for example, the government shut down the Internet for nearly eight months after a disputed presidential election where the incumbent Idriss Deby won a fifth straight term. Nonetheless, Internet shutdowns are very common in Africa. The same tactics have been used in Zimbabwe, Uganda, the DRC, and several other countries. The shutdowns are mostly used by governments that want to suppress divergent opinions.