Guinea’s interim government orders fresh internet shutdown ahead of 2-day anti-govt protest

Internet outage

As citizens of Guinea gear up for two days of anti-government protests, the national government has ordered a fresh internet shutdown to help curtail the protests. The interim government led by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya – the man behind the 2021 coup – has called for the army to support the police in quelling the planned protest. 

This move is likely intended to discourage the planned demonstration and make it difficult for citizens to share information on social media platforms. According to real-time metrics from Netblocks – a worldwide internet monitor seeking an inclusive digital future – access to social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and TikTok has been severely limited across the West African country since May 17, 2023. 

The data further shows that MTN Guinea and Orange – two of the biggest telecom operators in the country, have already obeyed the shutdown order. Aside from blocking access to social media outlets for citizens, a Twitter user claimed he was unable to view Guinean news sites even after experimenting with multiple browsers. He eventually found a workaround. 

Like the Twitter user, citizens have turned to virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass the network outage. Many VPN providers exist, offering varying levels of speed and security. 

Sadly, this isn’t Guinea’s first encounter with a government-sponsored internet shutdown. Two years ago, Media Defence – an international human rights organization – filed an application against the Guinean government over its decision to restrict access to the web twice in 2020 (March and October). 

In its application, Media Defence states “By shutting down the internet on two separate occasions, Guinea breached the applicants’ rights to freedom of expression. It also argues that a complete and indiscriminate shutdown across an entire country has a profound chilling effect and is clearly arbitrary and disproportionate.” 

Read also: Nigeria lost $82.7m to internet shutdown last year, so it can’t afford another one

VPN has foiled many governments’ effort at internet shutdown

Originally intended for increased security and privacy when browsing the web, more people are now using VPNs to stay connected to the net even when their government announces a partial or full internet shutdown. 

Guinea's interim government orders fresh internet shutdown ahead of 2-day anti-govt protest

In recent times, VPNs have helped people in countries that have experienced internet shutdowns at some point. In 2021, the Muhammadu Buhari-led government announced a ban on microblogging platform Twitter after the latter temporarily suspended the president’s account over a controversial tweet. 

Nigerians soon found a workaround by using  VPN to access Twitter, thus defying the government’s pledge to prosecute wrongdoers. Cases of internet disruption aside from Guinea and Nigeria have been reported in Myanmar, Sudan, Pakistan, and Iran. Apart from Nigeria, the other countries in the above list have restricted access during times of political instability. 

Internet access is a right, not a lightbulb switch 

Technology has transformed the world in many ways and the internet is one of such gifts. While it has proven to be a breeding group for dating scams, cybersecurity attacks, and hate speech, its existence has democratized access to information, jobs, and lots more. 

Netblocks infographic on internet outage in Guinea
Netblocks infographic on internet outage in Guinea

As such, it can be tricky to restrict access at all. In Guinea, the administration claimed the reason for cutting off the internet was to maintain public order. However, is it within the government’s right to prevent its people from accessing the web? The United Nations Internet Governance Forum disagrees. 

In its Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet, the following words are said “Access to and use of the Internet is increasingly indispensable for the full enjoyment of human rights including the right to freedom of expression, the right to education, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the right to take part in the government of a country, the right to work, and the right to rest and leisure. The right to access, and make use of, the Internet derives from its integral relationship to all of these human rights.” 

At this point, it’s early to estimate the amount of damage a full-blown internet shutdown will have on Guinea’s economy. However, this will provoke conversations about the right to expression and the use of network outages as a means to forestall political unrest

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