Social Media Suspensions Prove African Leaders Unchecked Power


Research shows African countries are the least tolerant of social media in the world.

By Muhammad Adamu

The Twitter suspension and the subsequent lifting of the ban in Nigeria have proved nothing but that the executive arm of the government waive so much unchecked power — including the one that makes the President breach the Constitution and go scot-free. This happens in a country where the legislatures have lost their relevance as a watchdog to the administration that defies court order at will.

Meanwhile, sometimes, the legislatures parley with the executive when the head of the two arms are products of the same political party. While the citizens hope the harmonious relationships between the two would drive positive results, it always ends with the people suffering from unquestionable breach of their rights in the hands of the government.

With Twitter suspension, the Nigerian government already denied the citizens their right to express themselves on the platform, an act contrary to section 39 of the Constitution.

According to Surfshark, an online privacy protection company, 32 out of 54 African countries have blocked social media at one time or another since 2015.

In June last year, evidently when the Twitter suspension was tense, a member of the House of Representatives accused his colleagues in the lower chamber of ignoring the President’s act which was in breach of sections 35 and 39 of the Constitution because of “party loyalty.” The member added that President Buhari would have faced an impeachment process in a country that truly practices democracy.

Unfortunately, while it is saddening for Nigeria, a country with almost three decades of military authoritarian regimes, the situation is even worse in some African countries with similar precedents.

In the wake of a series of coordinated attacks that claimed more than 250 lives in April 2021, the government of Sri Lanka shut off its residents’ access to social media including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Snapchat, and Viber. Though the officials claimed the move was to curtail the spreading of false news through the platforms, total blackouts limit the citizens’ exposure to opportunity.

Research on early blackouts has shown that Egypt’s disappearance from the global internet in 2011 backfired spectacularly. The government had tactically used the blackout to disrupt a group of protesters, just for the coordination of the demonstrations to move from Facebook to individual efforts in each neighbourhood. Ten days later, the Mubarak regime fell — despite government internet blackout.

The legislatures who are meant to serve as watchdogs are busy with bones thrown at them by the executive or do not have teeth to bite.

After the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, the government shut down all internet as a strategy to restrict the communications among the resistants. Unfortunately, this act can only allow the government or other militants to perpetrate war crimes unreported.

The truth is that African countries have a bad record of blocking citizens’ access to internet at will. This manifested in the first three weeks of 2019 as five countries (Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sudan, and Zimbabwe) restricted internet to their citizens either before elections, protests against government policies, or after a coup attempt.

According to Surfshark, an online privacy protection company, 32 out of 54 African countries have blocked social media at one time or another since 2015. This made the continent the least tolerant of social media in the world.

Anti-democractic activities in African countries after almost six decades of independence shows the continent’s leaders enjoy an authoritarian style of administration. And the legislatures who are meant to serve as watchdogs are busy with bones thrown at them by the executive or do not have teeth to bite.

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