In a move that has sparked controversy and raised concerns about digital rights, the Senegalese government has once again suspended internet services. This recent shutdown follows a similar incident in June and comes just two weeks after the government awarded the country’s first 5G license.
The decision was reportedly taken to “prevent disturbances to public order” following the arrest of prominent opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
However, critics argue that internet shutdowns can severely impact citizens’ rights and hinder economic growth, raising questions about the delicate balance between maintaining public order and preserving digital freedom.
The Recent Internet Shutdown
The internet shutdown was announced in a statement signed by Moussa Bocar Thiam, the Minister of Communications, Telecommunications, and Digital Economy, and shared on social media.
The statement instructed telephone operators to comply with the shutdown, citing the dissemination of “hateful and subversive messages” on social media platforms amid a context of public disorder. The suspension targeted mobile data and was set to be implemented during certain time slots from July 31, 2023.
This is not the first time that the Senegalese government has taken such drastic action. Earlier in June, a similar internet shutdown was enforced after the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
During that incident, internet usage in the country dropped significantly, and some telcos reported near-zero internet traffic. The June shutdown reportedly cost the nation an estimated $300,000 per hour, highlighting the potential economic consequences of such actions.
Internet Shutdowns: A Global Trend
Internet shutdowns have become a recurring tool used by governments around the world seeking to exert control over information flow and quell dissent.
The phenomenon gained prominence following the 2011 Arab Spring, as authorities realized the potential impact of digital communication in mobilizing and organizing protests. In Africa alone, seven countries imposed shutdowns nine times in the previous year, showing a decrease compared to the previous year’s figures.
However, these shutdowns continue to draw international attention and scrutiny for their impact on human rights and democracy.
Balancing Public Order and Digital Rights
While governments argue that internet shutdowns are necessary to prevent social unrest and violence, critics maintain that these actions infringe upon fundamental digital rights.
The right to access information, freedom of expression, and the ability to communicate are essential aspects of a functioning democracy and a thriving digital economy. Internet shutdowns disrupt communication, access to vital services, and hinder the exchange of information, affecting businesses, education, and public discourse.
Moreover, with the recent awarding of Senegal’s first 5G license, there was hope for progress and a more open digital environment. The successful bid by telecommunications company Sonatel for the 5G license signaled the government’s willingness to embrace digital advancement.
However, the subsequent internet shutdown has raised doubts about the authorities’ commitment to striking a balance between maintaining public order and enabling technological progress.
The suspension of internet services in Senegal, both in June and now, has ignited a debate about the delicate balance between maintaining public order and safeguarding digital rights.
While governments worldwide continue to use internet shutdowns as a means to control information flow, it is essential to acknowledge their potential detrimental impact on civil liberties, economic activities, and the overall democratic fabric of a nation.
Finding alternative means to address public order concerns while preserving the integrity of digital rights is a challenge that governments must face.
Collaborative efforts between governments, civil society, and tech companies are essential to develop solutions that protect citizens’ rights while ensuring a safe and secure society. As digital technologies continue to shape the world, finding this balance will become increasingly crucial for a democratic and inclusive future.