Africa:Why shutting down the Internet is counterproductive

The Internet is the life of communication. It has changed so many things in Kenya, from the way we shop, eat, sleep, work, bank, learn, research and even how we vote.

The Internet in Kenya and around the world is indeed a powerful force for good and, sadly, also evil. It is blamed for everything, from sex predators to the recruitment of terrorists.

The Internet played its part in fuelling the Arab Spring and has been responsible for all manner of evil including human trafficking, child abuse, sexual exploitation of women and minors and hate speech.

Fear of the Internet’s power has precipitated tight controls around the world. China, for instance, has some of the strictest Internet rules and restrictions, as do many other countries.

Kenyans enjoys unlimited access to the Internet, perhaps only limited by their ability to pay for it.

If the national government does go ahead and shut down the Internet, fearing massive protests or violence, it will follow Ethiopia, where the government temporarily shut down social media and the Internet, as did Gambia, around the time of their elections last December.

In February 2016, Uganda did the same thing during their elections.

The situation in Kenya different. We have a relatively low Internet penetration and the primary mode of communication using mobile devices is voice.

Users of Twitter/WhatsApp or other social media platforms tend to be lower middle-class and upwards, a demographic that does not take part in riots – of course with the exception of politicians who have their security close by. Closure of the Internet will heighten fears of electoral rigging and will even complicate the voting process itself, which depends on the Internet. Violence may still be precipitated by non-Internet-based voice and even SMS.

Avenues other than the Internet can precipitate violence. Fake news, for instance, is potentially able to cause major disruptions – and that can be spread through leaflets.

The risks of fake news are such that one can only react since the time to impact is so limited.

Other than that, the financial cost of shutting down the Internet may just be unnecessarily prohibitive. Financial transactions like Mpesa, debit/credit cards and ATMs use the Internet and so even though peace is an important consideration, we may just cause a big mess.

And so do newspaper production – both print and online – and radio and TV broadcasting.


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