This Saturday, in the middle of a vote for the Gabonese presidential election, the internet connection could be suspended throughout the country. As was the case in 2016.
It's a habit in Libreville: the Gabonese authorities are accustomed, when heckled, to cutting off the internet. In 2016, while Jean Ping was challenging Ali Bongo for victory, internet access was cut off. And when it had been restored, it remained disturbed and social networks had long remained inaccessible. The then government had not communicated officially on these cuts, certain sources close to power simply indicating that they wanted to fight against "the spread of rumors and the organization of looters on these networks".
In Gabon, as in other countries ruled by authoritarian presidents, "unplugging the Internet" has become "the reflex of the autocrat", wrote, at the time, Libération. In Libreville, as much as elsewhere, pressing the off button was child's play: "The criterion is the number of operators who have international connectivity, that is to say who are connected to a submarine cable (…). Countries in West and Central Africa often have only one. It is then sufficient for the government to require this operator to turn off the tap”, summarized Stéphane Bortzmeyer, network engineer.
Result : Gabon is one of the countries with the most internet cuts in the last ten years. An illegal habit, under international law: “many Internet shutdowns operated by governments” constitute, according to the movement Turn the page, “violations of international law”. Since 2014, Libreville has cut internet for 34 days. Only Chad, Cameroon and the DRC do worse. In addition to the 2016 presidential election, the power cut the internet in January 2019, after an attempted coup. According to several well-informed sources, internet access could also be severely disrupted from Saturday.
A decision that would be an attack "on freedom of expression and access to information", according to the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights on freedom of expression and access to information in Africa who in January 2019 asserted that “citizens should not be penalized with cuts when they demonstrate calling for political and economic reforms or during disputed electoral processes or polls” .
Because that's what it's all about: cutting short any dispute when voting. Without an internet connection, it is impossible to know the polling stations in which problems have occurred. Internet shutdowns "simply put a curtain in front of the content", summarizes Turn the page.