The Zambian government has reportedly resolved to completely shut down access to the internet beginning on Thursday, 12 August 2021, the voting day.
According to a report by Lusaka Times, government sources said access to the internet will be throttled from Thursday in an effort to maintain peace and order during the voting period. Said the source:
Yes, the internet will go down from Thursday. There will be a total blackout. We will start to slowly restore access around Saturday in selected areas, we may get full access maybe on Sunday or Monday, depending on the situation.
There is fear that some negative elements might use the internet to incite and organize protests and this is why we are shutting it down altogether.
Head of Public Policy at Facebook, Southern Africa, Nomonde Gongxeka-Seopa has urged the Zambian government to keep internet open during the election period.
Gongxeka-Seopa said in an interview with Hot FM from South Africa that Facebook has been engaging the Zambian authorities on the importance of keeping internet access open. She said:
We know that we rely on social media platforms to communicate and if there are Internet shutdowns, it separates people from reaching out to their families and friends and even their livelihoods and speaking of livelihoods, we know that with the advent of COVID-19, most businesses have moved online to reach out to their customers, so if there are Internet shutdowns, it undermines economic activities and growth by harming small businesses and disrupting the whole startup ecosystem.
So for us, we hold the view that instead of ordering shutdowns and blocking access, perhaps authorities should seek to use and work with online platforms to address emerging issues through maintaining their own online presence and supporting appropriate cultural speech.
Meanwhile, both MTN and Airtel have failed to offer guarantees that they will not shut down internet access over the election period.
MTN said if the Zambian government ordered it to shut down its services during the elections, the company would have to consider the order in light of its digital human rights policy.