Authorities in Zambia blocked WhatsApp messaging on Thursday, according to data from a global internet monitor.
The suspension of WhatsApp comes as Zambians cast their ballots in an election taking place in a tense security environment.
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Netblocks, the global internet watchdog monitoring Zambia’s servers on election day, found that both back-end and front-end servers in Zambia were unavailable on Thursday afternoon.
Netblocks found restrictions on the government-owned Zamtel, as well as private networks Airtel Zambia and Liquid Telecom.
South African-headquartered MTN also saw restrictions of use for WhatsApp, the Netblocks report said. CEO of MTN Zambia, Bart Hofker said:
WhatsApp is down in Zambia but the cause is not on the MTN mobile network or other operators. Mobile operators did not cut anything. It is outside the environment of the mobile network operators.
Twitter and Facebook were also restricted according to some reports. Observers fear that this could be the start of an internet shutdown that will continue as vote-counting begins on Thursday evening.
Media reports last week indicated that the Zambian government had resolved to completely shut down access to the internet beginning on voting day.
According to a report by Lusaka Times, government sources said access to the internet would be throttled from Thursday in an effort to maintain peace and order during the voting period. The source said then:
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.
Meanwhile, Polls opened at 04:00 and were due to close at 18:00 local time. Voting was slow at several stations, with queues snaking around some of the 12 000 polling stations across the country.