Globally, citizens in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and some places in South America face different levels of internet and social media restriction from time to time. The infringement on freedom of speech is often meted as a means of intimidation and censorship.
According to a Top10VPN report, internet shutdowns across the globe have caused overall economic losses totaling up to $4.01 billion in 2020, down 50 percent from the figures in 2019. The cases were also less compared to 2019, but the report showed that they lasted longer by 74 percent despite the pandemic.
The Sub-Saharan countries included in the list are Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania, Chad, Guinea, Burundi, and Togo, all of which experienced various shutdowns in 2020.
Uganda started off the year with internet and social media shutdowns around the January 14 election period that saw President Yoweri Museveni re-elected.
The economic impact of the shutdowns in the region declined 810 percent in 2020 compared to 2019. This was a significant drop compared to countries that experienced higher economic impact with India topping the list after it lost $2.3 billion in 2020 compared to $1.3 billion in 2019.
The economic costs are calculated based on national and regional Gross Domestic Products (GDPs), or economic value of Internet users in the affected region.
The issue of Internet moderation and outright censorship also arose as it emerged that all disruptions are sanctioned by the government.
Ethiopia suffered a series of consecutive shutdowns following protests over the killing of a popular singer, the national elections, and tribal conflicts in Tigray. The Top10VPN report shows that the cumulative shutdown hours amounted to 1,536 affecting 9.5 million users. As a result, the country suffered economic losses amounting to $111.3 million.
Sudan was the worst-hit Sub-Saharan country and second globally after it lost $1.9 billion due to disruptions in 2019. Last year, the country imposed shutdowns in the country aimed at curbing examination malpractices. This was in sharp contrast to the shutdowns imposed in 2019 arising from civil unrest and electoral chaos. The country suffered a $68.7 million loss due to the disruptions within 36 hours.
Tanzania experienced 168 hours of social media shutdown and 264 hours of total Internet disruption ahead of the presidential elections. The country lost $27.5 million within the period.
Chad citizens spent 4,608 hours shut out of social media and complete internet shutdown in a move aimed at curbing “misinformation” following the death of a civilian at the hands of a military officer. As a result, the country lost $23.1 million.
Guinea lost $6.1 million within 238 hours while Burundi and Togo lost less than $300,000 after 24 hours of internet and social media shutdowns during the election period.