Internet Shutdowns in Africa| Dissent Does Not Die in Darkness: Network Shutdowns and Collective Action in African Countries

Jan Rydzak, Moses Karanja, Nicholas Opiyo


Research on the role of communication technology in repression and collective action focuses largely on social movements in the West or the Arab Spring. Much less work has analyzed how “networked protest” responds to government efforts to stifle the information flow and the factors underlying these responses, particularly in African states. We explore these dynamics by examining the interactions between deliberate network shutdowns and protest mobilization. We draw on examples from countries in Africa that have executed shutdowns between 2017 and mid-2019. Although the impact of such disruptions on collective action fluctuates across the continent, they are often followed by escalations in the momentum of preexisting protest or a continuation of previous dynamics, and citizens use a variety of strategies to continue mobilizing. We also highlight the importance of varying levels of connectivity, social media penetration, and strong structures of organization and coordination in networked movements’ responses to repressive strategies deployed to quell them. The article outlines a picture of activism and repressive practices in the digital age, highlighting the backfire effects of information vacuums.


Internet, network shutdowns, information control, human rights, communication technology, social media, Facebook, collective action, social movements, protest, censorship, disinformation, information flows

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