The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is pleased to release a new report examining the social impacts of network disruptions in sub-Saharan Africa and advocacy strategies in response. Authored by Tomiwa Ilori, an LLD Candidate at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria and a researcher at the Expression, Information, and Digital Rights Unit of the Centre, the report considers experiences of people affected by network disruptions. 

Between 2011 and 2020, interviewees from eleven countries in Africa — Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe — noted that Internet access was disrupted for over 1144 days in total.

Ilori surveyed practitioners and experts on digital rights, internet governance, humanitarian issues, and other related topics, coming from academia, civil society, government, and international organizations. Interviews covered the frequency and duration, depth, breadth, and speed of network disruptions in the individuals’ respective countries. Informed by their responses, a review of existing literature, and normative analysis, Ilori finds that the day-to-day ramifications and lived realities of network disruptions are often overlooked, can vary widely, and are felt by individuals and communities with or without Internet access.

The report reflects on the “debilitating and far-reaching” impacts of disruptions, including lack of access to important public health information during the pandemic, being kept in the dark about results during an election, economic impacts felt by broad swathes of society, limits on employment and educational opportunities, and lack of access to digital finance. Given these impacts, the report presents a set of short and long-term advocacy strategies that could be effective, rooted in multistakeholder collaboration, accounting for local context, and considering the intricacies of the regional human rights mechanisms in Africa.

“Network disruptions are a cudgel whose damage often silently ricochets across communities. This report weaves together compelling first-hand accounts and a panoramic analysis of instruments that different actors can use to push back under the African human rights system. It is a clarion call for a multistakeholder community to take coordinated steps to prevent shattered and disrupted digital spaces from becoming the new normal,” said Jan Rydzak, author of “Disconnected: A Human Rights-Based Approach to Network Disruptions,” and Company Engagement Lead at Ranking Digital Rights.

Read more about GNI’s work on network disruptions.

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of GNI.