In an unprecedented policy suggestion, some members of the AFRINIC community have proposed denying internet to African governments that shut it down in their respective countries.

AFRINIC stands for African Network Information Centre, and it is one of the world’s five regional internet registries, with responsibility for Africa.

The proposed AFRINIC policy, dubbed the anti-shutdown policy, aims to deny Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to governments that disconnect their citizens, particularly during critical political events like elections and demonstrations.

IP addresses are unique identifiers that are necessary to connect to the internet, without which governments cannot get online.

Proponents of the policy feel it may deter the increasingly common, and unilateral, decisions by African governments to switch off the internet. They argue that the economic costs of internet shutdowns are extremely high while their intended law and order objectives are never achieved.

“La plupart des coupables de coupures de l’Internet se retrouvent dans les pays en voie de développement notamment l’Ouganda, la RDC, l’Éthiopie et la Corée du Nord cités comme des délinquants notoires. Au Kenya, en attente mais le gouvernement donne des signaux mitigés sur l’arrêt ou non de l’internet avant, pendant ou après les prochaines élections générales”

This view is supported by a Brookings study that estimated the cost of internet shutdowns in selected countries for the year 2016 to be $2.4billion (US) or Sh247 billion by current exchange rates.

Most culprits of internet shutdowns are found in developing countries with Uganda, DRC, Ethiopia and North Korea cited as being notorious offenders. On Kenya the jury is still out, but the government is giving mixed signals on whether or not the internet will be shut down before, during or after the upcoming general election.

However, this policy proposal provides the only actionable step against governments that are notorious for switching off the internet in times of crisis.

If the policy proposal is adopted this year in Nairobi at the upcoming 26th AFRINIC policy meeting, it will be the first time in the world that a technical institution will be holding a big stick to sanction a government internet shutdown. But therein lies a problem that some members of the AFRINIC community are uncomfortable with.

Notwithstanding challenges, the policy proponents felt compelled to act following the many shutdowns, particularly the recent Cameroon internet shutdown, that has now entered its third month with little or no international intervention.

They argue it is better to do something to prevent the next internet shutdown, rather than sit and wait to become another statistic in the next internet shutdown study. […]

Published by Daily Nation


Should an internet institution, like AFRINIC, move beyond distributing IP resources to get involved in acts of ‘policing’ the internet? Join the discussion, click here.