March 28 2019 will mark one year since Chad citizens have been able to access social media after President Idriss Déby issued widespread internet censorship measures.
After a controversial fourth re-election followed by cuts to infrastructure and public spending, Déby ordered WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Viber all be blocked to prevent 400,000 web-using Chadian citizens from expressing their ire and organizing.
Internet Without Borders has decided to intervene. As an organization it aims to promote the free flow of information and knowledge, defend digital rights and freedoms and to fight against all forms of censorship, and its campaign ‘Bring Internet Back to Chad’ aims to provide VPNs to Chadians to help them reclaim their internet sovereignty.
Its goal was to collect €1,000 (~$1,128) to purchase 100GB of VPN data to distribute to hundreds of Chadian activists. That goal was met, and surpassed by more than 50%, when Top10VPN.com donated €1,500 on 21 March.
Juliet Nanfuka, Research and Communications Officer of CIPESA, told Top10VPN.com: “VPNs are very useful in contexts where independent journalists, bloggers, activists and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) face reprisals for expressing legitimate opinions,
“They give them confidence to keep working for improved governance where, if they couldn’t operate anonymously, they would either risk getting arrested or prosecuted.”
CIPESA exists to “promote effective and inclusive ICT policy in Africa”, and is one of 80 organizations to come out and denounce the continuing social media shutdown in Chad.
The harmful effects of the shutdown extend beyond freedom of speech – NetBlocks’ Cost of Shutdown Tool estimates that by the time it reaches the one-year mark it will have cost Chad’s economy more than $175m. This is a figure made even more significant given the nation’s gross national income per capita of just $1,750. Chad also ranks at 186 out of 188 countries on the United Nations Development Program Human Development Index – a global measure of overall “human wellbeing”.
One gigabyte of internet data in Chad costs an average of $13.60. Chad’s social media block is already the longest ever in an African country, comfortably beating Cameroon’s 230 days between January 2017 and March 2018 to set an unwanted record that continues to climb.
President Déby seems to be unmoved in his commitment to the blocks, but Chadians and freedom of speech activists alike will be hoping that these latest efforts made by Internet Without Borders can change that.