Mauritania is currently experiencing a near-total internet shutdown, after a hotly contested presidential election this weekend, which the opposition party alleges was stolen. The cause of the shutdown is not known, but it’s very likely related to these claims of election tampering.

The dispute arose after the incumbent Union for the Republic party government’s candidate, Mohamed Cheikh Ould Ghazouani, claimed to have won 52% of the vote. However, four of the opposition candidates have claimed that the election was stolen, as the declaration of victory was made before the final election results had been announced.

Mauritania’s three internet service providers – Chinguitel, Mattel and Mauritel – are currently affected or, more likely, have been instructed to cut off the internet. As of writing, 92% of nationwide internet connectivity is disrupted, according to Netblocks. Some users claim that they still have fragmented and irregular internet access.

Sadly, the near-total internet shutdown means that not even the use of a VPN can restore web access to websites and applications.

Complaints surrounding the election interference include claims that the ballot papers were printed by a private company that wished Ghazouani to become president, and that there were no international observers to ensure the integrity of the election process.

More than 100 foreigners have been arrested by the Interior Ministry during the shutdown. The government claims that those arrested were associated with opposition parties, and that these parties had deliberately been attempting to destabilize the country through protests.

Mauritania has a history of coups, and this election was the first in the nation’s history since independence from France in November 1960 to choose the successor of a democratically elected president.

The previous president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, came to power after a coup in 2008. He won elections a year later and was elected for a second term in 2014. Mauritania has a two-term limit on presidencies, but given the nation’s history Abdel Aziz’s decision to step down surprised many.

This is not the first time the internet has ‘gone down’ in the country. In April 2018, Mauritania was left without internet access for two days after an underwater cable was broken by a local trawler.