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Internet governance watchdog, NetBlocks reported network disruptions in Tanzania on the eve of elections which took place yesterday the 28th of October 2020.

The allegation came after the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, last week issued telecom operators with a directive to suspend bulk SMS and telephony services during the presidential and parliamentary election period, they said.

“Network data from the NetBlocks Internet Observatory confirm widespread disruption to social media and online communication platforms via multiple internet providers in Tanzania as of Tuesday 27 October 2020,” NetBlocks, a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance said.

Real-time metrics showed that Twitter, WhatsApp, backend servers for Instagram and some Google services including GMail and Translate were generally or partially unavailable via Tanzania’s leading network operators Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo, Halotel and ZanTel, Netblocks said.

Meanwhile, data indicated a more generalized disruption of services on state-owned operator TTCL, the Tanzania Telecommunications Corporation, they said.

NetBlocks said its findings were drawn from an initial set of NetBlocks Web Probe metrics from 800 observation points.

Microblogging platform Twitter also confirmed disruptions on Twitter on the 27th October. “Ahead of tomorrow's election (Wednesday 28 October) in Tanzania, we are seeing some blocking and throttling of Twitter. Internet shutdowns are hugely harmful, and violate basic human rights and the principles of the open internet,” said Twitter.

Digital rights defenders and media watchdogs have slammed President John Magufuli for violating fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in various and regional international laws.

“Tanzanians have a right to access information and communicate during the election period, and telcos have a responsibility to keep them online,” said Felicia Anthonio, campaigner and #KeepItOn lead at Access Now.

“The government must rescind all requests to block messaging and social media apps, and grant people their right to fully participate in the democratic process. Disrupting key digital communications platforms ahead of the elections underscores the government’s deliberate attempt to stifle the rights of the Tanzanian people, and its total disregard for democratic processes.”

Next total shutdown?

Access Now said they were concerned a total internet shutdown was next. They said  internet and digital communication tools enable people to gain information and stay informed on election processes, engage in public discourse and hold elected leaders to account.

“Disconnecting a nation in times of high tension can be incredibly dangerous, adding frustration and confusion to political discord,” said Access Now.

Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe Chapter in a statement on Tuesday urged the Tanzanian government to stop throttling the internet and allow access to social media platforms.

Over the past six months Magufuli’s government has been accused of gross human rights violations as well as clamping down on media, raising legitimate fears that the country is fast sliding into an autocracy.

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