May 3 is celebrated as World Press Freedom day and this year the day was celebrated amid a relentless siege on the media especially online media and a very high incidences of internet blackout by governments that took advantage of the pandemic to silence certain voices.

Speaking on the day’s commemorations, Muthoki Mumo of the Committee to Protect Journalists Africa region said numbers in most cases do not give the full picture.

2020/2021 sawthe highest number of journalists being detained in the world and in the African region as well.“A lot of expression has gone online on the internet and a lot of repression has also gone online, this has resulted in the shutdown of the internet as well as blocking some sites by some governments all over the world,” she said.

She cited instances where there were shutdowns of the internet in some countries especially in view of the COVID-19 pandemic where some online voices where being curtail. “Corona has had a bad situation worse. CPJ has been concerned that the pandemic will have a lasting effect including the enactment of laws that will take effect as a result of the events during the pandemic, Mumo lamented.

Speaking on eNCA an official from Afrobarometer said that there were 156 in total full or partial shutdowns of the internet or social media in 2020 worldwide. “Africa is in second place after Asia, with 20 shutdowns affecting 12 countries,” said Afrobarometer's Ziyanda Stuurman.

A recent study has also unveiled that cases of internet shutdowns in Africa have been rising. For example, Tanzania restricted access to the internet and social media applications during elections in October 2020.

In June that year, Ethiopia imposed an internet shutdown which lasted for close to a month after unrest which followed the killing of a prominent Oromo singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa. Zimbabwe, Togo, Burundi, Chad, Mali and Guinea also restricted access to the internet or social media applications at some point in 2020.

In 2019, there were 25 documented instances of partial or total internet shutdowns, compared with 20 in 2018 and 12 in 2017, according to Access Now, an independent monitoring group. However, the group says that in 2019, seven of the 14 countries that blocked access had not done so in the two previous years (these were Benin, Gabon, Eritrea, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritania and Zimbabwe.)

Aside from the internet blackout and shutdowns, it seem allowing freedoms of expression freefall has its advantages. In Ghana Twitter has announced it will open its first regional office on the African continent. The social media company joins Facebook and other tech companies moving into Africa.

“Africa will define the future,” Twitter’s founder, Jack Dorsey, said in 2019 after a visit to Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa. Ghana’s support for free speech and online  freedoms made it the company’s choice for its first African location, Twitter said. Facebook has several offices in Africa, including in Ghana’s neighbour Nigeria, where Mark Zuckerberg has been on a visit.

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