Sub-Saharan Africa is among places where governments are increasingly becoming intolerant and resorting to internet shutdowns, costing economies significantly.
The Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns in 2019 report by Top10VPN.com, the world’s largest VPN (Virtual Private Network) review site shows that in 2019, the global economy lost a staggering $8 billion due to internet shutdowns in desperate efforts by governments to curtail citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to information.
The report, which identifies the total economic impact of every major internet blackout and social media shutdown around the world last year, reckons that this represented a substantial increase of 235 per cent compared with $2.4 billion lost in 2015/2016.
“Despite their negative impact on the global economy, human rights and democratic processes, there is little to suggest that internet shutdowns will stop in 2020,” said the report.
It added that 2019 was a record year with 122 major incidents recorded cumulatively totalling 18,000 hours of Internet shutdowns around the world.
The situation was worse in countries in the Middle East and North Africa where the cost of the shutdowns stood at $3.1 billion.
It was followed by sub-Saharan Africa where the economic cost stood at $2.1 billion, Asia $1.6 billion and South America $1 billion.
Notably, governments mainly target social media services providers with WhatsApp leading in the hours of shutdown followed by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
The shutdowns mainly occurred as governments responded to protests or civil unrest, especially surrounding elections and as authoritarian regimes looked to restrict the flow of information and maintain their grip on power.
In economic terms, disruptions not only affected the formal economy but also the informal, especially in less developed nations with the impact being loss of investor confidence and faltering development.
The report shows that on human rights, shutdowns impact citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to information and even result in increasing cases of violence.
In Africa, Sudan bore the brunt of Internet shutdowns following protests that led to the ouster of former president Omar al-Bashir and the resulting fall out between the military and civilians.
A total of 864 hours of Internet blackouts were recorded in the country, 696 hours involving social media shutdowns and cumulatively costing the economy $1.8 billion.
Other countries that experienced internet shutdowns in Africa were Algeria, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Egypt, Benin, Gabon, Eritrea and Liberia.
Globally, Iraq suffered the biggest losses with shutdowns costing the economy $2.3 billion while India was third with losses of $1.3 billion.