The Internet Shutdowns in Africa conference is a two-day programme aimed at sparking in-depth and productive conversations about the rise of internet shutdowns on the continent. It is organized by the ERC-funded ConflictNet programme at the University of Oxford’s Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, the Bonavero Institute for Human Rights, and the Department of Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg’s School of Communication.

There has been a dramatic increase in internet shutdowns in Africa. In 2016, the number of shutdowns doubled from the previous year, affecting citizens in 11 countries on the continent. And while the number of shutdowns declined slightly in 2017, governments that resorted to disrupting the internet did so more frequently and for longer periods of time. From anti-government protests to Cameroon, to exam cheating in Ethiopia, concerns of election related violence in Uganda, and quelling social unrest in Zimbabwe, the justifications are diverse.

There is a pressing need for more in-depth research into the whys and hows governments are choosing to curtail internet access. In particular more research is urgently needed to answer questions around motivations, the legal and political processes that enable internet shutdowns to take place, the technological developments enhancing the ability and willingness for actors to resort to such measures, and the role that international and non-state actors like technology companies, ISPs, and governments are playing in this process.

The conference will be organized around such topics as:

  • The legal processes enabling and preventing internet shutdowns
  • Government discourse and decision-making processes around internet take down orders
  • Motivations and justifications for internet shutdowns, including: elections, protests, conflict, terrorism, national security, hate speech, exam cheating, morality and ethics
  • Technological innovation enabling greater internet disruption by governments
  • Technological innovations helping citizens to cope with internet shutdowns
  • Local ISPs’ responses and reactions to government take down orders
  • The role of international actors, including foreign governments, regional and international institutions, and technology companies in enabling, inhibiting, or otherwise influencing the disruption of the internet
  • National discussions about why some governments are choosing not to adopt this measure as well as more detailed understanding of which alternative methods are being adopted