According to a source in Zambia’s Ministry of Communications and Transport, the government intends to shut down the internet when citizens head to the polls on August 12 for the country’s national elections. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, alleged that Zambia’s Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) has already been warned of the scheme. In addition, the government has proof that “negative elements” intend to stir citizens via social media to demonstrate election results.
“From Thursday, August 12 to Sunday, August 15, there will be no internet throughout the country unless the government alters the plan due to too much pressure from stakeholders both inside and outside the country,” he stated. The government is concerned that dissatisfied individuals would use social media to incite protests.
Over 40 human rights, freedom of expression, and technology organisations have written to Zambian President Edgar Lungu, urging him to ensure that the internet and digital communications remain uninterrupted throughout Zambia’s general election period and to refrain from arbitrarily blocking access to social media platforms, under the auspices of the #KeepItOn coalition against internet shutdowns.
“In the run-up to the elections, Zambian authorities had already introduced several laws, including the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act, 2021, the Data Protection Act, 2021, and the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 2021, that could enhance the government’s control of Zambia’s online civic space,” members of the coalition wrote in a letter dated August 5 2021.
According to Amos Malupenga, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services, Internet shutdown rumours are baseless and destructive propaganda. The government, according to Malupenga, remains dedicated to the free flow of information. “It wishes to encourage law-abiding citizens to continue to use the internet and other social media platforms responsibly and per the Electoral Process Act and other laws, such as the Penal Code Act prohibiting the dissemination of false information and inflammatory statements that have the potential to destabilise the country, Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act.”