Nigeria’s Twitter Suspension

Greetings, friends:

I’ve been thinking about Nigeria’s Twitter suspension, which the country’s government put into effect two days after the social media platform deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari. According to reports, access to Twitter through Nigeria’s main mobile providers has been blocked, and those accessing Twitter via Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) have been threatened with arrest.

Following a spate of attacks in south-eastern Nigeria, President Buhari’s tweet had threatened to act on “those misbehaving today” in “the language they will understand”, referring to the 1967-70 Biafran War. Twitter considered the post a violation of its rules, as threatening civil war or incitement to violence.

Nigeria is just the latest country in Africa to ban a social media app – Uganda and Tanzania both restricted access to the internet and social media apps during elections in January 2021 and October 2020 respectively. In June last year, Ethiopia imposed an internet shutdown which lasted for close to a month; Zimbabwe, Togo, Burundi, Chad, Mali and Guinea also restricted access to the internet or social media apps at some point in 2020.

In fact, the BBC reports that 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.

Could this happen in Kenya? Well, media analyst Grace Bomu argued that the reason the internet wasn’t shut down in Kenya during the last election in 2017 was perhaps because the state needed the same internet for its own communication purposes: i.e. media manipulation, sensationalised stories, negative campaigning and disinformation. In other words, perhaps fake news (propagated by the state) saved Kenya from an internet shutdown (!).

It’s perhaps an unlikely silver lining of living in a country as chaotic as this one – that political contestation is so fraught and unstable as to require even the state to keep the Internet open, in order to maintain a tenuous edge. We must always remember, as Gene Sharp explained in this influential little book, that any government isn’t as stable or powerful as it projects. All regimes have weaknesses and internal contradictions that can be exploited to advance freedom. We must always remember this.

In the meantime, here’s:

  • What We’re Reading: How the Personal Computer Broke The Human Body, published on Vice. Decades before ‘Zoom fatigue’ broke our spirits, the so-called computer revolution brought with it a world of pain previously unknown to humankind.
  • What We’re Watching: High on the Hog, on Netflix, hosted by Stephen Satterfield. A deep dive into African American cuisine, this breathtaking documentary stands out for its nuance, reverence, and beautiful storytelling.
  • What We’re Listening To: Resistance, a podcast about people who refuse to accept things the way there are, hosted by Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. What I love most about this podcast is how it demonstrates that resistance is both something people can demonstrate in street protests, and also embody in ordinary life. There are stories from the front lines of the movement for Black lives, the young Nigerians of #EndSars, a couple that discovers the transformative power of liberation theology, and so much more. For the avoidance of doubt: this is one of the very best podcasts I’ve ever listened to.

As always, 

Christine Mungai

Curator | Baraza Media Lab

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