Advocating Against Internet Shutdowns in Africa

Providing the tools to help organizations and activists respond to threats to online service

Internews supports advocacy efforts against Internet shutdowns across Africa. Since 2019, through the OPTIMA project we have coordinated the development of resources, trainings, research and tools for civil society organizations, journalists, lawyers, academics, and activists to better prepare for, respond to, and advocate against Internet shutdowns.

The efforts are focused on three core areas:

  • Resource creation and localization to provide better and more contextualized information and guidance on internet shutdown threats.
  • Training and expert coordination to offer opportunities for mentorship and learning on key skills required to advocate against shutdowns.
  • Targeted advocacy support to organizations building national anti-shutdown campaigns.

Understanding the threat

To develop strategic responses, Internews conducted a needs assessment in 2020 and identified many of the challenges faced by advocacy communities fighting Internet shutdowns in countries around the world. OPTIMA’s Internet Shutdowns Advocacy Needs Assessment surveyed 142 civil society organizations to understand the most pressing issues civil society organizations face in fighting to prevent and curtail internet shutdowns, the resource and skill gaps they feel they need to be more effective in this advocacy, and the opportunities for support from funders and global advocacy groups.

As part of this research, we found:

  • The threat is high: 60% of respondents in our research survey said a shutdown in the next year is likely or very likely
  • But capacity is low: 49% of the respondents assessed capacity as either nonexistent or weak while 84% of respondents that have never worked on shutdowns report that they do not have any preparatory measures in place in case of an internet shutdown.

To see the full list of findings and associated analysis, read the full needs assessment report.

Training advocates

Adding empirical evidence to traditional advocacy campaigns equips activists with a critical set of tools for informed outreach and engagement. Through OPTIMA, we developed a hands-on technical training for advocates to better document and understand network disruptions.

Course participants learn the basics of how to collect, analyze, and document Internet measurement data, as well as how to conduct rigorous and thoughtful qualitative research to inform and strengthen their advocacy efforts around Internet shutdowns. The course itself is intended to provide an introduction on how to use three of the most common open-source Internet measurement tools and datasets – OONI, MLab, and IODA – in order to provide empirical technical evidence when a shutdown occurs.

Through the training, participants get an overview of these tools and datasets, learn how to collect and analyze their own data, develop and discuss how to use measurement data to document shutdowns, and get one-on-one time with trainers to build stronger networks and begin exploring plans for how to incorporate some of these methods into their advocacy.

If you are interested in taking this training, or know someone who may be, please reach out to us at digitalrights@internews.org to learn more.

Equipping responders

Based on the needs assessment, our team identified opportunities for support and worked with partners across Africa to develop locally contextualized resources to help communities address Internet shutdowns in their countries. The resources cover topics ranging from the impact of shutdowns on healthcare to bringing a legal case before the African Court.