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Why Benin’s Internet Should Not be Disrupted During the Presidential Election 

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April 13, 2021

Note: This blog post originally appeared on the Internet Society Benin Chapter’s website here, in French. It has been translated and re-posted here with the permission of the Benin Chapter. 

Internet shutdowns are rife today. The reasons often mentioned are the following: to prevent the spread of social unrest, to fight against the dissemination of false news and speech that incites hatred and revolt, and to preserve national security etc. Shutdowns intentionally disrupt access in regions or entire nations, preventing citizens, organizations and businesses from accessing information and services. But shutdowns are not without major consequences. 

We firmly believe that Internet shutdowns are harmful and call on the government of Benin to keep the Internet open and accessible during the presidential election of April 11, 2021.

In 2020, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition documented at least 155 internet shutdowns in 29 countries, including 10 in Africa.
In April 2019, in the midst of legislative elections, West African country Benin cut Internet access for almost 24 hours on election day – an unprecedented fact in a country known for its integrity and its democratic model. On April 11, 2021, the Beninese were called to the polls again, this time to elect a new leader.

The same causes calling for the same consequences, a coalition of Civil Society Organizations, including the Benin Chapter of the Internet Society, launched a digital campaign in early April and organized a conference-debate to raise awareness and prevent major risks that could cause possible disruption of the Internet. This proactive action aimed precisely to draw the attention of the government and society to the serious consequences of Internet shutdowns on the economy, education and society of a country in general and in the Internet/digital sector in particular.

Watch the recording of the Chapter’s conference-debate here via Facebook Live.

Internet shutdowns are intentional cuts of communication via the Internet by disrupting the network within a region or in an entire country. This is different from actions of Internet censorship or blocked services, applications and/or websites. An Internet shutdown presents several major risks ranging from disruption of the overall internet infrastructure to loss of trust in the network of networks.

An Internet shutdown can cause many problems for a country or state, including:

  • The Internet is based on an open and accessible architecture which ensures a global connectivity. When Internet access is cut, it is not only the lack of connectivity within the region/country that is disrupted but also the disruption of the connection between the region/country and the rest of the world.
  • Internet shutdowns are an obstacle to economic growth because they have an immediate financial impact on the national economy. A shutdown in Benin would cause a loss of around 918 million CFA francs for just one day.
  • The strength of the global Internet is based on a shared responsibility among its users to maintain the integrity of its basic infrastructure. Outages that disrupt basic Internet operations such as domain name services (DNS) or routing infrastructure (by BGP) in a country can have technical consequences far beyond that country’s borders. .
  • Users in a country where the Internet is unavailable could lose access or suffer a reduction in speed on interconnected networks if traffic were to be routed over less optimal paths.
  • Outages that impact interconnection points or other important pieces of Internet infrastructure could also impact connectivity and Internet performance in other countries, which could inadvertently harm international relations.
  • Many individuals, organizations and businesses around the world depend on Internet services for essential functions such as data storage and processing and financial transactions based in various countries. The interruption of access to these services inevitably reduces productivity, resulting in significant economic losses.
  • An Internet shutdown affects long-term investments in a country. They present themselves as a major risk for a whole set of companies and investors, in particular those who develop infrastructure and/or services. Internet shutdowns can undermine trust and can highlight that a country’s Internet infrastructure is neither resilient nor reliable, making investment unattractive.
  • And finally, Internet shutdowns erode the trust people place in the Internet infrastructure to be available and reliable when needed to build and sustain their economic activities. Long-term growth supported by ICTs cannot be achieved if we do not know if the Internet will be accessible tomorrow or not. 

Given the risks and serious consequences that a possible shutdown of the Internet in Benin would cause on economically, socially, technically and diplomatically, we call on the government of Benin to keep the Internet open and accessible during the presidential election of April 11, 2021.

It is recommended that the Internet remains accessible to all to:

  • Maintain the integrity of the global Internet infrastructure. The strength of the global Internet is based on a shared responsibility among its users to maintain the integrity of its basic infrastructure.
  • Support the strength and stability of the national economy. Countries around the world are finding opportunities for economic growth by joining the digital economy. Benin has experienced some growth in digital technology for a few years and its impact can be felt on the stability of the sector’s economy. It would be reasonable to stay the course and go even further.
  • Encourage long-term investment. In many countries, network connectivity is essential to business operations in almost every industry. Continuous, uninterrupted access to the Internet is quickly becoming as important as electricity.
  • Ensure that government electronic services are always available. E-government services depend on the Internet. And more importantly, the Internet provides tools to increase efficiency and reduce the cost of delivering government services.
  • Encourage general confidence online. Internet shutdowns erode the trust people place in the Internet infrastructure for availability and reliability when needed.
  • Promote peaceful demonstrations and social discourse. In some recent cases, governments have implemented or ordered Internet shutdowns in response to civil unrest.
  • Ensure that emergency communication channels remain open. Internet shutdowns affect the ability of citizens to obtain accurate information from government sources during times of unrest or emergency. It can also hamper the work of the health service, especially as the health crisis due to the COVID19 pandemic is still raging.
  • Finally, there is no evidence that Internet shutdowns solve the political and social challenges they are meant to address, and the potential collateral damage resulting from these actions is very clear: they are harmful to people, countries and economies around the world.

In light of the impact of Internet shutdowns on the fundamental rights of citizens, the economy and society as a whole, The Benin chapter of the Internet Society encourages the government of Benin to maintain full access to the Internet before, during and after the presidential election of April 11, 2021.

Pulse Note: Ultimately, Internet access in Benin was not disrupted during the national elections. We congratulate the Benin Chapter for their proactive work in making their local community aware of the negative impact that Internet Shutdowns can have on society and economy and thank the Benin government for not shutting down the Internet. #KeepItOn

Image by David Peterson from Pixabay