Post Elections Internet cut off – Another Weapon in the armoury of Africa’s Tyrants

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Have you checked if your router is on? Have you turned it of and on? Are there too any devices connected to your router? Oh right it’s still not working? Well one last question – was there an election recently? Oh well there you have it!

The lessons of the Arab Spring of north Africa are not lost on Africa’s tyrannical leaders. Access to the internet/social media being cut off post-elections is becoming somewhat customary for African elections. Africa’s band of tyrannical leaders will do anything to hang on to power. This includes cutting off access to the internet and a host of more ‘traditional’ gimmicks to stifle political dissent. Citizens are expected to show gratitude by voting for them overwhelmingly or merely stand by as elections results are stolen.

There has been a flurry of elections in Africa of late, and that trend looks to carry on through out the year. Unfortunately, there is a word that closely follow many elections. Yep, you probably guessed it. Corruption. Zambia and Gabon were the latest to have a crack at it and, both were marred with controversy arising from allegations of vote rigging.

Mr Edgar Lungu of Zambia was supposedly re-elected by gaining just over 50% of the vote, however his main opposition rival disputed this poll victory. The opposition leader’s challenge in the Zambian court was dismissed on a technicality. The Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema described the judgement as a miscarriage of justice. Zambia’s central African counterpart Gabon have endured even more unrest; riots took place after Ali Bongo was declared the president until 2025 in spite of widespread violence and allegations of vote tampering. A new 9-year premiership! Following the election result declaration, Gabon’s internet was cut off for 5 days. Access to social media remains suspended across the country. There is as yet no plausible explanation for the internet cut off.

Calm however does appear to have been somewhat restored, shops are opening once again and people have tentatively returned to their homes. This is Despite Jean Ping, the opposition leader claiming that he is the de facto president. He has further appealed to Americans in the New York Times to save Gabon from election fraud. In his article, he states that Gabonese people “chose a change from the dynastic regime that has ruled our country since 1967”. According to the BBC, Jean Ping’s campaign headquarters were bombed by the presidential guards. Mr Ping is also calling for voting figures from every polling station to be released to the public. This request is not likely to be heeded given the Bongo’s history and stranglehold on political process in the central African state. Ali Bongo became the president after his father (the former president) died, it was his father who appointed him and his sister into key roles in the government. Heard this tune before? Elizabeth Blunt, long-term BBC Africa correspondent has recently published an insightful article delineating features of elections that enable us identify vote rigging.

She highlights 6 telling features:
Too many voters – she states that you can not get 98% or 99% turnout in an election even if it is compulsory, this is because electoral registers can not be kept completely up to date. She goes on to say that “No-one, however, has any great enthusiasm for removing the names of those who have died, and over time the number of these non-existent voter’s increases”

Large numbers of invalid votes – This speaks for itself really. Officials could be annulling ballot papers for ridiculous minor errors or for none at all in order to reduce votes for the opposition.

A high turnout in specific areas – Blunt asks Why one particular area, would have a very high turnout and most other areas registering less than 70%? Delay in announcing results – This is not the best litmus test however it is often an indication. Delays often cause tension as seen in Zambia where the results took a long time to be published.

Results that don’t match – It is standard practice to allow observers to watch votes being counted, some people even take pictures so that they have genuine prof of results in their area. This transparency only becomes apparent if the official results statement includes the results from individual counting centres, which is not the case in Gabon. Hence, Mr Ping calling for the results of individual voting centres to be released. Manuel Valls the French prime minister has since urged Gabon to do a recount, this comes as the EU and US have also called for the breakdown of results to be published.

More votes than ballot papers issued – A good reason to cancel a ballot and issue a re-run is if there is a discrepancy between the number of ballot papers counted and those issued by polling staff. If there are more papers than there were initially then what blunt describes as “stuffing” has taken place. The list goes on. You can find Blunt’s full article here.

African leaders appear to have taken a warped lesson from the Arab Spring. They have now added suppression of access to the internet to their traditional weapons of intimidation, political assassinations, tribalism and ethnic cleansing. The question has to be asked, what hope is there for the African electorate. The increasing sophistication of African strongmen from Zimbabwe, Uganda to Gabon in the art of vote rigging and voter suppression is very worrying for the future of the continent.

Written by Kweku Bimpong, NIAS

Kweku Bimpong is a research intern at NIAS. He is also a undergraduate student in Pharmacy at Durham University.