Natasha Msonza works for Digital Society Zimbabwe. Having experienced some of the effects of an internet shutdown herself, she now fights against them. Natasha fears "a future where the internet can be shut down at a most inconvenient time, shutting off critical communication and operations. I would like to fight this now to avoid this from happening in the future."
Natasha spoke to us about:
Her personal experiences of internet shutdowns
Yes, in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, on July 6th 2016. A civic movement led by a pastor, facilitated a nationwide protest and stay-away from work. The protest, which was peaceful, was a demonstration of citizens' disgruntlement with the government and how the economy was being run. The government retaliated by ordering ISPs [internet service providers] and mobile service providers to shut down parts of the internet, including popular social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. These were the main means Zimbabweans were using to follow developments of the nationwide protests. Although the shut-down lasted few hours, it caused a lot of anxiety - especially not being able to contact family. It appeared that even phone services were jammed.
I could not conduct my work, which is primarily done online. I also could not send or receive any communication from family and colleagues. It was like being in an information blackout and was quite scary.
In the midst of all that, I had no way of locating one of my siblings who passes through town going and coming from school. I imagined all sorts of things, because there were reports of people being beaten and tear-gassed in the city centre. Images of this later emerged.
The message she wants to share with people about digital rights
That digital rights are human rights. The ability to access, create, use and distribute information digitally is essential to our enjoyment of freedom of expression. The same rights we enjoy offline are supposed to also apply online.
What the future looks like for digital rights
I think that the future of digital rights depends more than ever now, on our being vigilant about fighting behaviors that seek to arbitrarily interrupt the flow of information online. The growing trend of internet shutdowns, especially around elections and political processes portends a future where citizens might have no say if there are no immediate interventions.
Why governments should put an end to internet shutdowns
I think that the collateral damage of the economic costs and harm to human rights associated with effectuating internet shutdowns have been discussed in detail, and governments can do well to learn from the documented evidence. Shutdowns are extreme responses to circumstances that can be handled differently.
Why fighting internet shutdowns is particularly important now
I am especially concerned that there is a growing trend among African government, and we have elections coming up in 2018. Unless something is done or decided globally as a measure against internet shutdowns, we will most certainly experience this. Our government saw Uganda and Ethiopia do it and get away with it. They tested the waters in July 2016. Come 2018, we have real problems.
This article was produced as part of the Keep It On campaign with charity Access Now. Access Now and Lush are calling on the public to fight internet shutdowns by asking world leaders to #KeepItOn. If you'd like to get involved, please sign the petition by Wednesday 7th December 2016, or take a bath with Error 404 bath bomb (all the profits from sales support Access Now and grassroots digital activists).