Gabon polls raise fears of internet blockage


Gabonese President, Ali Bongo Ondimba

from DIDIER NDONG in Libreville, Gabon
Gabon Bureau
LIBREVILLE, (CAJ News) – IN addition to a history of violent elections, Gabon has gained notoriety of internet shutdowns during times of national political engagement.

There are fears therefore of internet disruptions as the Central African country heads for elections this weekend.

Incumbent, Ali Bongo Ondimba, is seeking another term as president in the Central African country of 2,4 million people.

On the eve of the poll, pro-democracy groups have thus appealed to authorities against disrupting the internet during the entire electoral process.

Internet shutdowns are routine in Gabon, ruled by the Bongo family for over 50 years and with another election on the horizon, fears are understandable.

Ondimba’s administration has such a history, including in 2016 during protests against his re-election and in 2019 after an attempted military coup.

In 2021, the internet was curtailed in response to protests against COVID-19 measures.

More than 40 pro-democracy organizations – under the Keep It On coalition, have demanded open internet access on election day on Saturday and post the polls.

They appeal that telcos, comprising Airtel Gabon, Gabon Telecom and Moov Gabon, provide high-quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools during the period.

“The 2023 elections in Gabon must not replicate the government’s historic acts of censorship,” said Felicia Anthonio, Keep It On Campaign Manager.

“Too often, we see leaders hit the internet kill switch to quash protests and influence elections and get away with it. We are calling on President Ondimba to set a new standard and ensure internet access during these elections.”

Activist Naro Omo-Osagie, concurred, urging countries across Africa to stop shutting down the internet and reinvest their efforts into promoting democratic participation online.

“Authorities in Gabon can wipe the slate clean, and commit to ensuring the internet is accessible for all throughout the entire election process,” Omo-Osagie said.

Ondimba’s Gabonese Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Gabonais, or PDG) has been in power since independence from France in 1960.

Some 19 candidates are vying for the presidency. There is also a contest for the 143 seats in the National Assembly.

– CAJ News

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