Access to the internet has been disrupted by the government of the Union of Comoros, as it looks to quell mass protests that have trailed the East African archipelago's just-concluded presidential elections.
Global cybersecurity and internet governance watchdog NetBlocks reports a national-scale connectivity cut in the country. This marks the first time in history the archipelago has witnessed [such] a blackout on communication services.
On Monday 15th January 2024, Comorians went to the polls to vote for their next leader. But the process was marred by irregularities, kicking off with accusations by the five opponents that ballot boxes were pre-marked in favor of the ruling party and concluding with alleged truncated voting times, fraud, and death threats.
The next day, the Independent National Electoral Commission of the Union of the Comoros announced that incumbent Azali Assoumani took 62.97% of the votes to secure a fourth five-year term as the president of the country, one that has weathered approximately 20 realized and attempted coups.
Assoumani, a 65-year-old ex-military officer, first came into Comorian power through a coup in 1999. The Colonel then contested for presidency in 2002, controversially won, and ruled until 2006 when he conceded to Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi. He came back in 2016, won, and repeated the feat in 2019.
But this time, Assoumani's victory is heavily contested. The declaration elicited violent rejection protests, leading to vandalism, casualties, looting, and charring in some parts of the nation's capital, Moroni. Reportedly, the residence of a minister and the national food depot were affected.
In its attempt to prevent protesters from exchanging information over the web, the current administration has blocked WhatsApp calls and mobile messages, according to the BBC. This majorly affected the market's leading mobile network operator, Comores Telecom.
A curfew was also declared, but seemingly to no avail. Digital rights advocacy group AccessNow has condemned the development and called on the government to end the ongoing blackout.
"It is alarming to see Comoros join the list of actors wielding internet shutdowns to suppress human rights globally, said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn campaign manager at AccessNow.
"This is an immediate call to authorities to reinstate the internet now. With over 60 elections taking place in 2024, governments everywhere must ensure open, fair internet access before, during, and after elections," she added.
The Indian Ocean island is the first African country to hold a presidential election in 2024. There are 18 more nations in the year's electoral docket, including South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, and Mauritius.