Last week the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice ruled that the internet shutdown which took place in Togo from September 5 to 10 and again from September 19 to 21, 2017 was illegal and violated the plaintiff’s right to freedom of expression. Boye Adegoke, Paradigm Initiative’s Senior Program Manager, stated that “this decision has again emphasised the role that the court must play to rein in some African governments’ tendency to shut down the Internet towards political ends. Courts cannot afford to be aloof because there are too many cases, across the continent, involving unilateral decisions to shut down the internet by incumbent governments especially around election periods or during protests. We commend the ECOWAS court for this landmark judgement and congratulate the human rights community for this victory.”
The internet shutdown in Togo came in 2017 amidst anti-government protests. The government responded by shutting down the internet to make it difficult for activists to use social media to organize. Restricting internet usage is just one of the various ways in which the government of Togo has attempted to stifle dissent on the part of activists who are demanding change after more than 50 years of dictatorship in Togo.
Although the 2 million CFA which the government of Togo does not even began to cover the harm which the Gnassingbé regime has inflicted on the people of Togo, the ruling does send a clear message that African governments cannot so freely violate the rights of its citizens by denying them access to the internet. Not only did the internet shutdown deny Togolese citizens the right to freedom of speech, but it was also estimated that the shutdown cost Togo $300,000 a day in a country where the average citizen earns less than $2 a day.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.