The pre-KIGF online discussions started on 22nd July with day one on questions about Internet Shutdowns. Internet shutdown is one of the methods of Information Controls. Technical experts have defined it as “intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.”

This topic comes at a critical time where both politicians and Internet users heavily depend on the Internet in accessing and disseminating information. The discussions focused on whether it is possible for the Governments to order and carry out an Internet Shutdown during the elections period and how it should be carried out. Andrew Alston and Mercy referred to the constitutions pointing out the rights to access information which should only be limited when provided by law.

On the possibility of a successful Internet shutdown, listers asked on the capacity of service providers to distinguish between social media and other contents as this would determine whether an Intended shutdown could be fractional or wholesome.

In the case of mobile providers this differentiation capability may well exist and it could be a fairly simple process.  In the case of a wholesale provider who believes that packets are packets and does not get involved in what content is inside those packets, it becomes a very different story. Andrew Alston.

Mercy Mutemi argued that politicians from different divides benefit from information reach to citizens as they use the Internet for campaigns and in spreading propaganda. They would therefore focus on providing alternative information rather than throttling access.

Anticipating shutdowns

Earlier, there were discussions on the KICTANet list on whether it was right for the community to anticipate a shutdown as it would only normalize Internet shutdowns by governments. Grace Mutungu mentioned a possibility of at least a partial Internet shutdown considering that African incumbent governments gave expositions on the ground that the shut downs were to maintain public order.

I think we need to know what government officials mean by ‘things getting out of hand.’

I find shutting down the internet or social media to be such a ‘scapegoat move’ in the sense that it does not address why elements in the state do not feel like part of the social fabric that forms the nation their in. The fact that people in government quarters have been heard mentioning it means it is something they have thought of at some point. It would have been better if they concentrated in creating a nation state where there is little fear of inter-ethnic electoral violence. Francis Monyango

Assurance from the Government

The KICTAnet community also called for government Institutions to assure the public that there are no plans to carry out an Internet shut down.

I attended the National Election Conference which was hosted by IEBC earlier this month. Dr. Wangusi was a panelist in one of the sessions and I asked him to assure Kenyans that there would be no censorship or interruption of communication on the day of elections. He stated that there would be no such interruption. He also stated that election results would be transmitted on a VPN which would see that they do not touch on the bandwidth we would use on the day. Deborah Wanjugu.

Going by the above contribution and the assurance of the Kenya Films and classification Board during the KIGF, so far we have two government institutions have relieved the public of the doubt of interfering with free and open internet access during the elections.

Will it affect the elections?

Questions about the use of technology in this year’s elections have come up every time there is an issue about the transparency of the elections. Listers asked whether an Internet shutdown would interfere with the transmission of results or would provide for loopholes for fair elections. In addition, John Walubengo asked whether it would be possible for the parties to shut down the elections result transmission network to achieve the above objective. We will only get these answers after the elections.

The elections will be carried out manually, and the results announced at the constituency levels. This means that both the mainstream and online media can do their own tallying based on these announcements. However, it is the IEBC’s role to declare the results. Three main service providers will be used to transmit the results to decongest the network and ensure fast transmission.