Published:Sep 12, 2023

Digital democracy|Digital freedom

Internet restrictions during African elections

Since 2015, 30 countries and territories have restricted the internet amid elections, affecting 2.3 billion people globally. Any internet restriction undermines people’s freedom, but restrictions during elections interfere with the principle of fair and free elections. Surfshark’s Internet Shutdown Tracker¹ found that the majority — 20 — countries guilty of such restrictions are African. Keep reading to find out more about this and which African countries are at risk of disruptions in the upcoming months.

Key insights

  • More than a third of African countries have restricted the internet during elections. Out of the 20 countries that have done so since 2015, 18 are autocratic. The most recent cases happened in August when both Zimbabwe² and Gabon³ restricted the internet during their elections.
  • Eswatini will hold elections on September 29. There have been no cases of internet restrictions during elections in Eswatini, but the country disrupted access to the internet and social media twice in 2021 in response to pro-democracy protests⁴. So, the possibility of a restriction during the upcoming election should not be dismissed.
  • Three other African countries will hold elections in October: Mali, Liberia, and Mozambique. Mali restricted the internet in 2018 due to elections⁵, so the risk of a restriction is high. Liberia imposed a disruption during protests in 2019⁶, while Mozambique has no registered internet restrictions.

Methodology and sources

Drawing on data from Surfshark’s Internet Shutdown Tracker, we analyzed the countries that are confirmed to have restricted the internet amid elections, either presently or in the past, with special attention to Africa. Data was collected on September 6, 2023.

For the complete research material behind this study, visit here.

Data was collected from:

Surfshark (2023). Internet restrictions during elections;United Nations (2023). World Population Prospects 2022;Our World in Data (2022). Political regime;African Arguments (2023). Confirmed African elections in 2023.


¹ Surfshark (2023). Internet Shutdown Tracker (2023);² Netblocks (2023). Internet restriction on the eve of elections in Zimbabwe;³ Netblocks (2023). Internet cut in Gabon on election day;⁴ Access Now (2021). #KeepItOn: Eswatini authorities shut down internet to quell protests, ask people to email grievances;⁵ NetBlocks (2018) Mali elections marred by internet disruptions;⁶ NetBlocks (2019) Liberia blocks social media to quell Monrovia anti-corruption protests.
The team behind this research:About us