The government of Chad has lifted restrictions on social media access after a 16-month internet blackout.
“I instruct the competent electronic communication services to immediately lift all restrictions on access to all social networks,” President Idriss Deby announced Saturday.
People in Chad have been unable to access social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter, since March 2018.
Deby said the restrictions were put in place for security reasons and the internet had been hijacked for “malicious” reasons.
“For a country like Chad that has gone through dark times, it is not permissible for the internet to be hijacked for malicious purposes by certain individuals with evil intentions for peace and national unity,” Deby said.
The social media blackout began almost immediately after the country’s parliament recommended a constitutional amendment that would have Deby stay in office until 2033.
Activists who had been calling for an end to the internet censorship said the sites were blocked to silence discontent among citizens.
Deby came into power in 1990, and the country has had no other president since then. In 2016, the government also shut down the internet for eight months following a dispute over a presidential vote that secured a fifth term for Deby.
Internet Without Borders welcomed the decision to lift the ban but said the “internet should not be used to serve political interests.”
“We remain vigilant, we must now obtain a reduction in the cost of access and an improvement in the quality of the Internet in Chad. We call on the government, telecommunication operators, and the Chadian civil society to collaborate to this end,” Abdelkerim Yacoub Koundougoumi, the Central Africa director of Internet Without Borders, said in a statement.
Internet penetration in Chad was very low, with only 6.5% of more than 15 million people in the country online in 2017, according to the World Bank. Analysts said internet censorship could further reduce citizens’ access to social media.
Many governments in Africa have shut down the internet during protests and clashes in their countries.
In 2019 alone, Ethiopia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all enforced an internet blackout for different reasons.