IDEAS Insights Net Neutrality & Development - lessons from Zambia - Page 7

It is also important to consider Zambia’s political context to understand the significance of internet usage nationally, and the country has experienced the crystallisation of authoritarian governance under President Edgar Lungu. Social media and the internet are seen as platforms for heterodox ideas by the regime, and thus politically-motivated disruption of broadband networks often occurs in areas supportive of the political opposition. [8] Around the 2016 election, a move by the government of this sort was answered by riots and the arrest of hundreds of Zambians. [9] Furthermore, there is growing suspicion about the government employing ‘trolls’ to spread false rumours about the opposition and disinform the public for political gains. [10] This is clearly a symptom of an emergent type of authoritarianism in numerous countries. The government can indeed leverage its power in this way, as the country’s fibre network is partially state owned, which allows almost arbitrary control of connectivity and access. In addition, the government has imposed new regulations, by recently enacting a new tax to be levied on all internet calls to protect large telecom companies. Facebook’s Whatsapp, Skype and Viber have become popular communication platforms among citizens, who enjoy the convenience of free calls. As justification, the cabinet noted the protection of Zambian jobs and companies by taxing the foreign internet companies. Activists fear this backlash is rather the state’s ‘systematic attempt’ to constrain Zambians’ freedom of expression and association. [12] However, despite the low penetration rate and availability of access, the internet and its social media sites still remain a significant platform for social and political discourse and mobilisation, and have become a vital part of Zambian civic life. [13] 5