The shutdown of the internet and international calling gateway by Gambian authorities has raised an alarm among observers and raised fears of violence if President Jammeh loses and refuses to leave or if opposition rejects results and take to the streets.
Jammeh has already said that no military, election or foreign power can take him out power and said the elections are rig-proof.
Armed military officers are sighted across major cities, and this can now be beyond a mere intimidation tactic. Chief of the military Lt. Gen. Ousman Bargie received 14 vehicles from the presidency on Tuesday and has backed Jammeh’s call of “maintaining order and not allowing the security of the country to be jeopardized.”
The internet and international calling shutdown have never happened in previous elections, but Jammeh is facing his most credible challenge with the social media largely responsible for fueling discontent towards Jammeh.
The internet and international calling blockage should not be a surprise to observers of African political observers. Jammeh is following in the very footsteps of other longtime African leaders: Museveni of Uganda, Bongo of Gabon and Idris Deby of Chad – who had blocked the internet in their countries on elections day.
In Uganda and Gabon, post-electoral protests turned violent with security forces using excessive force – arresting, torturing and killing many before the world became aware of the situation after rigging the polls.
Since Jammeh said no election can remove him, if he loses there may be violence and before the world gets to know, atrocities may be committed – many may be killed, tortured and arrested.
We pray it does not happen as such but it cannot be ignored. The Gambia Red Cross has identified at least 12 key cities including Brikama, Basse, and Serrekunda are hotspots for potential post-electoral violence.
The Gambia joins Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt as one of the countries in which there is no freedom to use the internet.
According to Freedom House, the Information and Communications Act was amended in 2013 to introduce a 15-year jail term and a fine of 3 million dalasi ($77,000) for anyone using the internet to spread false news or make derogatory statements, incite dissatisfaction, or instigate violence against the government or public officials.