Gambian authorities in a move reminiscent of a 2010 Saudi ban on apps like BB Messenger, Skype, and Viber, blocked VoIP services in The Gambia to stop dissenting voices from using the service to dwindle support for the regime of President Yahya Jammeh.
Gambia followed other countries like China, Libya, Egypt, Iran, Morocco, North Korea, Syria, and Turkey citing national security as the backdrop for blocking the VoIP services in March 2014.
Sam Phatey told ASN News that the real reason behind the blockage is the government’s inability to monitor the calls and messages of the free apps as they are all encrypted.
Gambians used VPN to generate random IP addresses to bypass the block until on December 3, a day after President Yahya Jammeh lost the country’s presidential polls.
“We thank God. I cannot believe I am using WhatsApp without VPN,” said journalist Khadija Jawo. “It is an amazing feeling to navigate the internet with ease.”
The use of social media and VoIP services were instrumental in President Yahya Jammeh’s defeat. Activists sent videos and audios in mass to convince voters to vote for the coalition of opposition groups that defeated Jammeh.
Gambian activists, for the most part, used technology to defeat Jammeh, one of Africa’s last strong dictators. Online radio stations and newspapers in Western nations replaced the censored media back home (in The Gambia).
Broadcast journalist Alhagie Abdoulie Ceesay was sentenced in absentia for sending pictures of President Jammeh with a gun pointed at him through WhatsApp.
Troubled by the power of the online news outlets and social media, Gambian authorities amended the Information and Communications Act in 2013 to introduce a 15-year jail term and a fine of GMD3 million Dalasis ($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.
Gambians went to the polls to elect a new government amid heightened fear of post-electoral violence. Government disconnect the country from the internet and international calling gateway and closed all its land borders.
But there is a new government taking over and this law is expected to change. Gambians are celebrating their new found freedom and loving the use of their mobile apps without VPN.