Internet traffic monitors noticed a sharp drop in Gambian connectivity around 20:00 UTC (8PM local time). Akamai’s State of the Internet, a reporting platform on the condition of the Internet across the world, reported connections dropping to zero, on the eve of the country’s presidential elections.
— StateOfTheInternet (@akamai_soti) November 30, 2016
This could be a pointer to complete Internet shutdowns, away from the common partial shutdowns that affect social media platforms and messaging applications. Psiphon, a major censorship circumvention platform, also reported the shutdown as indicated below.
— Psiphon Inc. (@PsiphonInc) November 30, 2016
The country’s president, Yahya Jammeh, has been in power since 1994 and this is the only election out of the previous four that he is facing a united opposition force. He is facing off with Adama Barrow, the candidate representing an alliance of eight political parties and Mama Kandeh of the Gambia Democratic Congress, the only opposition party not in the Alliance.
President Jammeh is on record proscribing protests during the elections, including peaceful ones, claiming they are loopholes to destabilize African governments.
The Gambia has an estimated population of 2 Million, 20% of whom have access to the Internet. The public is served by 4 Internet service providers(soft paywall): Gamtel (State owned with a monopoly on fixed-line telephony services but trailing the other providers on mobile network), Comium (mobile network leader with around 60% share), Africell and QCell.
The Gambia joins Gabon, Ethiopia, Uganda, Central Africa Republic, Mali, Congo, Algeria, Chad and Zimbabwe in shutting down the Internet (full or partial) in 2016 alone. For more on these shutdowns, see (and hopefully contribute) to this dataset.
But just why is it so easy to switch off the Internet in Africa?
UPDATE 2 DEC 2016 (1300HRS GMT)
Internet connection was restored roughly around 11:25UTC. It had been reconnected for roughly 15 minutes at 4:45AM UTC. The communication department had scheduled keep the Internet off until Saturday 3 Dec but with the Incumbent president conceding defeat, that plan seems to have been archived.
For more, see this RIPEAtlas visualization.