ZAMBIAN voters were today taken to a rude shock after noticing that the government shut down WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, the most commonly used instant messaging platforms, as they queued up to cast their votes in the crucial general election.
WhatsApp was the first to go down slightly after noon and many mobile subscribers took to Facebook to share their displeasure and to offer peer solutions to circumvent the government measure; advising netizens to switch to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
At around 17:00 hours Facebook also got restricted, followed by Twitter, leaving Zambians with no effective social media platform with which to share stories and developments during the counting of votes.
There are growing fears that all other social media platforms, such as Telegram and signal would be shut down as polls come to a close at 18:00 hours to pave way for the vote count.
On August 9, Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga warned that the government would not hesitate to invoke the relevant legal provisions if some people decided to abuse the internet to peddle falsehoods about Thursday’s elections.
“Government, therefore, expects citizens to use the internet responsibly. But if some people choose to abuse the internet to mislead and misinform, government will not hesitate to invoke relevant legal provisions to forestall any breakdown of law and order as the country passes through the election period,” said Malupenga.
Apart from some pockets of violence in selected towns, the voting process was peaceful with an unprecedented voter turn out.
It was at Woodland polling station in Lusaka, however, where police had a tough time trying to control multitudes of voters who cheered and chanted UPND slogans as the opposition leader went to cast his vote.
As they chanted “we want change!” repeatedly the voters abandoned their queues and to throng Hichilema who waved back in a jovial mode before proceeding to the polling booth with his wife Mutinta.
When contacted for a comment, Ministry of Transport and Communication Permanent Secretary Misheck Lungu said he was not aware about what was happening.
“I am not aware because currently I am at the farm. So where I am, there is no internet, so I am not aware of anything like that. I went to vote so I am in a rural area,” said Lungu.
Efforts to get a comment from Zambia Information and Communications Technology (ZICTA) acting director general Mulenga Chisanga and Malupenga proved futile as their mobile phones went unanswered.
As at 18:20 hours today, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter were all still inaccessible.
News Diggers urges its readers to download and instal free VPN applications such as Psiphon, Surfshark and Urban VPN on their smart communication devices, including cell phones and laptops to get around the shut down for now.