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Internet Censorship in Africa and How to Get Around it

09 June, 2014

Source: ICT Africa

Kihara Kimachia

Internet censorship is the practice of controlling Internet access or suppressing the content that can be viewed, accessed or published. Censorship can take many forms. For example, many offices now block social media sites during working hours. School IT administrators across the continent also block porn sites that encourage hate and violence. This kind of censorship isn't that disturbing and many people have come to accept it. The problem arises when a government unilaterally decides what its citizenry can or cannot view online and, interferes with freedom of expression, a universal human right.

The Arab Spring that swept across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011-2012 focused attention on the Internet censorship activities of repressive regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. While the media has reported widely on North Africa, little is ever said about Internet censorship in sub-Saharan Africa.

The greatest culprit this side of the continent is Ethiopia. Despite having the second lowest Internet penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopian authorities engage in pervasive Internet censorship and content filtering. There are archaic telecommunication laws that outlaw the use of certain advanced Internet applications. For example, Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) is illegal; being caught using Skype can get you up to fifteen years in jail! Other countries in Africa that have been known to censor the Internet or interfere with access in the recent past include The Sudan, Uganda and Ivory Coast.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a situation where your government dictates browsing habits? The answer lies in a simple tool available as a free online download.

The Tor Browser
Without getting into technical details, most of the techniques used by Internet censors to block websites can be thwarted by installing this free browser and using it anytime you access the net. "Tor" was originally an acronym for The Onion Router. The application is now simply referred to as Tor or The Tor browser. It enables online anonymity and is your best bet against anyone threatening your freedom of expression and privacy, confidential activities, and personal security. Get behind the Tor network and you will have little to worry about anytime you go online.
The browser directs your traffic through a worldwide network of volunteers that consists of not less than five thousand relays. Your location and usage is concealed from snooping government agents. The now infamous US National Security Agency (NSA), in a top secret appraisal that was leaked by Wikileaks, described Tor as "the King of high secure, low latency Internet anonymity" with "no contenders for the throne in waiting".

You may be wondering how to download Tor if your government has blocked the Tor website. Well, the developers thought about that too. There are two easy ways to get around that problem, the first is to search the Google cache for the Tor mirrors. Try downloading from any of the links on that search result page. If this doesn't work, send an email from a Gmail account to 'gettor@gettor.torproject.org'. Include the word "help" in the email subject line or body and you will get an automated reply with download instructions.

Finally, it is important to mention that the Tor browser isn't a panacea for all types of censorship and filtering. For example, countries like China have taken extreme measures such as terminating Internet connections whenever an encrypted connection is detected. But, it is by far the best means to get unfettered access to your favorite websites and remain anonymous online.

Have you experienced Internet censorship lately? Please let us know if you have found this article useful in the comments below.


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