No business, no boozing, no casual sex: when Togo turned off the internet
29 September 2017
When young people started mobilising online against Togo’s president, the state switched off the internet. In the week that followed, people talked more, worked harder and had less sex – all of which proved bad news for the government
On 5 September, at about 10am, the government of Togo cut off the internet. The plan was to limit the threat from a growing number of young people around the country who were mobilising online and talking of toppling the government.
Throughout August, opposition parties in Togo had been organising protests as frustration grew over the reluctance of the ruling Gnassingbé family to relinquish the power they have held for 50 years.
With more protests planned for the beginning of September, Gnassingbé’s government – which his political opponents have long sought to oust – took action. The internet was closed for business. Text messages were blocked and international calls filtered.
Leaving aside politics, it was a unique opportunity to observe the effect of internet deprivation on a country. During the week-long shutdown, I talked to friends. I interviewed strangers. For many, especially the young, it was a first taste of how state power could affect their personal life.
Initially, people were confused. Some tried restarting their phones or computers. Internet subscriptions were renewed and mobile data plans topped up. Telecom company employees were accused of the usual appropriation of credits, while engineers were branded incompetent.
After a few hours, though, the penny dropped: we realised the government had shut down the internet.