Since Sunday August 28, 2016, user’s access to the Internet in Gabon is disrupted. The day before, on Saturday August 27, a presidential election took place, opposing the incumbent president Ali Bongo to opposition candidate Jean Ping.
While the Gabonese government assured that it did not take any measures to block telecommunications,
our analysis of Internet network activity and status in Gabon reveal that it has been limited in the past three days. Our investigation, which is based on many indicators, suggests that a voluntary restriction of the Internet network was planned in recent days, eventually leading to a total shutdown.
Quota on international bandwidth
To understand the technique used to restrict and disrupt the network, one must think that Internet users
in Gabon are interconnected over a Local Area Network (LAN). This LAN is in turn connected to the global Internet network via a data transmission systems, a submarine cable in the case of Gabon. This gateway between the data of a local network and the global network is called access to international bandwidth. It is specifically the speed of access to this gateway from Gabon that underwent technical restrictions. The latter are visible on the statistical analysis of Internet activity in Gabon, by the International registry center (Ripe Network Coordination Centre), which also computes in real time data transmitted by Afrinic, the African focal point for IP Registries. Gabonese IP addresses, i.e computers that tried to access the global Internet from Gabon, had to share between 0 and 18% of the remaining available bandwidth.
( Analysis of access to international bandwidth, IP addresses located in Gabon,from 2016-08-22 23:59:00 UTC to 2016-08-29 23:59:00 UTC. Source: Ripestat NCC )
Effect of restrictions on international bandwidth
Restrictions of access to bandwidth makes applications and services that require data, such as Whatsapp, unusable. The use of social networks is becoming increasingly difficult. Image transmission via Internet, which consumes a lot of bandwidth, becomes impossible. These restriction measures made the LAN unstable, with momentary outages due to saturation, as a result of the constriction of the network.
Internet cuts were reported by Gabonese Internet users between Sunday August 28, and August 30, 2016.
Director of Gabon Telecom Company reported on a 45 minutes involuntary interruption of service, leading to depriving access to the network for its users on Sunday, August 28. Users have reported a total network outage on Monday, August 29 in the evening, for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Akamai, leading company in the provision of cache servers for businesses, which publishes an annual report on the network status, was contacted by Internet Sans Frontières on Tuesday August 30, to check the status of Gabon’s LAN. Akamai’s report also shows that there were disruptions on the bandwidth.
Internet Without Borders reminds the Gabonese Government that censorship of the Internet observed in Gabon is contrary to public commitments taken by the current authorities of the country, ensuring the maintenance network access during the voting period. Such practices are contrary to the international commitments of the Republic of Gabon on freedoms. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the right of every individual to freedom of opinion and expression, which implies the right to receive and impart, regardless of frontiers, information and ideas through any media whatsoever; Article 33 of the Constitution of the International Telecommunication Union recognizes the right to correspond through international service of public correspondence.
On July 1, 2016, United Nations’ Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in Geneva, in which the council states that human Rights that apply in the non-virtual world must be applied with the same force in cyberspace. Above all, the Council strongly condemns “intentional measures to prevent or disrupt
accessing or sharing information online.“