The West African state of Togo shutdown its internet on 5th September for a week. The government wished to stop youth from mobilizing online to hold protests against the reining Gnassingbe family. But the result also provided the world an experiment in what a society would do if it suddenly lost the internet.

Local and foreign media reported that the country, where WhatsApp is ubiquitous, experienced a more attentive civilian workforce, a rise in old-fashioned social interaction such as conversations in bars and walks in parks, and a drop in sexual activity among the young as online seduction was replaced by the more expensive business of actually paying for flowers, drinks and meals. There was also a surge in the purchase of books and printed reading material.

The Gnassingbe family have ruled Togo for over 50 years. Since August they have been facing a revived opposition over the country’s stagnant economy and the ruling family’s reluctance to surrender power. The internet closure was designed to preempt a new round of protests planned for September.

The ban, however, is reported to have been counterproductive. The sudden loss of WhatsApp has led to far greater political awareness among a previously apathetic youth. Large business, whose operations were largely cloud-based, saw all of its activities come to a standstill during the week of the ban and has now become more vocally anti-government. 

 

September 29, 2017

About the Author

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri writes on political, security, and economic issues. He previously wrote for the Statesman and the Telegraph in Calcutta. He served on the National Security Advisory Board of the Indian government from 2011-2015. Among other affiliations, he is a member of the Asia Society Global Council, the Aspen Institute Italia, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, and the Mont Pelerin Society. Pramit is also a senior associate of Rhodium Group, New York City, advisor to the Bower Group Asia in India, a member of the Council on Emerging Markets, Washington, DC, and a delegate for the Confederation of Indian Industry-Aspen Strategy Group Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue and the Ananta Aspen Strategic Dialogues with Japan, China and Israel. Born in 1964, he has visited over fifty countries on five continents. Mr. Pal Chaudhuri is a history graduate from Cornell University.