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Calls Intensify for Kenyans to Boycott Safaricom Post Internet Shutdown

In the aftermath of the protests against the Finance Bill 2024, Kenyans are escalating their calls for a comprehensive boycott of Safaricom, the nation’s largest telecommunications provider. These demonstrations, which occurred nationwide on June 25, 2024, turned violent when police used live ammunition, leading to numerous injuries and fatalities among protestors.

The protests were primarily driven by widespread discontent over overtaxation coupled with a lack of governmental accountability. On the day of the protests, an internet shutdown – despite Communication Authority assurance a day earlier – compounded the already volatile situation. Although Safaricom attributed the disruption to a fiber cut, various international bodies and local reports contradicted this explanation, indicating a government-enforced shutdown. Notably, the internet functioned seamlessly during a presidential broadcast, further fueling suspicions among the populace.

Further complicating the issue, the shutdown in Kenya led to disruptions affecting other countries in the East African region. Experts pointed to possible tampering of the Kenya Internet Exchange Point. Technology monitoring companies like Cloudflare Radar and NetBlocks confirmed the anomalies in internet traffic patterns, lending credence to theories of deliberate interference rather than mere infrastructure failure.

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Amidst the protests, there have been unsettling reports of abductions and arrests of protestors by police and unidentified intelligence operatives. Families of those detained have pointed fingers at Safaricom accusing the telco of colluding with government forces by allegedly sharing personal data that led to these arrests. Safaricom’s CEO, Peter Ndegwa, in a recently released self-shot video, said to the public that Safaricom does not share personal user information. He also doubled down on the claim about there being a fibre cut affecting internet access during the protests.

Despite the CEO’s claims on privacy, according to this PrivacyInternational.org report: “…Law enforcement agents are physically present within telecommunications operators’ facilities, formally, with providers’ knowledge. NIS agents are also informally present in the telecommunication operators’ facilities, apparently undercover, according to current and former Safaricom, CA, and NIS staff…”

The public response to perceived Safaricom actions has been swift and severe, with influencers, online personalities, and business leaders publicly severing ties with Safaricom and calling for boycotts. Social media platforms are abuzz with posts from prominent figures declaring their discontinuation of Safaricom’s services and urging others to switch to competitor networks. Some business figures have announced their intentions to divest from Safaricom stocks. This sentiment is especially significant considering Safaricom’s dominance in the Kenyan telecom market, underscored by its near-monopolistic hold over the mobile money space with M-Pesa. The call to abandon M-Pesa is particularly impactful, potentially threatening the financial bedrock of Safaricom’s operations.

Moreover, the internal atmosphere within Safaricom appears to be tense. Reports have surfaced of a recent town-hall meeting where employees posed tough, critical questions to their leaders, reflecting a workforce that is increasingly concerned about the ethical implications of their employer’s actions during this crisis.

Legal experts and human rights advocates are also weighing in, suggesting that the actions taken against protestors – and the alleged role of Safaricom in these actions – could constitute violations of constitutional rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The unfolding situation places Safaricom in a precarious position, navigating intense public scrutiny and legal inquiries.

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