The Government of Liberia has followed the lead of many other African states in shutting down access to social media across the country in response to public protests against them.
It is still not clear from reports emerging from Liberia whether the government has attempted to shut down the whole internet or whether it is just social media that is being targeted.
VPN needed to access social media in Liberia
But sources within Liberia are still able to get online at the time of writing. However, they are only able to access social media when using a VPN. Multiple Twitter users have confirmed that they are only able to access the platform with a VPN.
There are more than 300,000 internet users in Liberia which means that more than a quarter of a million people are currently unable to access their social media accounts.
This has been confirmed by Netblocks, an independent body which monitors internet restrictions around the world. They are reporting that social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp are all currently unavailable in Liberia.
At the moment they have only formally confirmed the social media blocks are in place for users of Liberian mobile network Orange Liberia. However, it is thought that all ISPs in Liberia have complied with government demands to block access to social media across the country.
It is unclear when exactly these orders were put in place or how long they will last. For the time-being, Liberian’s who want to access these social media platforms have no choice but to use a VPN.
Services such as ExpressVPN, NordVPN and IPVanish should work well for connecting outside of Liberia to beat the restrictions. However, as VPN services may be cost-prohibitive for locals then considering free trials from reputable providers VPNHub and VyprVPN would also unblock access.
Save the State protests
The Liberian government’s move to block access to social media across the country comes as nationwide protests are planned today against rising inflation and corruption across the country.
The protests, which have been dubbed Save the State, have been arranged by a coalition of opposition activists who have dubbed themselves the Council of Patriots. They include politicians, professions, students and regular members of the public.
They are protesting against the government of President George Weah. Weah, a national hero and former Ballon d’Or winning footballer was only elected to the Presidency eighteen months ago.
He swept to power on a wave of optimism but has so far failed to revive the economy of one of the world’s poorest countries. Inflation means the value of the Liberian dollar is falling with US$1 being worth 190LD today compared to 120LD when Weah came into office.
Allegations of corruption against the countries central bank, members of the family of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other government figures persist.
Today’s well-organised protests are expected to see thousands of people taking to the streets of the capital city Monrovia as well as other cities and towns across the country.
Africa’s online blocking trend
However, the government has decided to block access to social media in an attempt to hamper the organisation and spread of information around the protests.
In doing so, they are following down a well-trodden path in African politics. Numerous other countries including Eritrea, Benin, and Uganda have opted to shut down access to either social media or the entire internet in response to opposition protests.
For African governments, such a move is becoming a default reaction and President Weah is undermining his own legitimacy by opting to do the same thing.
The Liberian people have a right to protest and are trying to air legitimate grievances against the Weah government. Blocking access to social media will be in the best interests of no-one, not least because the main organisers of the protests are bound to be using VPNs in any case.
For people in Liberia and much of Africa, a VPN is becoming an essential tool to access even basic online services consistently. And that is a deeply sorry state for an impoverished continent where development is dependent on free and open government and defending the basic rights of its people.