Data from the NetBlocks internet observatory show that multiple internet providers in Malawi experienced an outage spanning several hours on the evening of Tuesday 21 May 2019, election day, after Malawians voted to name a President, new MPs and local councillors.
Nationwide connectivity fell to 80% of normal levels from around 16:30 UTC during vote counting and the announcement of initial polling results, with access only returning at around 22:00 UTC. Data show that Malawi Telecommunications Limited, fiber optic network SimbaNET and ICT infrastructure operator Malswitch were affected, while access appeared to remain generally available via privately-owned internet providers.
Alert: Internet access has been disrupted in #Malawi on election day; nationwide connectivity dropped to 80% for several hours during vote counting and announcements; broadcasts also reportedly affected #MalawiDecides2019 #MalawiElections2019 #KeepItOn 📉https://t.co/fsWlHUWjGM pic.twitter.com/PbB8IYOJCV
— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) May 21, 2019
Election observers in Malawi rely extensively on internet connectivity although the full impact on the electoral process has yet to be established. TV broadcasts and radio signals including those of BBC World and VOA Africa were also reportedly disrupted during the blackout.
A media shutdown in #Malawi as poll results are being announced large private broadcasters have gone off air, the internet where briefly shut down. #MalawiElections2019 #ZBSNews pic.twitter.com/70S2x08c5C
— Patricia Mtungila (@pmtungila) May 21, 2019
Update: Malawi has experienced a new internet disruption from 2:30 to 3:00 a.m. UTC Wednesday 22 May as vote counting and transmission of results continues, this time affecting provider Skyband. Both networks are usually reliable according to historic data and the disruptions remain unexplained at time of writing:
Update: #Malawi has experienced a second internet disruption from 2:30 to 3:00 a.m. UTC this morning as vote counting and transmission of results continues, this time affecting provider Skyband #MalawiDecides2019 #MalawiElections2019 #KeepItOn 📉https://t.co/fsWlHUWjGM pic.twitter.com/KEg5efdXRw— NetBlocks.org (@netblocks) May 22, 2019
On 19 May, local news media reported meetings where possible measures to limit internet access were discussed, and the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) issued a public warning about social media disinformation days prior to the election:
NetBlocks diffscans, which map the entire IP address space of a country, provide indications of the scope and timing of the disruptions.
Malawi joins African states Benin, Egypt, the DRC, Cameroon and Mali which have experienced partial or total internet disruptions with nationwide impact during and around the election period in recent months, with recorded incidents ranging from hours to several weeks.
This report follows the Election Pathfinder Rapid Response methodology which defines a set of core principles, workflows and benchmarks for network measurement and evaluation during elections and referenda.
Internet performance and service reachability are determined via NetBlocks web probe privacy-preserving analytics. Each measurement consists of latency round trip time, outage type and autonomous system number aggregated in real-time to assess service availability and latency in a given country. Network providers and locations enumerated as vantage point pairs. The root cause of a service outage may be additionally corroborated by means of traffic analysis and manual testing as detailed in the report.
NetBlocks is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all.