Zimbabweans are turning Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology to circumvent an apparent government internet shutdown according to leading VPN comparison site BestVPN.com.
The restrictions have resulted in a spike of interest in VPNs among Zimbabwean internet users, according to internal data from BestVPN.com. The comparison site recorded a 1,560 percent increase on Monday and Tuesday, compared to the same period the week before.
Zimbabweans have been reporting intermittent access to the internet over the last twenty-four hours and the blocking of over a dozen websites and major social media platforms, including WhatsApp and Facebook.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe has taken to Twitter to recommend VPN and Tor services to people trying to access Social Media.
It is likely this attempt to shut down online communication is in response to the violent protests that erupted across the country on Monday. The protests began after president Emmerson Mnangagwa hiked fuel prices to $3 over the weekend.
The Zimbabwean economy has been caught in a downward spiral for over a decade with high unemployment, and cash and food shortages rife across the country.
Free VPN apps could be the answer for cash-poor Zimbabweans hoping to regain their access to the internet and online communication, and crucially prevent those inside the country from being cut off from the outside world.
Sean McGrath, Editor at BestVPN.com commented:
"It's difficult to get a picture of exactly what is happening in Zimbabwe at the moment. Some are reporting that social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook are inaccessible. If that's the case, a VPN could help users circumvent restrictions.
However, local sources are now claiming that Econet and TelOne users have had their internet services completely disabled. If the Zimbabwean government is indeed pushing for a full Internet blackout, unfortunately there is very little users can do other than switch to a VPN provider not yet affected.
This trend of governments switching off the internet in times of civil unrest is concerning. Open communication and knowledge sharing are two central pillars of any strong and peaceful society, so restricting access to the web is ultimately always going to be counterproductive. We can only hope that the authorities see sense and that this escalating crisis is brought to an end as quickly and as peacefully as possible."