ON August 23 this year, Zimbabwe will be having its national harmonised elections. As has history shown, Zimbabwe's elections are marred by violence, intimidation and censorship.
With more than four billion people worldwide now using the internet and Zimbabwe being classified as Africa's first digital economy, restricting the internet would seem to be at odds with these figures.
Over the years countries like Togo, Burundi, Chad, Mali, Guinea, Uganda and Republic of Congo have restricted access to the internet during an election time.
This is becoming common in some African countries, where governments have even shut down internet or restricted access to social media platforms.
The most common motive behind censoring of the internet and access to social media is often political, whether under the guise of ‘preventing election day chaos’, like we saw in the Republic of Congo or completely controlling what information citizens have access to, such as in North Korea.
By controlling the internet, ruling parties can quash dissident activity and monitor online communications.
Governments are then able to extend a greater hold over what people say and do, and often, how they vote.
Thankfully, long-lasting and widespread internet censorship is no longer possible with the easy access to virtual private networks (VPNs).
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VPN can provide and maintain internet connectivity for users even in times of crisis and political upheaval.
With the right VPN, users can route their internet connection through an encrypted tunnel to a separate server located in another country that is outside of local censorship.
But how do you know which VPN is best for defeating internet censorship?
Let us take a quick look at the key things to keep in mind when searching for a VPN to bypass government-imposed blocks to the internet so that you can obtain crucial information without fear of government interference.
Government internet censorship occurs on a much larger scale.
Large-scale internet censorship usually refers to government-perpetrated blockages that prevent internet users from accessing certain websites, online services and social media platforms.
These websites, online services and social media platforms are usually perceived by certain governments as threats to their political influence and their nation’s public order.
Governments typically use three methods to censor online content from users: DNS filtering, IP address blocking, and deep packet inspection.
In cases where internet access is blocked, use a VPN service provider that can maintain encrypted communications even under the duress of these aforementioned censorship methods.
Unfortunately, some governments that censor online content may simply shut down the internet in their country altogether, rather than target specific URLs.
In this situation, a VPN will not work. This commonly occurs in countries with few internet service providers.
In Zimbabwe, our financial services, local mobile applications and payment platforms run on the internet.
In order to bypass government-imposed internet blocks, a VPN needs to rely on a VPN server.
VPNs that are installed on your internet-connected device must communicate with a VPN server to route your device traffic to the website it is trying to access.
Once you begin using a VPN that routes, your traffic to a VPN server, websites that you access will only be able to see the IP address of your server rather than the address of your actual internet-connected device.
Under certain circumstances you may find that a government is blocking your access to specific websites and applications.
In this case VPNs will provide you with access to alternative networks that are not being blocked.
And because your device IP address is not being routed to the site you want to access; you also reduce your risk of falling prey to cyberattacks such as ransomware.
Even though your personal information remains private while using a VPN it is important that you choose a VPN provider that explicitly outlines their commitment to combating cyberattacks from malicious threat actors.
A good VPN provider is able to shield users from hackers and cyberattacks and breaches, which have been increasing in regularity over the years and especially among single users.
This is because hackers understand that single users are unlikely to have ample protection against cyberattacks.
In the event where a national government is trying to block a specific website or app you can use a VPN to access another network where there is no block bypassing censorship attempts.
It is important to consider that there are different types of VPN server hosting solutions that interact with your VPN as you search for a VPN provider.
These solutions vary in terms of operating costs, bandwidth the number of supported users and location, so decide on the solution that is best for you while you shop around for a VPN.
When choosing a VPN provider to overcome censorship, it is important that you go for a provider that prioritises privacy and freedom of data communication. VPNs should enable you with unlimited internet browsing that is free and easy to use.
Such a VPN means you do not need to weigh the pros and cons of your provider when it is necessary for you to access online content.
From there, you should then search for a provider that allows you to download their VPN across multiple platforms.
This allows users to download a VPN from alternative platforms should their primary platform become blocked.
Additionally, your VPN of choice should make it difficult for your connections to become blocked by using multiple VPN protocols. Ultimately your VPN should make it easy for you to secure the information that you transmit online while avoiding malicious censorship.
A VPN provider that includes the above elements as part of their service can help you maintain your freedom of information and ability to share news, your ideas and opinions without fear of censorship.
Internet censorship imposed by certain governments threatens the fundamental promise of the Internet to enable free and open transmission of data and communications.
But with a reliable VPN provider, users can maintain their internet connectivity even in times of great political upheaval. The right VPN can bypass government-imposed blockages to online content without compromising the safety and privacy of its users.
The best VPN providers not only ensure stable and consistent access to online content, but also protect users from malicious cyber criminals, who propagate cyber breaches and attacks, such as ransomware. When searching for a VPN provider to bypass internet censorship, ensure that you choose a service that prioritises your privacy and freedom of online communications.
Your provider should also allow you to download their VPN across multiple platforms should one or more platforms go offline and become unavailable.
Additionally, make sure that your VPN makes it difficult for your internet connections to become blocked by small and large-scale censoring authorities by using multiple VPN protocols.
In Zimbabwe, it is legal to use VPNs, even service providers recommend the use of VPN for more online privacy and protection against cybercriminals and hackers. Do not wait until your internet is blocked – download your own VPN now.
- Mutisi is the CEO of Hansole Investments (Pvt) Ltd. He is the current chairperson of Zimbabwe Information & Communication Technology, a division of Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers.