On Monday, January 14th, Zimbabweans decided to stand up to the government which led to massive violent protests on the streets of Zimbabwe. The protests ensued after Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa increased fuel prices more than double, in the country that was already fighting bad economy, shortages of food and high unemployment.
Zimbabweans had had enough. But that was only the beginning.
In order to prevent communication among activists and protesters, Zimbabwean government shut down the Internet in the midst of the chaos.
There were rumors that the government would completely shut down the Internet all over the country, practically cutting off Zimbabwe from the rest of the world as well as disabling all online communication within the country.
After a total Internet shutdown that lasted a bit more than 24 hours, Zimbabwean government decided to do a partial Internet shutdown instead, blocking over a dozen popular websites including the biggest social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube.
Faced with this censorship, Zimbabweans started turning to VPN services to circumvent the shutdown. In fact, VPN searches in Zimbabwe have surged by 1,560%.
Interestingly, even the non-government organizations such as Media Institute of Southern Africa in Zimbabwe (MISA Zimbabwe) tweeted their support to Zimbabwean people, sharing advice on how to use VPN to access blocked websites and apps.
So, how is VPN helping Zimbabweans work around the shutdown?
Well, VPN has multiple major advantages but the main reason why VPN has suddenly become such a popular solution in Zimbabwe is that it helps you bypass censorship. Strong VPN providers have a great number of servers around the world and once you connect to your VPN, you can choose the server on a different location.
In other words, Zimbabweans can bypass geo-censorship by choosing an IP address located in a different country and, that way, they can keep using their favorite websites and keep in touch with loved ones on social media.
Another important advantage of VPN is that it protects your online privacy which is incredibly important in the midst of political censorship like the one happening in Zimbabwe. By masking your online identity and encrypting your connection, everything you do online is private and known only to you. By using a VPN, Zimbabweans are also protecting themselves from the government's prying eyes and potential punishment they could be facing for using the Internet freely.
However, another problem occurred when the Zimbabwean government figured out that people are still managing to access blocked websites. They have taken measures to start blocking VPNs as well.
Although famous VPN services are generally reliable, they are also easy targets in this situation. Their servers can get recognized and blacklisted by the ISPs or the government. If that's the case with the VPN you're using, you will not be able to access the blocked websites and use the Internet without restrictions, even if you are using a VPN.
You can find some great advice on solving this problem on the local website TechZim including switching to a less known VPN provider or changing the port number on your VPN software.
One week later, the situation in Zimbabwe is only getting worse. The violence towards protesters is growing stronger and the censorship is becoming stricter. We can only hope that this terrible crisis in Zimbabwe comes to a conclusion as quickly as possible.
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