Chat app, Telegram, boasting over 700 million monthly active users, has been experiencing outages in Kenya for more than two weeks, disrupting the activities of primary users of the app, and forcing them to use other platforms.
Despite the prolonged disruption, Kenya’s Communications Authority (CA) has not officially confirmed the situation, leaving users and digital rights advocates in the dark.
The disruption, which only happens during daytime, and is happening alongside the ongoing Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations, has led people to suspect that Telegram’s offline issues were deliberately created to prevent students from using the app to engage in malpractice.
Rogue agents have historically exploited Telegram to share exam materials for profit. With the disruptions happening during daytime when exams are conducted, the suspicions about Telegram being deliberately targeted have some merit, though an official statement hasn’t been given yet.
Telegram’s popularity in Kenya is attributed to its features such as cloud backups and the ability to host large groups with thousands of members. Businesses, including media companies, also utilise Telegram channels to disseminate updates to their subscribers.
Noting the situation, AccessNow, a non-profit digital rights group, has issued a letter to ICT Cabinet Secretary, Eliud Owalo, the Communications Authority (CA), and three major Kenyan telecommunications companies, namely Safaricom, Telkom and Airtel. The letter urges these entities to provide an explanation for the disruption, arguing that blocking access to essential platforms like Telegram is a violation of constitutional rights.
The CA and the mentioned telcos have, however, maintained a conspicuous silence on the matter. Telkom Kenya, Safaricom, and Airtel Kenya have not disclosed details about the interruption to their customers. Notably, users accessing Telegram via Jamii Telecoms have not reported any disruptions, adding a layer of complexity to the situation.
Additionally, users have found ways to bypass the disruption by using virtual private network (VPN) applications.
As the KCSE exams near their conclusion later this week, stakeholders await official statements from the relevant authorities to shed light on the motives behind the Telegram disruption and its potential impact on the integrity of the examination process.