There is disbelief after the University of Rwanda (UR) confirmed it has been deliberately blocking access to social media sites on its campuses.
As matter of policy, all UR campuses in Kigali, Huye and other regions are supposed to have free wireless internet, which has been the case for several years.
Students at the Huye district campus, with over 10,000 students, which is the biggest campus, say that in the last 3 years, wireless intent has not been functioning. When the students seek answers from officials, some say, they are ignored.
In addition to wireless internet access, there are a few computer labs assigned to faculties, that are assumed to be used by students who don’t have laptops.
The issue of no internet access at Huye campus ended up on social media, particularly Twitter, raised by a supposed student this past week. The students say they are unable to conduct research online as there is no internet access at Huye campus.
As for the computer labs, the students claim the labs are not easily accessible. They are opened only when a lecturer makes the request for a particular lesson, say the students.
In its defense, however, the University of Rwanda, through its official Twitter account, gave up more information than it had perhaps anticipated.
“Internet is there on Huye campus but students use it inappropriately watching movies on YouTube,” it said.
Adding: “What UR has been doing, which annoys the students, is that social media like YouTube are blocked during day, unless when requested by a lecturer for teaching.”
The University is essentially admitting it has been denying access for its students to social media on its campuses, covering over 28,000 students.
The reactions after this admission have been overwhelming, most of them exerting open hostility towards the decision.
Overall, government at central level has maintained unfettered access to everything online. There has not been any incident of cutting off the internet, part of President Paul Kagame’s development vision to create a wired economy and easy access to information.
Even during elections, when internet is switched off in some African countries, or just social media, no such thing happens in Rwanda.
What happens here is that sites published by Rwandan exiles are permanently blocked. Plus, since August, all news sites from Uganda have been blocked as retaliation after Uganda did the same for Rwandan news sites it deemed unwanted.
The internet has become an easy place to demand for a government service or hold any official to account especially via Facebook and Twitter.
Back to University of Rwanda, the current and recent former students who spoke to The Chronicles said they were never told officially that social media sites are blocked on the government-provided internet.
But it has been the case for some time that when a student attempts to open YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, which are most widely used, a page display appears telling them that the “page is inaccessible”.
For those that desperately need social media sites, they can only access them via their self-paid phone connection or modems of local ISPs. Of course, it means they have to do this at their own at a university supposedly connected with free internet for students and faculty.