For the past two weeks, users in Kenya have been facing a disruption in accessing Telegram, a popular messaging app with a user base of over 700 million monthly active users. The issue, which has predominantly affected daytime users, coincides with the period of the country’s ongoing college entrance examinations. Despite the situation, there has been no official statement from internet-related agencies or telecommunications companies. The Kenya Communications Authority (CA) has yet to acknowledge the outage. Amidst this, there is speculation that the interruption in Telegram’s services could be a strategic measure to prevent cheating in the exams.
Kenya’s Communications Authority (CA) has yet to verify the interruption. Still, there’s speculation that the recent outage of Telegram might be associated with efforts to prevent cheating during exams.
Telegram has gained popularity in Kenya due to its features such as cloud backups and the capacity for large groups hosting thousands of participants. Media firms and businesses widely use the app’s nationwide channels to disseminate news and updates to their followers.
AccessNow, a non-profit organization advocating for digital rights, has contacted three Kenyan telecommunications companies – Safaricom, Telkom, and Airtel – and the ICT cabinet secretary Eliud Owalo and the Kenya Communications Authority (CA). This action comes in response to the interruption of Telegram services. In their letter, AccessNow highlights that blocking access to vital platforms, which support the exercise of fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and access to information, breaches Article 35 of the Kenyan Constitution.
Up to the point of this report, the CA, which oversees ICT-related issues in Kenya, has not commented on the situation. Similarly, telecommunications companies like Telkom Kenya, Safaricom, and Airtel Kenya have not disclosed any information regarding the service disruption to their customers. However, customers using Jamii Telecoms to access Telegram have reported no such disruptions.
Attempts made by TechCabal to contact the telecommunications companies and the agency through calls and texts have not been successful.
The partial shutdown of Telegram services coincided with the commencement of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams, a key requirement for college admission. This move appears aimed at curbing unscrupulous individuals’ distribution of exam materials through Telegram for monetary gain. Six people have already been apprehended for their involvement in this malpractice, which has long undermined the integrity of the KCSE. The timing of the disruption, particularly during daytime hours when exams are in session, supports this view. Interestingly, Telegram operates normally at night, outside of exam hours, and its restriction can be bypassed with a VPN application.