Kenya blocked Telegram during the KCSE 2023 exams


November 8, 2023 - November 24, 2023
published by Maria Xynou on November 24, 2023
Network(s): AS12455, AS33771

For the first time, we observed the blocking of Telegram in Kenya.

OONI data has been collected from Kenya since 2016, and we have never seen (or heard of) the blocking of social media or instant messaging apps in the country before. In fact, we even published a report in the past documenting that we had found almost no signs of internet censorship in Kenya.

But that changed in November 2023, when we started to observe signs of Telegram blocking.

The following chart aggregates OONI measurement coverage from the testing of Telegram on 24 networks in Kenya between 29th October 2023 to 28th November 2023.


Chart: OONI Probe testing of Telegram in Kenya between 29th October 2023 to 28th November 2023 (source: OONI MAT).

The spike in anomalous measurements presents signs of Telegram blocking, but the availability of successful measurements indicates that access to Telegram was not blocked continuously, and/or that it was not blocked on all networks. The dates of the anomalies correlate with the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) 2023 exams, during which examination papers were allegedly leaked on Telegram. It has therefore been argued that the blocking of Telegram may have been motivated by an attempt to prevent exam cheating.

A closer look at OONI data shows that the testing of Telegram presented the largest volume of anomalies on two networks: Jambonet (AS12455) and Safaricom (AS33771). As of 8th November 2023, OONI data from Kenya shows the persistent blocking of Telegram on Jambonet (AS12455) until (at least) 24th November 2023. All OONI measurements collected from this network from 08:35 UTC on 8th November 2023 onwards consistently presented signs of blocking.

Meanwhile, on Safaricom (AS33771), OONI data shows a different pattern: anomalies only emerge during specific hours each day, instead of being present consistently (like on Jambonet). As of 13th November 2023 (when more measurements were collected and the signal is stronger), OONI data shows that the testing of Telegram on Safaricom presented a significant increase in the failure rates in correlation with the hours of the KCSE 2023 exams. These failures are inconsistent with transient network failures, because the TCP handshake is successful and it only times out after the connection is established. This suggests the potential use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology.

Overall, OONI data shows intermittent signs of Telegram blocking on several networks (including Safaricom). The timings of the blocks correlate with the timings of the KCSE 2023 exams. However, it’s worth noting that the block does not appear to be implemented on all networks, as OONI data shows that Telegram was accessible on many other networks in Kenya in November 2023. Out of all tested networks, Jambonet appears to have implemented the heaviest restrictions, as Telegram appears to have been consistently blocked since 8th November 2023.

Interestingly, OONI data only shows signs of Telegram blocking until 24th November 2023, which was the last day of the KCSE 2023 exams.