WASHINGTON – The United States has renewed its condemnation of Nigeria for its recent suspension of Twitter, a move that senior U.S. officials said is a sign of restricting political space in the largest country in West Africa.
Nigerian authorities indefinitely suspended Twitter earlier this month after the U.S.-based social media company deleted a tweet by the country’s President Muhammadu Buhari for violating its terms of service.
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“The Twitter suspension was very concerning and remains a source of concern,” said Akunna Cook, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, during a Monday webinar hosted by the Washington-based Atlantic Council.
Cook, a daughter of Nigerian immigrants, said the country can “play a constructive role” in West Africa but “signs of closing of political space” and signs of restricting free speech are worrisome.
The Nigerian government’s subsequent threats to arrest and prosecute its citizens who use Twitter has drawn wide criticism from the West and international human rights organizations. Nigerian authorities said they banned Twitter because it was persistently being used “for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.”
Separately, Cook on Monday called China a “strategic competitor” on the continent, while urging Beijing to have “greater transparency” when giving loans to African countries.
“Transparency limits corruption,” said the deputy assistant secretary of state. “China has become a large lender to African countries and many large borrowers from China are struggling, struggling with debt sustainability.”
The State Department’s top official on African affairs also said there will be “more robust engagements” between the U.S. and Africa under President Joe Biden’s administration but stopped short of elaborating whether there will be a U.S.-Africa summit in 2022, the same year as a planned Russia-Africa summit.