Citizens of Sudan on Tuesday witnessed a “nation-scale internet disruption”, per reports from web monitor NetBlocks. The internet blockade, which was said to have lasted for eight hours, came ahead of planned pro-democracy protests to mark the first anniversary of the October 2021 coup that derailed the country’s transition to civilian rule.
Reuters reported that tens of thousands of Sudanese took to the streets, and faced heavy tear gas and stun grenades as they marched towards the presidential palace in Khartoum and in Omdurman across the Nile. One person was reportedly killed in the demonstrations.
According to NetBlocks, the internet shutdown significantly disrupted cell and fixed line connections lasting from roughly 9:50 am to 6:15 pm local time.
“Metrics corroborate user reports of network disruptions appearing consistent with an internet shutdown affecting multiple internet providers. The disruption is likely to limit the free flow of information online and suppress news coverage of incidents on the ground,” the online monitor noted in its report.
However, in another update, NetBlocks confirmed that internet connectivity was being restored in Sudan after service was disrupted on multiple providers.
The coup of last October saw the military regime in Sudan declare a state of emergency, dissolved the cabinet, and arrested the prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok. The coup, which attracted criticisms from the international community, was accompanied by a week-long internet shutdown that continued despite a local court order calling for access to be restored.
Not the first internet shutdown
Internet shutdowns are fast becoming frequent in Sudan. In 2018, Sudanese authorities cut off access to the internet for 68 consecutive days to quell protests that culminated in the military coup the following year.
This was done in a bid to quell protests that eventually resulted in the military coup the following year.
Sudan witnessed another internet shutdown in June and July of 2019, which spanned 36 more days, and reportedly cost the country as much as $2 billion, roughly 7.3% of its 2020 GDP.
Sudan isn’t alone
In recent times, cutting off access to the internet appears to be the choice of authorities in African countries in critical moments. In October 2020, Tanzania shut down the internet and social media applications during elections.
Ethiopia imposed an internet shutdown which lasted for close to a month in June 2020 after unrest that followed the killing of a prominent Oromo singer and activist, Hachalu Hundessa.
Zimbabwe, Togo, Burundi, Chad, Mali and Guinea also restricted access to the internet or social media applications at some point in 2020. Nigeria also shut down access to Twitter after the platform deleted President Muhammadu Buhari’s tweet that violated its policies.
In the wake of anti-government protests, Eswatini (Swaziland) also asked mobile operators such as MTN to block access to Facebook and Facebook Messenger.
But, internet shutdowns come at a great economic cost to African countries.
Data shows that 759 days (18,225 hours) of internet disruptions cost the global economy a staggering $8.05bn in 2019 and Sub-Saharan African countries lost about $2.16bn.
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