Africa lost more than $200m to internet shutdowns in 2022

Ganiu Oloruntade
Nigeria lost $82.7m to internet shutdown last year, so it can't afford another one

For one, Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution depends on technology, thanks to the continent’s digital-savvy young population and massive potential for growth. Africa’s internet economy, for instance, is projected to hit $180 billion by 2025. However, the continent has a worrisome history of government-directed internet shutdowns, which is said to be the default move by African leaders to assert control or stifle free speech.

An internet shutdown is defined as “an intentional disruption of Internet-based communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unavailable, for a specific population, location, or mode of access, often to exert control over the flow of information.”

In Africa, internet shutdowns are increasingly becoming a political tool, as many African governments have resorted to restricting internet access during upheavals, especially protests or large-scale unrest.

This, of course, isn’t to say internet shutdowns are only reported in Africa. Data shows that the Asian continent holds the dubious crown of ordering the most shutdowns globally. For instance, India is the world’s largest offender regarding internet shutdowns, having blacked out the internet at least 106 times. According to a report from Top10VPN, government-ordered Internet shutdowns have cost the global economy more than $10 billion this year.

Related article: How Did Internet Shutdown Become a Common Trend in Africa?

Internet shutdowns in Africa come with a high cost

The first internet shutdown in sub-Saharan Africa was in Guinea in 2007. Former Guinean president Lansana Conte shut down the four Internet Service Providers in the country in the wake of national protests calling for his resignation.

Thirteen years later, African leaders, driven by different motives, have continued to hit the internet kill switch on different occasions, albeit with some consequences. The economic costs of shutdowns are enormous. In 2019, a report by Welsh VPN company Top10VPN indicated that 12 African governments; Sudan, Algeria, Chad, DRC, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Egypt, Benin, Gabon, Eritrea, and Liberia shut down internet services, leading to a combined loss of $2 billion.

To put into context, Sudan’s 185-day-long internet shutdown cost the country an estimated $1.9 billion in 2019, roughly 7.3% of its 2020 GDP and almost 80% of the total economic cost African economies suffered from restricting internet access in the same year.

Tanzanians Slam Government for Allegedly Blocking Internet Access a Day to General Elections

Internet shutdowns have more than doubled in Africa between 2020 and 2021, from 12 reported service disruptions to 25 respectively. For context, in 2020, Chad had the most prolonged shutdown, with WhatsApp being blocked for 3,912 hours at a total cost of more than $20 million. The same year, Tanzania’s internet blackout lasted 1,584 hours, costing the country over $600 million.

In 2021, twelve countries shut down the internet at least 19 times in Africa: Burkina Faso, Chad, Congo, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gabon, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia. For instance, Nigeria’s seven-month Twitter ban – which affected around 104.4 million internet users – cost the country around $367 million, per data from Top10VPN.

But despite the economic costs of internet shutdowns, African governments appear unmoved. In April this year, Kenya distanced itself from a US listing among 60 signatories to an agreement prohibiting members from arbitrarily shutting down the internet.

Kenya, Cape Verde, Niger, and Senegal were the only African countries on the US-led “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” (DFI) list which also commits member countries to refrain from using the internet to undermine the electoral infrastructure and influence election results.

Sub-Saharan Africa lost over $200m this year

According to Top10VPN’s Cost of Internet Shutdowns 2022 Tracker, sub-Saharan Africa lost an estimated $244.2 million between January and August this year, with Ethiopia accounting for more than half with $130.2 million.

This is hardly a surprise, considering that the Tigray region of the country has witnessed the world’s longest uninterrupted shutdown since November 2020 after prime minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military response on the embattled region. 

CountryLocal RegionStart DateEnd DateType of DisruptionCost per day (USD)Total Cost (USD)Duration (hrs)Internet Users AffectedContextAny HR ImpactRight to Peaceful Assembly / ProtestElection InterferencePress FreedomsGlobal Region
EthiopiaTigray1-Jan-22OngoingInternet blackout$399,523$130,244,5807,8241,022,983ConflictYesYesNoYesSub-Saharan Africa
Nigeria1-Jan-2212-Jan-22Social media shutdown$6,919,069$82,740,533287104,400,000Information controlNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan2-Jan-222-Jan-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$2,399,9321013,228,290ProtestsYesYesNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan6-Jan-226-Jan-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$2,399,9321013,228,290ProtestsYesYesNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Burkina Faso10-Jan-2211-Jan-22Internet blackout$4,489,367$2,805,854153,950,100Military coupNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Burkina Faso11-Jan-2225-Jan-22Social media shutdown$556,000$3,287,3503301,698,543Military coupNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Burkina Faso23-Jan-2224-Jan-22Internet blackout$4,489,367$6,546,994353,950,100Military coupYesYesNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Zimbabwe20-Feb-2220-Feb-22Throttling$2,590,749$431,79145,010,000ProtestsYesYesYesNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan12-Jun-2212-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan13-Jun-2213-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Algeria13-Jun-2213-Jun-22Internet blackout$36,681,865$6,113,644425,213,750ExamsNoNoNoNoMENA
Sudan13-Jun-2213-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan14-Jun-2214-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan15-Jun-2215-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan16-Jun-2216-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan17-Jun-2217-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan18-Jun-2218-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan19-Jun-2219-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan20-Jun-2220-Jun-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$719,980314,030,000ExamsNoNoNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sudan30-Jun-221-Jul-22Internet blackout$5,759,837$5,039,8572114,030,000ProtestsYesYesNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
SyriaNational1-Aug-221-Aug-22Internet blackout$6,648,192$969,5283.58,410,000ExamsNoNoNoNoMENA
Sierra LeoneNational10-Aug-2210-Aug-22Internet blackout$831,909$69,32622,670,000ProtestsYesYesNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Sierra LeoneNational11-Aug-2211-Aug-22Internet blackout$831,909$242,64072,670,000ProtestsYesYesNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
SomalilandHargeisa & Burao11-Aug-2211-Aug-22Internet blackout$303,130$126,304101,264,714ProtestsYesYesNoNoSub-Saharan Africa
Table: Technext | Data: Top10VPN.

A timeline of internets shutdowns in Africa this year

On January 23, 2022, web monitor NetBlocks confirmed the disruption of internet services in Burkina Faso amid a military uprising, with the internet shutdown lasting 35 hours.

The country had previously shut down mobile internet access amid political unrest and the shooting of protesters by a French military convoy in November 2021, issuing two 96-hour-long shutdown orders to providers.

In June, internet access was disrupted in Sudan in response to protests against the military junta that took power in the October 2021 coup. According to reports from NetBlocks, the service was restored after some 20 hours.

In August, internet connection in the breakaway region of Somaliland was cut off ahead of planned opposition protests over elections. The polls were later postponed to next year.

More recently, in October, the military junta in Sudan again shut down the internet 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. According to NetBlocks, the internet blockade lasted eight hours before connectivity was restored.

Enough of internet shutdowns

Going forward, African leaders must learn to sheath their swords and stop killing the switch. This is arguably the best thing to do in the continent’s interest. Internet shutdowns stifle digital connectivity and send the wrong signals to potential investors.

“In Africa, similarly across the globe, the internet shutdowns documented in 2022 have left severe impacts on the lives of those affected. The human cost of internet shutdowns is not quantifiable as they crush people’s dreams and disrupt all aspects of people’s lives,” Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now, an independent monitoring group, told Technext in a statement.

Read also: Again, Sudanese military junta shut down the internet amidst protests.

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