While Africa’s future depends on embracing technology—especially in the provision of fast, reliable, affordable internet connectivity—many African governments are quick to shut down the internet when it serves them well.
In the past four years, citizens in close to half of African countries have experienced an internet blackout.
In all instances, the shutdowns have happened during conflicts or during elections as incumbent governments block online access to political information.
This has had a noxious effect on the general African economy which still sits at the bottom of the global digital economy. Internet dusk has meant thousands of hours lost by businesses that operate online via e-commerce and social commerce, and that has translated to the loss of billions of dollars. In 2019, internet and social media shutdowns cost the continent over $2 billion.
Africa’s online businesses have lost thousands of hours of business time
In Ethiopia, a combined total of 3,657 hours were lost and cost the country $100 million, with the first one happening from Jan. 2020 to the end of Jun. 2020 in Western Oromia according to British tech research firm Comparitech.
Another one followed in Nov. 2020 in the region of Tigray after war broke out and lasted till Dec. 15 when some services were restored.
Nigeria’s Twitter ban from Jun. 5 2021 to Jan. 13, 2022 affected around 104.4 million internet users in the country, and cost the country around $367 million according to Welsh VPN company Top10VPN.
Comparitech estimates that during the 2020 Uganda presidential election, ‘the Pearl of Africa’ lost $10 million in business revenue in 30 days. The government went ahead to arrest those who tried to access social media through Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). The country also has a social media tax in place.
Internet and social media shutdowns cost Africa billions
In 2020, Chad had the longest shutdown with WhatsApp being blocked for 3,912 hours at a total cost of more than $20 million. The shutdown began on July 22 and was ongoing at the end of the year.
Tanzania, whose government has been truncating media freedom since 2015, had an internet blackout which lasted 1,584 hours in 2020 at the cost of over $600 million.
In 2019, a report by Top10VPN indicated that a total of 12 African governments switched off internet services, leading to a combined loss of $2 billion. These were Sudan, Algeria, Chad, DRC, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Egypt, Benin, Gabon, Eritrea, and Liberia.
Zimbabwe, Togo, Burundi, Chad, Mali, and Guinea also restricted access to the internet or social media applications in 2020.
In 2019, there were 25 documented instances of partial or total internet shutdowns, compared with 20 in 2018 and 12 in 2017, according to Access Now, an independent monitoring group.
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. In June and July of 2019, Sudan was plunged into “a more extensive mobile internet shutdown” for 36 more days. In total, it lost $2 billion.
Access to the internet and social media was cut hours before general election on Mar. 21, 2021 in the Republic of Congo.
In Apr. 2022, Kenya distanced itself from a US listing as among 60 signatories to an agreement that commits members from arbitrarily shutting down the internet.
Kenya, Cape Verde, Niger, and Senegal were the only African countries on the on the US-led “Declaration for the Future of the Internet” (DFI) list.
The DFI also commits member countries to refrain from using the internet to undermine the electoral infrastructure and influence election results.