First Published: 2017-07-12

Internet cut-off hits Somalia hard
Since evening of June 24, most of Somalia has been cut off from the web, costing it an estimated $10 million a day.
Middle East Online

The internet is what connects diaspora Somalis to Somalia

MOGADISHU - Last month, a baby was born in the Somali capital Mogadishu with a terrible eye defect that requires treatment abroad.

The infant was cleared for treatment in Turkey but before the paperwork was complete a container ship, believed to be the Panama-flagged MSC Alice, docked outside Mogadishu port, accidentally dragging its anchor through the main fibre optic cable connecting Somalia with the rest of the world.

Since that evening of June 24 most of the Horn of Africa nation has been cut off from the web, costing it an estimated $10 million (nine million euros) a day in lost business according to the government, and freezing the lives of those, like the sick child, whose hopes depend on international connections.

- Internet-enabled diaspora -

There are a wealthy, fortunate few with the wherewithal to get online via satellite link-ups, but the vast majority of the 6.5 million people in Somalia's south-central region are in the dark, said Mohamed Ahmed Jama, chief executive of Dalkom, a Somali telecommunications company that is part of the consortium providing the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System.

The blackout has wreaked havoc in Somalia, where decades of conflict have combined with irrepressible entrepreneurialism to create a far-flung diaspora of almost two million people who earn money abroad and send it home to their relatives. The internet is what connects these Somalis with Somalia.

"In Somalia the telecommunications sector has thrived, even during some of the worst years of conflict," said Ahmed Soliman, Somalia researcher at the Chatham House think tank in London. "Urban Somalis have become increasingly connected online since fibre-optic was rolled out in 2014."

The World Bank estimates that at $1.4 billion annually, international remittances make up a quarter of national GDP.

Habiba Mohamud, a customer relations officer at Mogadishu's International Bank of Somalia, said the international transfers department has been cut off since last month's anchor incident.

Mohamud has been personally affected too. Unable to check her email in recent weeks she struggles to communicate with her family, most of whom live in Nebraska in the United States. With international phonecalls expensive, she commonly gets in touch via the WhatsApp and Viber messaging services.

"It has affected every part of my life: social life, family life, love life, work life," Mohamud said.

- Information means survival -

The internet plays a still more existential role for residents of the seaside capital where al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents carry out regular attacks and where potentially life-saving information is shared fastest on social media and messaging networks.

Hassan Istiila, chief editor of the local Radio Dalsan, which claims four million listeners, said Twitter is a key tool for gathering and broadcasting information on terror attacks and other events.

Ships dragging anchors through undersea internet cables are not uncommon occurrences along Africa's east coast and elsewhere -- in 2012 six African countries were cut-off in one go -- but they rarely take weeks to fully repair.

More than a fortnight since the blackout the MSC Alice's owner, Geneva-headquartered Mediterranean Shipping Company, said it was looking into the incident.

"Following reports that an underwater cable was damaged, MSC is investigating the incident with other relevant parties and these investigations are at an early stage," the company said in a statement.

The Somali government and Dalkom hope engineers will have the cable fixed and internet services restored perhaps later this week.

It will not come a moment too soon for Somalis whose lives are in limbo such as the sick child's mother, for whom a downloadable visa form and online submission are all that stands between her child and medical care in Turkey.

 

US, Iranian top diplomats confront each other for first time

Moscow accuses US of hitting Syrian regime forces

Turkey, Iran and Iraq make joint threat against Kurd vote

Thousands of Huthi supporters mark 3 years since Sanaa takeover

Gemstone purchase essential for Najaf pilgrims

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq

Air strikes kill 22 civilians in northwest Syria in 48 hours

Iranian supreme leader lashes out at Trump UN speech

Iraq attacks all remaining IS territory at once

Turkey jails lawyers representing hunger striking teachers

Syrian Kurds to hold first local elections in federal push

Qatari expats lauded as statesmen by Arab critics

Shipwreck off Libyan coast leaves over 100 migrants missing

Will Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish state translate into action?

US ups the ante on Iraq Kurds

Macron: Iran nuclear deal no longer enough

Trump’s mind made up on Iran but refuses to divulge

Scores of Iraqis missing during war against ISIS

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall

Russia accuses US of missile treaty breach

Iran TV translator mocked for watering down Trump speech

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

Saudi invites women to sports stadium for first time

Saudi set to create $2.7 billion investment company

Humanitarian disaster grips Yemen three years since Houthi takeover

What will become of Iraq’s Hawija after ISIS?

Multi-ethnic Kirkuk tense ahead of referendum

UN awaits Iran’s defence against Trump nuclear deal threats

US-backed SDF seizes 90% of Syria's Raqa

Man hanged in Iran for rape, murder of child

Saudi to lift ban on internet phone calls

Sisi calls for peace, co-existence in Mideast

Erdogan demands Iraqi Kurds call off referendum

US looking to revisit Iran nuclear deal

Trump expects Gulf dispute to be resolved quickly

Bashir calls on Darfur displaced to return

Saudi Aramco could release accounts in early 2018

Saudi-led coalition says rebels hindering Yemen food imports

Jihadist activity prompts regime, Russian air strikes in Syria safe zone

Two prominent rights activists arrested in Saudi Arabia

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone over Golan Heights

Iraqi forces launch assault on IS in western Anbar province

Families of the missing, the forgotten victims of war in Lebanon

25 killed in South Sudan clashes

Suicide attack on Iraq restaurant kills three