Sudan has been completely cut off from the internet in recent times. The blackout has been gradual, with locals originally only experiencing intermittent blackouts, however there is now a total shutdown. The shutdown comes months after President Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power in April after protests had rocked the country for 16 weeks. The Transitional Military Council (TMC) has since taken over.
The protests did not end with al-Bashir, as protestors have been camping out in Khartoum since his ousting. Last week, soldiers attacked unarmed protestors who were staging a sit-in in central Khartoum, where more than 100 people were left dead. All mobile internet access was subsequently cut off. Access to landlines was shut down later, putting Sudan in a near data blackout.
There have been reports of killings, rape, and other human rights abuses. The shutdown is intended to stifle any reporting of the injustices to the outside world.
Since the protests began in December, Sudan has grabbed the world’s attention in their efforts to end 30 years of draconian rule. The internet was pivotal in the organization of protests. Online platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter were used to plan and execute the protests. Hundreds of videos and images were shared online despite the intermittent disruptions. Social media platforms enabled the media and human rights groups to verify the death toll after the civilian attack last week. Sudanese in the diaspora have also supported protestors using social media. They have condemned the blackout and have continued putting the Sudanese crisis in the spotlight.
Demonstration organizers say that the campaign against the TMC will continue: their hope for a civilian rule is well and truly alive. A TMC spokesperson said that the internet had been shutdown for a “limited time” but failed to provide any justification.
Although locals are still fearful, their means of opposition now focus upon small neighbourhoods. Their movements are limited and they have had to develop alternative ways of sharing information. Protestors are unable to get information about roadblocks that are constantly erected at different points or makeshift medical centres. Lives are at risk.
The internet shutdown will not spare the economy. Access to banking services is limited and businesses are unable to contact each other. Investors shy away from a state whose internet is at risk of being shut down by the government. Last week when Ethiopia suffered a four-day internet blackout, it is estimated that the country’s economy lost $17 million.
There is no end in sight for the internet shut down. On the contrary, for the people of Sudan, it is only the beginning.