Internet shutdowns cost Sub-Saharan Africa US$237m since 2015

Internet shutdowns in Sub-Saharan Africa have cost the region up to US$237 million since 2015, according to a report released by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

The Report estimates the cost of internet shutdowns in 10 African countries and was introduced at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2017 (FIFAfrica17) in Johannesburg today.

According to a statement issued by FIFAfrica17, the report notes that the economic losses caused by an internet disruption persist far beyond the days on which the shutdown occurs "because network disruptions unsettle supply chains and have systemic effects that harm efficiency throughout the economy."

FIFAfrica17 is co-hosted by CIPESA and the Association for Progressive Communication (APC).

Organisers claim that disruptions have been witnessed during national exams, as was the case in Ethiopia, during elections in countries such as Chad, Gabon, Gambia, Republic of Congo, and Uganda.

They also suggest public protests have also led to internet disruptions in countries like Burundi, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, and Togo.

"Internet shutdowns have been witnessed in countries, some of which have very low internet penetration and usage figures. According to the ITU, Cameroon, Uganda and Niger have internet usage percentages of 25%, 21.9% and 4.4% respectively. The three countries have experienced internet disruptions for 93 days, 6 days and 3 days respectively between 2016 and 2017. The significant contribution of the ICT sector and of more prevalent internet services to the economy and society cannot be disputed. This is more so in most African economies where the contribution of the ICT sector to GDP is on average 5%, a contribution greater than in many countries in Europe and Asia,"

Despite the increasing benefits associated with access to the internet and the contribution of the ICT sector to GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa, since 2015 there have been state-initiated internet disruptions in at least 12 countries in the region, according to organisers.

"While it is clear how internet shutdowns affect users' fundamental rights, such as the right of access to information and freedom of expression, the impact of disruptions on a country's economy and citizens' livelihoods is rarely as clearly articulated due to a lack of verifiable data," reads the statement.

The report also shows that:

  • Internet disruptions, however short-lived, undermine economic growth, disrupt the delivery of critical services, erode business confidence, and raise a country's risk profile
  • Shutdowns have a high economic impact at micro and macro levels, adversely affecting the livelihoods of citizens, undermining the profitability of business enterprises, and reducing the GDP and competitiveness of countries that implement them.