In a move to prevent disturbances to public order, the Senegalese government has once again shut down the country’s internet services. The shutdown, which occurred last Friday, came shortly after the arrest of prominent opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko. This is the second time in two months that the government has taken such action, as they previously shut down the internet in early June following Sonko’s arrest on that occasion as well.
The shutdown was confirmed through a statement signed by Moussa Bocar Thiam, the Minister of Communications, Telecommunications, and Digital Economy. The statement required telephone operators to comply with the internet shutdown, citing the dissemination of “hateful and subversive messages” on social media platforms in the context of public disorder. The shutdown was implemented through temporary suspension of mobile data at certain time slots starting from July 31, 2023.
Notably, this recent internet shutdown comes just two weeks after the government awarded the country’s first 5G license to a leading telco company, Sonatel. The telco company secured the 5G license with a bid of XOF34.5 billion ($59.1 million), outbidding its competitors by a significant margin. The awarding of the 5G license hinted at a possible shift towards a less restrictive approach by the government. However, the subsequent internet shutdown casts doubt on the government’s willingness to embrace a more open digital landscape.
Internet shutdowns have become a recurring tactic employed by governments to assert control since the 2011 Arab Spring. In Africa alone, seven countries imposed shutdowns nine times last year, representing a decrease compared to 2021, when 12 countries disrupted internet access 19 times.
The economic consequences of internet shutdowns are significant. During the June shutdown, Cloudflare Radar, a platform that monitors global internet traffic, reported a 37% drop in internet usage in Senegal from the previous day, with some telcos experiencing near-zero internet access. Estimates suggest that the country incurred losses of approximately $300,000 per hour during the June shutdown.
The latest internet shutdown in Senegal has raised concerns about freedom of information and expression in the country. As governments grapple with social and political challenges, it remains to be seen how internet shutdowns will continue to impact citizens’ access to information and communication channels.