IT Blackout in Africa: Damage to Undersea Cables Leaves Dark Continent Without Internet

Telecom operators claim “seismic event” and subversion by Yemeni Houthis

Many African countries have been left with little or no internet access following severe damage this month to four major undersea data cables that connect Africa to the rest of the world, including the crucial West African Cable System (WACS). Fiber optic cables running along the seabed are severely damaged both on the western side of the African continent, somewhere around the Ivory Coast, and on the east, in Yemeni waters.

As for the western route, telecommunications company MainOne, which operates one of the West African cables, said it has “ruled out man-made causes,” such as fishing, and therefore “believes the damage is due to seismic effects on the seabed.” With the damage to communication networks in the eastern part, many experts pointed the finger at the subversion of the Houthis.

It has been very difficult, and sometimes almost impossible, to establish internet access across Africa for several weeks. According to the Economist magazine, Ghana’s stock exchange fell into a tail-spin on March 14 after trading was interrupted due to the internet outage. Ghana’s National Communications Authority said it believes “it will take at least five weeks to resolve the problem.”

According to NetBlocks, a digital research company, digital connectivity in Liberia and Benin has fallen to below 20% of normal levels. In Côte d’Ivoire, connectivity fell to 3%. Although some traffic has been restored in recent days, Wi-Fi remains unstable in a dozen countries, including South Africa.