Internet shutdowns in Sub-Saharan Africa have cost the region up to US$ 237 million since 2015, according to a report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).
Using a newly developed framework, the report estimates the cost of internet shutdowns in 10 African countries, and 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.
Speaking at the launch of the report at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa that was held in Johannesburg, South Africa last week, Mr Wairagala Wakabi, CIPESA executive director, said the framework adapted similar studies from The Brookings Institution and Deloitte and applied them to the Sub-Saharan African context. The result was the creation of a model that can now be used to measure the economic impact of total and partial internet shutdowns.
In the past two years the governments of Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Niger, Republic of Congo, Togo and Uganda ordered either partial or total shutdowns of the internet. The CIPESA report shows that the economic cost of internet disruptions persist far beyond the days on which the disruption occurs. This is because the disruptions unsettle supply chains, disrupt the delivery of critical services, erode business confidence and have systemic negative effects.
The CIPESA model estimates that in Ethiopia, which experienced 36 days of complete national and regional shutdowns, and seven days of social media disruption, the country lost US$ 132.1 million. In the Democratic Republic of Congo where network disruptions are rife, it is estimated that the country has lost at least US$ 46 million.
CIPESA emphasises that “internet disruptions are not a necessary and proportionate response to the situations for which they have been employed in Africa.” Across the continent disruptions were ordered during elections, public protests and, in the case of Ethiopia, during national exams. The organisation calls on African governments to desist from the practice because of the high macro and micro economic impact on national economies.
Mr Wakabi also called on internet service providers and other intermediaries to speak out against the disruptions. He asked that they publish orders from government and their earnings during the shutdowns in order to enable CIPESA and other civil society organisations to analyse the real impact of the disruptions.
“Some African countries are resistant to the obvious link between internet access and freedom of information and expression,” Wakabi said, “but with this new model we can make a strong case about the real impact of shutdowns and hopefully influence regulators, policy makers and telecom operators.”