Sudan internet connectivity around 44 percent with 'total blackout' for many, says watchdog

Sudan internet connectivity around 44 percent with 'total blackout' for many, says watchdog
Many users will be experiencing a 'total communications blackout' in Sudan, the director of the internet watchdog NetBlocks told The New Arab.
3 min read
04 May, 2023
Sudan is experiencing deadly fighting between its army and Rapid Support Forces paramilitary [AFP/Getty]

Internet connectivity in Sudan is at less than half of usual levels with many users experiencing a "total communications blackout", a watchdog group said on Thursday in worrying news for civilian welfare.

Access to the internet has been "severely degraded" since deadly fighting between the country's army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary began on 15 April, NetBlocks director Alp Toker told The New Arab.

NetBlocks' metrics indicate national connectivity is currently at around 44 percent of normal levels, he said.

"However, for many users this will be experienced as a total communications blackout with remaining access available to institutions which have fixed-line service," he added.

"For the most part, we believe energy and backup fuel shortages have been responsible for the reduction in connectivity, in addition to direct occupation of [the] telecommunications exchange in Khartoum."

The RSF was responsible for the occupation of the exchange, Toker said NetBlocks understood.

He said occasional internet shutdown orders have been issued, but that compliance with these has not been widespread.

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In a Wednesday newsletter, the Lebanese digital rights group SMEX said the Sudanese government's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has been "asking telecom operators to shut down or throttle [slow down] the internet" since 16 April.

Jillian York, director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation online rights organisation, told The New Arab that her group was "very concerned" about the use of internet shutdowns to "quell speech" amid the conflict.

"States often use shutdowns as a way to silence dissent and organising and this situation has all of the hallmarks of that," she added.

The web services company Cloudflare said it saw internet traffic in Sudan fall by up to 60 percent after 10am local time (0800 GMT) on 15 April, the day fighting erupted.

There was a "partial recovery" the next day at about 4pm (1400 GMT), Cloudflare said in its Tuesday blog post, adding that traffic has however "consistently been lower than before".

"Although we saw outages and disruptions on major local internet providers, the general drop in traffic could also be related to different human usage patterns because of the conflict, with people trying to leave the country," the company said.

It said traffic decreased in Ukraine last year as people fled the Russian invasion, and that the reduction was not always connected to internet service provider outages.

Traffic in Sudan on Tuesday was around 30 percent below levels from before the fighting erupted, according to Cloudflare.

The firm said traffic was down by 74 percent on 23 April and 70 percent on 24 April compared with dates before the conflict began.

The consequences of internet disruption in Sudan could be serious.

"Internet shutdowns and throttling can have significant negative impacts on civilians in countries like Sudan, particularly in the context of armed conflict," said Toker, the NetBlocks director.

He added that there can be human rights consequences, economic impacts and disrupted communication between family members, friends and colleagues.

Internet shutdowns and throttling may also deny people access to crucial information including conflict and security news as well as information on humanitarian aid and resources, Toker said.

"Without this information, people may be unable to make informed decisions about how to stay safe and access basic needs," he said.

A weeklong ceasefire came into force in Sudan on Thursday, but the conflict – which has killed hundreds and injured thousands – has raged on regardless.

The fighting pits rival generals Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the army chief and Sudan's de facto ruler, against RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is otherwise known as Hemedti.

Hemedti had been Burhan's deputy in the country's military government.

Much of the fighting has taken place in the capital Khartoum and its adjoining sister cities of Omdurman and Bahri.