Rising from Initial Shock: Businesess Rebound after Internet Hiccups

Communication cable laid at the bottom of the sea, fiber optic, telephone Internet and other types of communication. Generative AI

Communication cable laid at the bottom of the sea, fiber optic, telephone Internet and other types of communication. Generative AI

The subsea cable cuts in the Atlantic Ocean penultimate week, which affected 13 African countries, caused severe disruptions in internet services and heavy downtime in business operations, with attendant losses of revenue across all sectors of the economy, writes Emma Okonji

Penultimate week, precisely March 14, 2024, 13 African countries faced internet disruptions, which led to operational downtime for all businesses connected to the internet, including banks, where customers could not carry out banking transactions for hours. 

Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as well as broadband connectivity providers, were completely disconnected from the internet and from the broadband connections, as they could not provide connectivity access to their customers in banks, schools, churches, mosques, business centres, call centres as well as to organisations in different sectors of the economy. 

The disruption was caused by multiple cuts in the submarine cable around the coastline of Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. 

The affected 13 countries include Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Benin Republic, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Togo, Cameroon, Gabon, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Lesotho, and parts of South Africa.

The affected submarine cables came from Europe and passed through the East Coast of Africa. The West African Submarine Cable (WASC), African Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable, and MainOne submarine cable that have landing ducts at the shores of Nigeria, were affected by the multiple cuts.

Similar undersea cables providing traffic from Europe to the East Coast of Africa, like Seacom, Europe India Gateway (EIG), and Asia-Africa-Europe 1 (AAE1), were also affected at some point around the Red Sea, resulting in degradation of services across those routes.

 Service Disruption   

NetBlocks, a global internet monitoring organisation, which released its preliminary report 24 hours after the disruption, said out of the 13 affected countries, Cote d’Ivoire was the worst hit, which led to severe internet disruptions that brought the country’s internet connectivity to as low as four per cent. 

According to the report, Liberia, Benin Republic, Ghana, and Burkina Faso suffered high internet impact that brought their internet connectivity to 20 per cent, 14 per cent, 25 per cent, and 38 per cent respectively. 

The report said countries like Togo, Cameroon, Gabon, Namibia, and Niger, suffered medium internet impact that brought their internet connectivity to 42 per cent, 58 per cent, 55 per cent, 55 per cent and 69 per cent respectively. 

The report however said countries like Nigeria, Lesotho, and South Africa, had low internet impact and businesses were mildly affected. While Nigeria had 72 per cent connectivity, Lesotho had 74 per cent internet connectivity, and South Africa had 82 per cent internet connectivity after the cable cut, according to the report.  

In Nigeria, banks, payment service banks (PSBs), schools, organisations, and agent banking outlets that had their |Internet Service Providers (ISPs) connected to MainOne submarine cable, WASC, and ACE submarine cables, had serious service disruptions during the period as their customers could not access their internet service, thereby grounding operations of customers from banks, agent banking outlets and organisations, including schools and malls. Business centres and customer care centres of telecom operators were not spared either as their businesses were grounded.   

 Counting the Losses

The Nigerian economy has been particularly hard hit by the disruption. Reliable network services are crucial for online transactions, and the disruption has led to a decline in sales for online retailers, with customers facing difficulties in accessing e-commerce platforms.

The Chief Executive Officer of Switchcon Temidayo Adefioye,  expressed concerns about the situation and said that the disruption has dealt a severe blow to the Nigerian economy. He added that the e-commerce sector has been a major contributor to employment and revenue generation, and this disruption will result in substantial financial losses, hinder market growth, and dampen investor confidence.

He was quoted by IT Web, an online platform as saying, “The network disruption has, to a large extent, affected the financial sector, hindering online banking services and mobile payment platforms. Also, access to banking services has been impeded, leading to delayed transactions, limited access to funds, and difficulties in conducting business operations. This has affected individuals as well as corporate entities, including payment processors and financial institutions, with implications for financial inclusion and the efficiency of payment systems.”

The online publication also quoted Oyindamola Idowu, an IT enthusiast as saying “The network disruption experienced by MTN and Airtel has revealed the vulnerability and dependence of Nigeria’s digital economy on a few service providers.” 

Idowu said this proved the need for diversification and the establishment of robust backup systems to mitigate future disruptions. Investments in alternative networks and infrastructure will be crucial to ensure the resilience of Nigeria’s digital economy.

She said the disruption has also had implications for the education sector, as schools increasingly rely on online platforms for teaching and learning. 

In a similar vein, James Agwu, a Nigerian data analyst, expressed his frustration on X (formerly Twitter), highlighting the significant disruption and financial losses experienced by individuals and businesses. He called for accountability from MTN and criticised its lack of explanation and resolution. He argued that the government should take action to hold MTN accountable for the situation.

Internet Connectivity 

The internet is a global network that links computers, servers, mobile phones, and smart appliances together and helps them to communicate with each other, using the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) standard to enable the fast exchange of information from one device to another and from one location to another, with the speed of light.

Giving insight into the importance of internet connectivity, the Chief Executive Officer of Open Access Data Centres, Dr. Ayotunde Coker, told THISDAY that with the internet, digital connectivity gradually became part of the daily lives of humans. According to him, to continue to enjoy the benefits of the internet, organisations like the West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC), the parent company of Open Access Data Centres have put in a lot of resilience on its infrastructure to provide the right connectivity to Africa and the world. 


Ruling out the possibility of sabotage in the submarine cable cuts, the Chairman, of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, who is the spokesperson for telecoms operators in Nigeria, said at the beginning of the crisis, that it would be too early to suspect sabotage, until proper investigation was carried out.  

According to him, “We have been informed of a major cut on one of the submarine cables in the Red Sea, but Nigeria is not significantly impacted by the cut on that particular submarine cable, because Nigeria has several submarine cables landing at the seashore of the country. It will be difficult to say if it was an act of sabotage since it will take a coordinated attempt to damage submarine cable, it will involve experts and sophisticated equipment to achieve such destruction. However, investigation is ongoing to ascertain the cause of the cut, and I promise to make the outcome of the investigation public.”    


A few days after the incident, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecoms industry regulator, issued a statement, informing the public that internet connectivity has been restored in Nigeria to as much as 90 per cent capacity. 

Mobile Network Operators have assured the commission that data and voice services would operate optimally pending full repairs of the undersea cables as they have managed to activate alternative connections to bring back the situation to normalcy. We extend our appreciation to telecom consumers for their patience and understanding during the downtime caused by the undersea fibre cuts.”

Giving details about the role played by WIOCC in restoring internet connectivity, the Group CEO of WIOCC, Chris Wood, in a statement, said “Data centres in South Africa and Nigeria are already protected from the impact of the subsea outages due to the unique levels of redundancy and scale of the WIOCC core backbone. In Lagos, the Equiano cable, in which WIOCC owns a fibre pair, has not been affected by the incident off Cote d‘Ivoire. WIOCC lands the cable directly into the OADC data centre, establishing the most resilient digital ecosystem hub in Lagos and offering the most direct connectivity to Europe and South Africa. As a result, OADC’s data centres and WIOCC’s hyperscale network are playing a key role in restoring services to other facilities and operators currently suffering outages in Lagos and elsewhere on the continent.”

Now that the service has been restored, it is hoped both the regulators, service providers, and users have learnt one lesson or the other to prepare them for future occurrences.

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