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Internet Blackout

Gambians Sunday experienced digital blackout after internet connections across the country went down for up to eight hours for many consumers.

Internet lines from the service providers went off at around 6pm, interrupting businesses and communication. A message from Africell to its customers last night said: “Dear subscriber a fault on the ACE cable system is disrupting the internet nationwide,” Africell wrote to its customers. “The service will be restored as soon as possible. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Africell’s message to its customers

QCell announced early Monday that its internet services were down due to an issue with the National ACE Gateway. “We are working with the ACE team to resolve the issue asap,” it wrote to its customers.

Many of the consumers were taken aback by the blackout. “: I thought something was up with my phone or because I am in URR so I kept restarting my phone,” said Lala Touray who used internet on her phone.

For journalist Alieu Ceesay, the issue was not just about the internet blackout but also the way it the problem was managed. “Service providers need an effective PR not only for promotional purposes but how to help manage crisis. The internet problem, yesterday, from a crisis management point of view, was not well managed. Timely communication on the cause (s) of the internet problem was lately communicated to users. I hope they improve on their PR!!”

The problem has been blamed on a maintenance work of the ACE submarine cable. But for business owners like Alhajie Camara who sells men’s wear online, it was a loss of earning. “I do small business based on the social media, especially Whatsapp because all my communication come through Whatsapp – how/when/where to receive goods or deliver them. So when the internet is stopped, my business is stopped.”

According to him, he cancels his business trip to Senegal due to lack of communication between him and his partner.

Bakary Jadama, a network administrator argued that The Gambia is not making technology a priority, nor is the country serious about solidifying it. He questioned the government encouragement of investors and developers to localise traffic and services when it has only a single point of failure for its internet connectivity.

Ace Submarine Cable route photo credit: PURA

“Imagine what happens to companies whose services are hosted on the cloud and it is predominantly accessed by Gambian’s, or say a company that is running an online shopping service and it is hosting its services within Gambia as a way of localising traffic and keeping bandwidth within (which is very beneficial to local service providers especially Gamtel). Imagine an 8 hour straight internet downtime for those businesses.”

For Saikou Bah, an internet consumer, the outage was a lack of effective contingency planning and effective monitoring system. He’s worried that the authorities might use maintenance as an excuse to control internet in the future.

“Government can always take an excuse to say the ACE cable has a problem if they intend to do any form of dubious act. They can use that to suppress the media (social media) anytime they wish,” he told The Chronicle.

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