UPDATE [JANUARY 19, 2020]: According to an SMS broadcast from MTN, service has been restored for most subscribers across the region.
“We’re glad to report that we have resolved all issues with our internet service,” the text message reads, “We apologise for the inconvenience.”
This is a developing story. Original article continues below.
If you’ve been having challenges connecting to the internet, or making international calls, via MTN since Thursday evening, you are not alone. It’s the same for many MTN users across West Africa.
“We apologise for challenges you may be experiencing with slow internet speeds or accessing data services at the moment,” read an official statement from MTN Nigeria at 11:37 p.m. (WAT) on January 16, “This is as a result of damage to the international undersea cable. Our engineers are working to resolve these challenges as soon as possible. Please bear with us and look out for further updates.”
— MTN Nigeria Support (@MTN180) January 16, 2020
MTN Ghana, MTN Cameroon and MTN Cote d’ivoire published similar statements.
— MTN Ghana (@MTNGhana) January 16, 2020
Toutes nos excuses pour ce désagrément pic.twitter.com/MYJVQoRGKy
— MTN Cote d'Ivoire (@MTNCotedIvoire) January 17, 2020
However, as of press time, almost 24 hours after the issue started, many MTN users are still experiencing spotty service.
The undersea cable referenced in the official statements is most likely the West Africa Cable System (WACS), which MTN partly owns. Linking South Africa with the United Kingdom, via the west coast of Africa, the WACS serves a sizeable number of internet users across the region, many of whom are MTN users.
Bloomberg reports damages to the WACS cable originated near Libreville, Gabon and Luanda in Angola.
Some countries seem to have it worse than others. According to The Chronicles Rwanda, there is a near-internet blackout in DR Congo, with government scrambling to restore connectivity from other sources.
UPDATE: Internet blackout hits DR Congo after breakdown of the West Africa Cable System (WACS). Nearly all internet users, except those using Orange telecom, are offline. Reports say government is locked in crisis meetings to restore connectivity from other sources pic.twitter.com/mOr5ddkueU
— The Chronicles (@ChroniclesRW) January 16, 2020
In Nigeria, MTN has the lion’s share of mobile internet users, having gained twice more internet subscribers than closest rival, Airtel in 2019 alone.
This is not the first time damages to submarine cables will result in mass internet outages in West Africa. In fact, it’s shaping up to be a yearly affair.
In 2017, a fault along MainOne’s 14,000km submarine cable system caused disruptions across West Africa too.
In 2018 also, about 10 West African countries were completely offline for 48 hours, due to damages to the African Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable.
There’s no telling what compounding negative effects such regular mass outages could pose to the region.
Beyond outages brought about by infrastructural challenges, Africans also have to contend with government-induced outages. According to a recent report by Top10VPN, Sub-Saharan Africa lost $2.16 billion to internet censorship in 2019.