MTN Briefly Cut Internet Access Amid Military Conflict In Sudan

By  |  April 17, 2023

For a few hours on Sunday, April 16th, the Sudanese unit of MTN, Africa’s largest telecoms operator by market share, shuttered its customers’ access to the internet upon receiving orders from the industry’s regulator. 

The directive came as a result of rising conflicts in the country’s capital Khartoum, where violence between the state army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group, threatened to escalate and throw the country into a vortex of turmoil. 

The RSF, which was formerly operated by the Sudanese government, is [now] under the control of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo (also known as Hemedti), deputy head of the country’s transitional governing Sovereign Council. The army division, on the other hand, answers to General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who is the [overall] head of the said Council.

According to reports that came in the same day, the army seemed to have demonstrated paramountcy in the faceoff. After they brought the situation under control, the Telecommunications and Post Regulatory Authority (TPRA) ordered [for] the internet to be restored. Customers have confirmed that they once again have access. 

MTN commands around 37 percent of the traditional communication and data sectors in Sudan and has about 2,400 network deployment sites across the country. 

There are 45 million people in the market, and MTN is one of the leaders in the space. In July 2022, the operator signed a USD 125 M network-as-a-service contract with NuRAN, a Canadian infrastructure service, to expand its rural network in the country. 

The armed conflict, which has claimed hundreds of lives and injured over a thousand, is the latest misadventure in a series of conflicts between two groups competing for power. After Sudan’s military coup in 2021, the underlying political factions have been fighting for the establishment of a transitional government. 

Interestingly, Sudan also restricted internet access shortly after the military takeover; Sudanese citizens engaged in demonstrations aimed at placating for democracy.

Shutting down the internet amidst unrest is not uncommon in Africa. In Ethiopia, access was restricted for over 2 years to quell a tribal war in the Tigray region. In other countries like Sierra Leone, Somaliland, and Zimbabwe, access has been barred to quell protests. 

A 2023 Access Now report states that though internet disruptions have reduced across the continent, authorities are yet to completely wash their hands completely off such censorship. 

While the factions continue to tussle beyond Khartoum, international powers, including the U.S., Nigeria, South Sudan and Egypt, have called for a ceasefire and urged the warring factions to find ways to peacefully negotiate a resolution. 

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