Senegal’s internet shutdown threatens business losses

As Senegal faces an internet shutdown, businesses are bracing for potential losses amid widespread protests and restricted access to social media platforms.


Image : harvepino / Adobe Stock

Senegal has experienced an internet blackout since 1 June due to widespread protests following the sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

Access to social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, and others has been restricted, and a mobile internet shutdown has been implemented at specific time slots, although the exact timing remains unclear. The country is home to 10.2m internet users, representing approximately 58% of the population.

Protests erupted in Dakar and other major cities last Thursday after Ousmane Sonko was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of “corrupting youth” after being acquitted of rape.

Sonko’s supporters, primarily young people, argue that the charges are politically motivated and designed to prevent him from participating in the 2024 presidential elections. According to government figures, these demonstrations have resulted in the deaths of 16 people within three days.

The Ministry of Communication in Senegal stated that the internet shutdown was implemented to prevent “the dissemination of subversive and hateful messages in a context of public disorder”.

Netblocks, a London-based organisation that monitors cybersecurity and internet governance worldwide, published an article last Thursday recommending “against network disruptions and social media restrictions due to their disproportionate impact on fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly”.

“Billions are at stake”

In addition to hindering opposition protests, the internet shutdown poses a threat to the profitability of many businesses in Senegal. With internet penetration rates increasing from 10% in 2011 to 58% in 2021, numerous small enterprises in the informal sector depend heavily on internet connectivity for their day-to-day operations.

According to Netblocks’ Cost of Shutdown Tool, a nationwide internet shutdown in Senegal is estimated to result in an approximate GDP impact of $8m per day.

“A major industrialist told me just before the outbreak that May had been his worst month in over a decade, but June is going to break all records,” Emmanuel Boquet, a venture builder at GreenTec Capital, a Frankfurt-based investment fund operating in eight African countries including Senegal, told African Business.

Boquet also expressed concerns about the potential long-term consequences for the business sentiment in Senegal. “The Dakar marketplace will lose its reputation for reliability and security, and billions of dollars are at stake: major investments, the headquarters of multinationals and major NGOs, international contracts, etc,” he said.

To bypass the shutdown, many people in Senegal are now using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which allow the creation of secure and encrypted connections between devices and networks.

According to TOP10VPN, a VPN review website and research agency, demand for VPNs in Senegal increased by over 8,000% on Thursday compared to the daily average of the previous 30 days, with a further rise of over 20,000% on Friday. “This is the largest increase in VPN demand we have ever recorded,” they said.

But VPNs are primarily utilised by individuals and can become costly when applied on a company-wide scale. Information regarding the end of the shutdown has not been disclosed, and Senegalese President Macky Sall has remained silent on the matter.

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Leo Komminoth

Leo is tech reporter for African Business, based in Dakar, and also works on data visualisations.