Internet services disrupted as Kenyans stage anti-tax protests

Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) Director General, David Mugonyi.

Photo credit: File | Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The country has been hit by internet disruptions on the day anti-Finance Bill protests were held across the country, despite the communications regulator earlier dispelling fears of a possible disruption.

Global internet governance and cybersecurity tracking organisation NetBlocks on Tuesday confirmed they had detected “a major network disruption” in Kenya just moments after protesters stormed parliament.

“Live network data show a major disruption to internet connectivity in Kenya; the incident comes amidst a deadly crackdown by police on #RejectFinanceBill2024 protesters a day after authorities claimed there would be no internet shutdown,” Netblocks said Tuesday.

This came after several Kenyans took to social media to complain about slowing internet speed even as some social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter) remained inaccessible for some hours on Tuesday afternoon.

Kenya’s largest network operator Safaricom, in which the State has a 35 percent stake, blamed the internet slowdown on an outage of two undersea cables.

“We have activated redundancy measures to minimise service interruption and keep you connected as we await full restoration of the cables,” the telco said in a statement Tuesday.

The internet disruption comes despite the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) dispelling such fears a day earlier after several civil society groups raised concerns over possible interference due to the protests.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the authority has no intention whatsoever to shut down internet traffic or interfere with the quality of connectivity,” CA director-general David Mugonyi said on Monday.

“Such actions would be a betrayal of the Constitution as a whole, the freedom of expression in particular and our own ethos.”

Mr Mugonyi further added that disrupting internet connectivity in the country “would also sabotage our fast-growing digital economy as internet connectivity supports thousands of livelihoods across the country.”

Data from NetBlocks revealed that internet connectivity strength in Kenya dropped sharply from 100 percent to about 42 percent on Tuesday evening, severely straining internet access in the country.

However, not only Kenya was impacted.

“The ongoing internet disruption has impacted Kenya as well as neighbouring countries including Uganda and Burundi; the incident is likely to limit coverage of events on the ground where protests are held,” NetBlocks added.

In Uganda and Burundi, internet connectivity strength fell to 47 percent while in Rwanda it fell to 78 percent. All three countries rely on undersea cables passing through Kenya.

Such internet shutdowns have been shown to be costly to economies, with every hour of outage causing a loss of millions of shillings to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In Kenya, for every hour of total internet shutdown, the country loses about Sh1.8 billion of its GDP, according to NetBlock’s cost of internet shutdown calculator. An hour of disruption of X causes a loss of about Sh462 million.

On Monday, civil society groups raised concerns over a potential internet disruption on Tuesday during the planned anti-tax protests, saying it would be a “gross violation of human rights.”

“The internet and mass media are critical for the enjoyment of the public’s right to be informed citizen’s self-expression, e-commerce and the digital economy that is responsible for close to 10 percent of the GDP,” said the civil society organisations in a statement Monday.

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