11 April 2018

Sierra Leone: Internet Shut Down On Election Day Oracle-Owned Internet Performance Firm Blames Outgone Government

Complicit?: NATCOM Chair Momoh Konteh is also APC Chair in Koinadugu

The internet in Sierra Leone was abruptly shut down on March 31 (run-off election day) much to the consternation of users. A report by Oracle-owned internet performance firm has since blamed the then government of Sierra Leone for the internet cut on Election Day.

"The latter country [Sierra Leone] also had a big outage on April 1, but that may well have been down to government action-African governments are notorious for interfering with citizens' internet access, particularly around election time or during periods of unrest," the report stated while acknowledging there was a disruption to the submarine cable that connects countries in the sub-region.

The National Telecommunications Commission (NATCOM), which regulates the telecom industry, denied any responsibility in the wake of the interruption as citizens pointed accusing fingers at them.

"The Commission views this misinformation with utter dismay and a calculated ploy to tarnish its image, and therefore inclined to set the record straight. The commission wishes to reiterate that as the national regulatory authority of the ICT sector, it does not provide ICT services nor does it operate a mobile network. The commission also wishes it to be made known that it did not at any time order any mobile network operator to block or suspend its internet services to the public. In fact, the commission equally suffered the said internet service disruption during this period. The commission hereby takes this opportunity to inform the general public that internet access to Sierra Leone is mainly through the Africa coast to Europe (ace) submarine cable which is managed by the Sierra Leone Cable Company (SALCAB)," the commission stated in a public notice.

They continued that as a responsible regulator, the Commission contacted SALCAB and that they were informed there was a problem with the submarine cable in Mauritania which disrupted service to Sierra Leone.

"The responsibility of ensuring constant internet access to Sierra Leone falls totally under the purview of SALCAB. NATCOM only provides oversight to ensure that such access is provided according to standard international best practice at affordable prices," the release stated.

It could be recalled that a Concord Times investigative team had reported that NACTOM had plans to 'control' social media ahead of crucial multitier elections on March 7.

NATCOM's chair and head of the All Peoples Congress in Koinadugu, Momoh Konteh, vehemently denied the claim.

But Deputy Minister of Information and Communications in the former administration, Cornelius Deveaux, said without mincing his words that government would not hesitate to shut down social media if users continue to create what he referred to as insecurity and pose threat to the peace of Sierra Leone.

Many internet users in the country say the shutdown was a deliberate ploy by NATCOM and some operatives in the former government to prevent the National Elections Commission and the then opposition party from using the internet to tally votes from across the country.

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