Tupo wapi na Internet?


JF-Expert Member
May 22, 2021
On Sunday, Tanzania was plunged into an internet abyss due to damage to a submarine cable deep within the Indian Ocean. This outage, which affected Tanzania and 11 other African nations, exposed a troubling truth: Tanzania’s internet infrastructure was a house of cards, precariously balanced on a single point of failure. The disruption was caused by a break in Seacom’s cable over 100 kilometers off the coast of Mozambique. With a maintenance ship on site, the estimated repair timeframe of one to two weeks leaves Tanzania in a precarious position. This vulnerability stems from Tanzania’s overreliance on just two ageing submarine cable systems – Seacom and EASSY – installed over a decade ago. These cables had fostered a surge in internet usage, creating a vibrant digital landscape. However, a ship’s anchor in February severed three critical cables in the northern route due to the Houthi conflict in Yemen, leaving Tanzania dependent solely on the southern route through South Africa.

The impact of the outage was devastating. International traffic dropped by 70 percent, and traffic at the Tanzania Internet Exchange Point (TIX) plummeted by 50 percent. This crippled banks, businesses, and essential services reliant on seamless internet connectivity, leaving countless digital transactions in limbo and resulting in the loss of billions of shillings. This highlighted a stark reality: internet access is no longer a luxury but the backbone of a functioning economy and a national security imperative. Beyond the immediate crisis, the outage revealed deeper cracks in Tanzania’s internet ecosystem. Despite having two cable systems, the outage suggested a troubling single point of failure. Service providers claimed redundancy, yet the simultaneous collapse of both systems raised serious questions about their independence and reliability.

Tanzania’s reliance on just two cables proved insufficient. In contrast, Kenya, a regional leader in internet infrastructure, has weathered similar storms far better thanks to its foresighted investment in a third cable, TEAMS. This redundancy allowed Kenya to reroute traffic seamlessly, minimizing disruption. Tanzania urgently needs to diversify its internet gateways, such as connecting to Zambia’s terrestrial links. Despite Tanzania and Zambia having a shared point of presence in Tunduma, a simple 10-meter patch cord could prevent such disruptions. However, exorbitant cross-connection charges by NICTBB have hindered this crucial link, highlighting the shortsightedness of NICTBB’s business model.

The outage also revealed widespread non-compliance with regulations mandating local traffic to remain local. Banks, mobile network operators, and other organizations routinely routed domestic traffic through international routes, causing significant disruptions. Institutions using TIX, like the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA), fared much better with uninterrupted services, underscoring the importance of local content hosting. Technical limitations within Tanzania’s network engineering corps also came to light. The inability to configure systems for BGP, a critical routing protocol, hampered effective rerouting during the crisis. Misconfigured systems left users stranded in the digital abyss, revealing a dire need for expertise in this vital area.

Moreover, the outage exposed the critical vulnerability of Tanzania’s failure to develop its local internet infrastructure. Many still perceive the internet as something external, while much of what is used locally could be hosted within the country. The decision by tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft to establish local data warehouses in Tanzania was instrumental in keeping their services running smoothly during the outage. This highlights the need for Tanzania to incentivize global service providers to establish servers within its borders.

Finally, the outage served as a stark reminder of the missed opportunity for a pan-African terrestrial broadband network. Regional cooperation is vital to ensure robust internet infrastructure across the continent. By working together, African nations could create a web of interconnected terrestrial links, reducing reliance on undersea cables and fostering better business connections. The internet outage exposed critical shortcomings in Tanzania’s infrastructure. Despite surging internet use, Tanzania clings to outdated practices. Broadband is now a national security issue, and complacency is no longer acceptable. The world is a dangerous place, and if Tanzania continues to play games with serious matters, the country will one day pay a very heavy price indeed.

By Charles Makakala, a Technology and Management Consultant based in Dar es Salaam.
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