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Togo struggles to get back online after cable fault shut down much of West Africa

posted 17 May 2011, 08:59 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 17 May 2011, 09:02 ]

Residents of Togo, as well as large parts of West Africa struggle to get internet access following an undersea cable fault that has caused near zero connectivity in Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.

LOME, TOGO (MAY 14, 2011) REUTERS - 
Large parts of West Africa are struggling to regain internet connection, following damage to an undersea cable that has left some of the region's countries isolated.

The fault, due to a problem with the submarine cable SAT-3 linking several West African countries has caused severe damages in Togo, Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso, which has also led to huge losses for businesses in the region.

Many internet cafés in Togo have shut down for a week pending the restoration of the internet service.

Fabrice Momba lives in the capital Lome. He said the problem has disrupted research for his studies.

"We are trying to go on online but the connection is very bad. We cannot even check our e-mails," he said.

The outage has affected businesses, schools, the banking sector and mobile phone networks have also suffered from the interruption.

This computer science center at the University of Lome has come to a standstill.

"This has really affected us given that this is the center of all our daily internet activity. On that particular day, we had planned a series of exams," said Arnaud Amelina, technical director of the computer science center at the university.

Tidiane Bila, who heads the O Voyages travel agency in Lome says the company has suffered considerable losses and continues to loose customers daily while the problem persists.

"We had days where we didn't conduct any business, days where we couldn't make any sales, due to the lack of internet connection. This means that we cannot recuperate the lost days. It's a huge loss and we cannot give you the overall figure at the moment on the damage from the loss of business, but it's quite considerable," said Billa.

According to Sam Bikassam, head of Togo Telecom, the country's internet provider, said the submarine cable SAT -3 in the waters of West Africa was hit by a boat that didn't dock properly.

"There were two cuts that took place at the same time in area in the sea which is situated in Benin because that is the country that is closest to ours, and that is where we depended to get most of our internet capacity from. So I think that the problems began when a boat docked badly and hit the undersea cable and cut it, so we were completely isolated. At the same time, there were also cable problems in Ivory Coast, where we get our back up from, which made Togo, as well as Benin, both countries, even Niger, to be tollay isolated," said Bikassam.

He said the company is currently working on the problem but the alternative solution at the moment is to borrow or buy internet capacity from neighboring countries such as Senegal, as repairing the cable may take several months.

In 2009, West Africa was hit by the same problem, where damage to the same SAT-3 cable caused many of the region's countries to have little or no internet connectivity.