Some aid groups affected by mobile Internet shutdown in Somalia

    A man uses a tablet to take a photo in Mogadishu, Somalia. Lack of mobile Internet access has affected work of some aid organizations operating in the country. Photo by: TEDxPhotos / CC BY-NC

    Not only local businesses have been affected this week by the mobile Internet shutdown in Somalia — aid groups have also experienced difficulties.

    Hormuud, the country’s major telecommunications operator, closed down its mobile Internet service more than a week ago after reportedly receiving threats from al-Shabaab. A source on the ground told Devex the company had reportedly stopped paying protection money to the militant group, while other reports claim al-Shabaab feared the service was making it easier for Western intelligence agencies to spy on them.

    The shutdown has led humanitarian organizations to experience lags in communication, which is having an impact on data collection and project monitoring.

    An NGO that requested anonymity shared with Devex that retrieving reports from the field has become increasingly difficult, thereby causing delays in donor reporting and feedback.

    “There is no communication from the field team. Usually we hear from field staff at least once a week. This means we are less able to monitor projects than we were before,” said the representative from this organization, which is currently asking implementing partners to consolidate their reports in USB flash drives.

    Other aid groups, such as World Vision, use satellite connections in the form of very small aperture terminals or VSATs, leaving them unaffected by the mobile Internet shutdown. Country Director Francois Batalingaya noted data collection using mobile data could be affected, but “we are yet to get any complaint from staff.”

    Most international organizations are however more concerned about what this means for the security of their personnel. Militant attacks against aid workers are common in many parts of Somalia, one of the many reasons why international medical group Medecins Sans Frontierespulled out of the country in August. A few months before that, al-Shabaab attacked a U.N. compound in Mogadishu killing 15 people, which included three contractors and one foreign aid worker.

    “Accountability mechanisms like a call back line for recipients of aid will become more difficult if this shutdown continues, as it will make the communications less reliable. We are continuing to monitor the situation and looking to come up with alternatives if it persists,” our NGO source said.

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    About the author

    • Jenny Lei Ravelo

      Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.