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Zimbabwe is – mostly – offline. Opposition – mostly – online.

Reports from friends in Zimbabwe suggest that the country is now largely disconnected from the internet. Utande Internet Service has a useful update dated March 5, 2009 – I reproduce it here in full so you don’t have to visit their site and further stress their servers:

Most of Zimbabwe relies upon two possible ComOne provided paths for data traffic flowing out of the country. At around 10:30 pm on Monday 2nd March the most important of these links, a 17 Mb/s Intelsat connection shown as GlobalConnex on our live Internet Weather Report, ceased operating. We are reliably informed that it was disconnected for non-payment of account but have no official word on this from ComOne.

As a result, the only outbound route available is through the 6 South African connections of 2Mb/s each. Unfortunately these microwave links have for a long time been unreliable as they are frequently affected by load shedding. Thus, when these SAIX links are down e-mails will not flow in to nor out of the country. Browsing to sites outside Zimbabwe, or outside the .zw name space is not possible either.

…. and when they are up the nation has only 40% of normal outbound data capacity.

Our systems remain fully operational but have been under stress at times from the accumulation of mail waiting for onward delivery. We have taken measures to ensure that local mail is delivered as efficiently as possible. However, international mail flow will remain a challenge and you are urged to avoid sending lengthy or unnecessary mails to reduce the impact this national problem has on the flow of important and useful messages.

As at 7am today there is no mail backlog.

We have been given no indication of when normal service will resume but past experience suggests it could easily drag on another week or more. We are also investigating alternative bandwidth sources but given the requirement that ComOne be the only gateway out of Zimbabwe this may prove difficult to achieve. In addition, alternative bandwidth of our own will not resolve the problems caused to the .zw namespace as seen from outside Zimbabwe and will not provide complete relief.

A further update will be available here as and when the situation changes.

What’s amazing is how little this has affected the news sources I use to follow the situation in Zimbabwe. While the government’s official newspaper, the Herald, is “Temporarily Unavailable” according to their otherwise inaccessible website, opposition newspapers like the Zimbabwe Times are hosted in South Africa or off the continent, and are fully accessible, reporting important stories like the aftermath of the USAID truck crash that killed Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife, Susan. (Tsvangirai has been working hard to dispel rumors that the crash was anything other than an accident.) Activist sites like Kubatana and Sokwanele are both up, and their blogs are being regularly updated.

My guess – the folks at Kubatana and Sokwanele are updating the blogs via email, posting at night when links are less congested. But I may be wrong about this – Sokwanele’s recent posts include images, and Kubatana’s are pretty link heavy, implying web browsing as well as posting. That said, other friends in Zimbabwe have reported via email that it’s virtually impossible to browse and that they’re limited to sending emails in the middle of the night.

One way or another, I continue to be amazed at the resilience of my Zimbabwean friends, in the face of incredible challenges. It’s amazing enough that people are finding ways to find food and water for their families in the current circumstances – to find ways to update the rest of the world on the situation in this country despite these obstacles is pretty incredible. I hope a recognition of the sacrifices Zimbabweans are making to communicate their circumstances and struggles might motivate more people to pay attention to what’s going on in the country.

4 thoughts on “Zimbabwe is – mostly – offline. Opposition – mostly – online.”

  1. Hi there Ethan

    A short update from the land of make do! Since Friday I’ve been bathing in the pool and cooking on a little gas camping stove – does wonders for the figure and experimental cooking!

    Last week we did experience some disruption in our connectivity because our service provider (YoAfrica) was having difficulties. If I recall correctly they said their equipment had been hit by lightning. So pretty much we’ve been at work during the day during our regular stuff.

    On Friday night when we heard of the car crash one of our colleagues used a dial up connection to access the Gateway we use and we sent out a bulk text message to our users.


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