Somalia is in its third week of an internet blackout and it’s hurting grassroots aid relief efforts

Displaced women from drought hit areas wait to fill their jerrycans as in Dollow, Somalia (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

Mogadishu-The internet has been down in Somalia since June 24, when an anchor from a Swiss-owned ship, MSC Alice, cut the single fibre cable that links Somalia to the rest of the world.

The fallout has been immense, with the government declaring that the country is losing $10 million a day in business.

Somalia already has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world with penetration rates believed to be under 2%, according to the World Bank but local groups have used the platform to organize relief efforts on the ground particularly with remote areas. The most recent update from the government is that the Internet will be not be fixed until 25 July.

The Horn of Africa country is currently in the middle of one of its worst-ever humanitarian crisis involving drought, cholera epidemic and hunger crisis. Local relief efforts, like the Caawi Walaal campaign, are underreported casualties of the outage.

Caawi Walaal is a Somali grassroots initiative that has often been the first responder on the ground to the trifecta of emergencies that have plagued the country, killed thousands and displaced almost 600,000 in less than a year. As the campaign is Somali-driven, the group says it’s been able to access the neediest areas before the UN and other large international NGO’s arrive—if they can get there at all.

Caawi Walaal translates to” help you brother or sister” in Somali. The millennial movement depends on social media and a 50 person WhatsApp group to maintain momentum and donations, and to coordinate between the volunteers on the ground and the co-founders who are in the capital, Mogadishu, or are part of Somalia’s vibrant diaspora, in the UK and Sweden.

“It’s another blow to our coordination and communication over Caawi Walaal,” co-founder Abdihakim Ainte a Somali who lives in Sweden.The group has so far raised more than $100,000 in individual donations since it launched in January and has won praise from the European Union, the UN, local and international media. Crisis Group described the Caawi Walaal “the most significant local endeavor” to contribute to the humanitarian relief work.

Transparency International has ranked Somalia as the most corrupt country for ten years running, and Ahmed Ibrahim, a Mogadishu-based co-founder is insistent that sharing proof of donations productively used is of the utmost importance to the diaspora donors.

Privileged Somalis in Mogadishu can access Internet every few days via satellite, but the blackout has been nearly complete outside the capital.

The biggest problem for Caawi Walaal is the lost contact to the remote villages the group uniquely able to access. Without Internet, Caawi Walaal struggles to leverage local contacts and connect them to major towns, Mogadishu and the diaspora that can offer valuable assistance.

“We’ve lost this big connection of wider community,” explained Ibrahim. For example, Mahaas, a small village in the Hiiraan region that is surrounded by the Islamic fundamentalist terror group al Shabaab, had never received donations from the UN or any aid group, claims Ibrahim.

The villagers in Mahaas couldn’t even wait for the water to be unloaded from the truck before they jumped it and started drinking. There had been a severe shortage that March, and they’d not been washing themselves as they’d only been using very bare minimum as drinking water.

Mahaas doesn’t have Internet, but after the water was brought a volunteer traveled from the village to a main town to send photos and video of the deliverable. Ibrahim is upset about the situation. “The frustration is that we thought it would be fixed in two or three days, and now it’s been almost a month.”


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