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Undersea cable failures cause Internet disruptions for multiple African countries


4 min read
Undersea cable failures cause Internet disruptions for multiple African countries

Internet connectivity in several African countries was disrupted today, March 14, 2024. Beginning at approximately 05:00 UTC, west and central African countries were most impacted, as was South Africa. Based on published reports and social media posts from impacted network providers, the disruption is believed to be due to multiple undersea cable failures in the region. From The Gambia to Côte d'Ivoire, including a major network in South Africa (Vodacom), a total of 13 African countries were impacted, based on our observations.

Cloudflare Radar data shows a pattern of disruptions from the north to the south of West Africa over time. It began south of Senegal, with The Gambia, Guinea, and Liberia experiencing disruptions around 05:00 UTC.

In The Gambia and Guinea, the disruptions lasted about 30 minutes, while in Liberia, the disruption has lasted more than 12 hours.

Moving south, around 07:30 UTC, disruptions were observed in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.

Niger, a landlocked nation in Central Africa, experienced a disruption at 09:15, lasting just over two hours.

This was followed by disruptions starting around 10:30 UTC in Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, and Togo. Namibia and Burkina Faso were also impacted. These disruptions were ongoing at the time of writing.

At approximately the same time, a significant disruption was observed on Vodacom’s South African network (AS29975). Traffic began to recover after 13:30 UTC, and appears to have reached close to normal levels by 16:00 UTC.

The importance of submarine cables

This series of disruptions serves as a reminder of how dependent the Internet is on submarine cables, which are estimated to carry over 90% of intercontinental data traffic. Only a small percentage of general use is done via satellite networks. There are 529 active submarine cables and 1,444 landings that are currently active or under construction, running to an estimated 1.3 million km around the globe.

We have written about submarine cable-related outages before, from Tonga to the AAE-1 & SMW5 cable cuts of June 2022.

Reports from several local networks, including South Africa’s Vodacom, MTN in Nigeria, and Celtiis in Bénin, reference multiple submarine cable failures. Microsoft was more detailed, stating on their Azure status page that “multiple fiber cables on the West Coast of Africa — WACS, MainOne, SAT3, ACE — have been impacted which reduced total capacity supporting our Regions in South Africa”. The company also explains that the recent cable cuts in the Red Sea in combination with today’s cable issues, “has impacted all Africa capacity”.

In addition to the impacts to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, the website of MainOne, owners of the MainOne submarine cable, was offline for several hours. DNS for is handled by name servers located in MainOne’s address space. It appears that a portion of the IPv4 address space for AS37282 (MAINONE) stopped being announced between 07:30 and 15:00 UTC, and once this address space was being routed again, both the nameservers and website became reachable.

This map from TeleGeography highlights the impacted submarine cables: WACS (West Africa Cable System), MainOne, SAT-3/WASC, and ACE.

The disruptions are now being reported by news media outlets, including in South Africa, where the emphasis is not only on the latest outage but also on the problem with the submarine cable operator Seacom. This operator experienced a service-impacting outage on its cable system in the Red Sea. On March 8, the company stated that it is waiting for permits to start repairing its broken submarine cable in the Red Sea.

We will keep monitoring the situation. Follow the Cloudflare Radar Outage Center for the latest updates, and follow us on social media at @CloudflareRadar (X), (Mastodon), and (Bluesky).

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João Tomé|@emot
David Belson|@dbelson

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