Internet Quality in a Time of Covid-19: a tale of five African cities

It’s not just the Economy which takes a hit under COVID-19 lockdowns in Africa. Access to critical information and services on the Internet can also be a casualty.

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, March 19, 2020. A busy street in the Mont Ngafula district of the capital. Even though much of Kinshasa had been put on lockdown that day, streets were often still crowded. People continue trying to make a living; much of the population survives on less than $2 per day. [Image and caption © Justin Makangara for Fondation Carmignac]

ub-Saharan African countries face unique challenges around the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, countries in this region that suffer from economic inequality and poor governance have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

In an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 many countries have adopted lockdown-style policies of varying levels of severity. As people increasingly rely on the internet for remote working and entertainment needs, demand for internet services can increase dramatically. In many cases, this also translates to measurable increases in internet pressure. By observing patterns and fluctuations in internet pressure, we can gain insights into the success of lockdown measures by understanding the demand for internet services in a given region. We can also draw comparisons between lockdown compliance, civil liberties and political freedoms using the democratic freedom rating system developed by Freedom House.

While government corruption, poor communication from officials, and poverty all contribute to the relative success of lockdown policies in Sub-Saharan African countries, many countries have also faced significant indirect economic shocks due to the pandemic. In early March, Saudi Arabia announced an oil price war, which entailed huge economic implications for OPEC countries. In particular, Sub-Saharan nations Nigeria and Angola, who are highly dependent on oil exports, continue to suffer from significant economic blows following this announcement.

We will focus on internet pressure insights from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Nigeria in conjunction with freedom ratings, unique policy approaches and journalistic reports of conditions on the ground.

Kinshasa // Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a Central African country with a population of ~84 million people, with approximately 11.86 million living in the capital city, Kinshasa.

DRC is a country rich in natural resources. However, this wealth is poorly disseminated amongst its population, who are subject to a corrupt government system, stark inequality and frequent human rights abuses. The World Bank estimates that approximately 70% of the population lives on less than $1.90 per day, which is considered extreme poverty.

In a country where distrust and misinformation are rife, COVID-19 presents a unique challenge for the people of DRC. With recent experience in managing diseases such as Ebola and measles, we might expect the country to be well-equipped to manage infectious diseases. However, strict lockdown measures mean that many Congolese are unable to earn the income they need to survive day-to-day. In the early stages of lockdown, people were reluctant to stay home in Kinshasa; in early June, hundreds turned out to protest the closure of markets and workplaces in the main city. Furthermore, the success of COVID-19 policy in DRC has been encumbered by misleading official messages, mixed reporting and lack of testing.

Key: Blue line indicates latency experienced, by day, in the given city, relative to a pre-Lockdown baseline period. The shaded region gives a 95% confidence interval from the baseline period, implying that measurements outside of the shaded region can be considered anomalous.

Luanda // Angola

Angola shares an inland border with DRC, and has a population of ~30.81 million people, of which 2.57 million live in the capital, Luanda.

While Angola has made some progress towards political rights and civil liberties, citizens still face endemic corruption by the government, and frequent human rights abuses. Another country rich in natural resources, around 50% of Angola’s GDP comes from oil. With oil prices plummeting as a result of COVID-19, Angola is extremely vulnerable to significant economic downfall and further instability as a result of this price shock.

As is the case in DRC, most of the wealth is held by a small percentage of the population, with two thirds of Angolans living on less than $2 a day. Such severe conditions make the people of these countries especially vulnerable to infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Individuals and their communities are heavily disadvantaged by lockdown policies, and in many cases, must prioritise providing for their families over complying with social distancing restrictions.

Key: Blue line indicates latency experienced, by day, in the given city, relative to a pre-Lockdown baseline period. The shaded region gives a 95% confidence interval from the baseline period, implying that measurements outside of the shaded region can be considered anomalous.

Lagos // Nigeria

Nigeria has the largest population in Africa at 206 million, along with the largest economy — it is also Africa’s largest oil producer, supplying 3.8% of the world’s oil in 2018. However, the cost of oil production in Nigeria is high, with the breakeven price estimated to be close to $144 per barrel. When oil prices plummeted to around $30 per barrel in mid March, Nigeria braced for economic shockwaves that would rattle their economic system for months to come.

The oil price shock in Nigeria piled on top of the disruptive lockdown laws that were implemented in mid-March. Around this time, we observed a monumental spike in internet pressure in the capital city of Lagos, which is home to ~17.5 million people. However, the spike was relatively short-lived, returning down to +10 index points above the baseline by the end of March. This could suggest an operational shift in bandwidth capacity, as was seen in Botswana.

Key: Blue line indicates latency experienced, by day, in the given city, relative to a pre-Lockdown baseline period. The shaded region gives a 95% confidence interval from the baseline period, implying that measurements outside of the shaded region can be considered anomalous.

Gabarone // Botswana

Botswana is an inland country in Southern Africa that shares borders with South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It has a population of only ~2.25 million, a number that is dwarfed by the likes of DRC and Nigeria, and boasts the fourth highest GDP per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa. The political landscape in Botswana is a stable democracy, and the response to COVID-19 so far has been rooted in clear, informative communication from officials. This provides a foundation of trust and reassurance, allowing for greater reception of public health messages.

Being landlocked, Botswana’s internet is first routed through South Africa, where it is subject to their constraints. Since the implementation of lockdown measures, many countries and streaming sites have taken measures to increase bandwidth and ease congestion on the internet.

In Botswana, the sudden dip in internet pressure after the 2nd of April is characteristic of a sudden change in capacity, suggesting functional adjustments as opposed to behavioural shifts. However, the gradual climb in the days preceding this date likely demonstrates an increased demand for information as it was released as well as an increase in the number of people working from home.

Key: Blue line indicates latency experienced, by day, in the given city, relative to a pre-Lockdown baseline period. The shaded region gives a 95% confidence interval from the baseline period, implying that measurements outside of the shaded region can be considered anomalous.

Windhoek // Namibia

Similar in size to Botswana, Namibia has a population of ~2.44 million people. The capital, Windhoek, is home to approximately 300,000 people.

Namibia has a strong economy and freely elected democratic government, and their policy responses to the pandemic have been well-received overall. Furthermore, the country has successfully managed the spread of COVID-19, which can partially be attributed to the sparse population as well as compliance with lockdown procedures.

Key: Blue line indicates latency experienced, by day, in the given city, relative to a pre-Lockdown baseline period. The shaded region gives a 95% confidence interval from the baseline period, implying that measurements outside of the shaded region can be considered anomalous.

Our Methodology

To generate the data behind these observations, we combine a commercially available geo-located IP database with our powerful scanning technology which measures the online or offline status of millions of Internet addresses globally every hour.

Our observational methodology uses the most basic Internet messaging protocol that is widely used billions of times a day to establish routes for your email, tweet, or share. After developing a carefully selected set of Internet addresses (IPs) to measure, we periodically send them one of these tiny messages, essentially asking, ‘Are on you online?’. These online/offline answers form the basis for our ‘connectivity’ indicators.

In addition, we also receive back from these measurements the responsiveness, or latency, of the IP (measured in round-trip-time, or rtt). Latency is a reasonable proxy for the experienced speed of connection, especially for any user who is interacting with a major social platform where even basic chat activities to other users nearby must travel to a server well beyond national borders (and back again).

Importantly, the IP Observatory has no access to any content being shared, viewed, visited, or generated by a user at a given IP, and all IP Observatory activity works in aggregates of thousands of randomly sampled measurements across geo-spatial sub-regions.

Acknowledgement: Hayley Lock assisted with writing, background research and analysis in the preparation of this article.

The mission of the Monash University IP Observatory — ‘internet insights for social good’ — is to monitor the availability and quality of the Internet during critical events such as elections, natural disasters or conflicts. The IP-Observatory is fully compliant with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (EU-GDPR). The IP-Observatory does not collect, hold or process personal data. The IP Observatory was founded by Klaus Ackermann, lecturer in Econometrics and Business Statistics, and Simon Angus, and Paul Raschky, Associate Professors in Economics. The observatory is a project of SoDa Laboratories at the Monash Business School, and tweets @IP_Observatory.

Insights @ Monash University IP Observatory

The IP Observatory by @therealSodaLabs at Monash University…

The Monash IP Observatory

Written by

Internet insights for social good from our global observational and analysis platform, Monash University, Australia. ip-observatory.org @IP_Observatory

Insights @ Monash University IP Observatory

The IP Observatory by @therealSodaLabs at Monash University (Australia) observes, in near real time, the quality of the internet at any location on the globe. Here we share timely insights and context, with visual flair, for social good.

The Monash IP Observatory

Written by

Internet insights for social good from our global observational and analysis platform, Monash University, Australia. ip-observatory.org @IP_Observatory

Insights @ Monash University IP Observatory

The IP Observatory by @therealSodaLabs at Monash University (Australia) observes, in near real time, the quality of the internet at any location on the globe. Here we share timely insights and context, with visual flair, for social good.

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