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Light in the dark: Sudanese internet users find alternatives amidst blackout4 minutes read

In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access

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Light in the dark: Sudanese internet users find alternatives amidst blackout

In a lush garden cafe in Sudan’s capital, a group of youngsters sit eyes glued to mobile phone screens, seeking ways to by-pass an internet blackout imposed by army rulers.

“It’s as if we have gone back in time — we are cut-off from everything, even from the outside world,” said Mohamed Omar, 25, sitting around a wooden table with his friends at the cafe in an upscale Khartoum district.

“Internet is what allows us to know what’s happening inside the country and outside.”

Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections has been widely cut across Sudan since the violent dispersal of a protest camp outside army headquarters on June 3 that left dozens dead and hundreds wounded.

The ruling military council imposed the blackout to prevent further mobilisation of protesters, according to users.

“They cut the internet so that people can not communicate, to prevent (them from) gathering,” said Omar, who has regularly attended the protests that rocked Khartoum for months.

Initial protests were sparked by a tripling of bread prices in December, and led to the downfall of long-time president Omar al-Bashir on April 11.

But the protesters did not stop there, quickly demanding that the military council that seized power hand over to civilian rule. 

Even routine activities like checking social media or booking a taxi through an online app has now become nearly impossible.

“My parents live abroad, the internet was our only means of communication,” said Omar, sporting a neat goatee and an elegant knee-length truffle grey tunic.

“Before, we could see each other by video, now I have to (make an international) call,” he added.

‘Gross violation’ –

At the cafe, some sat around wooden tables, while others typed on their phones and some browsed on their laptops.  

Here, an hour of internet costs 50 Sudanese pounds, which is approximately one dollar.

Generally across Sudan, the internet is now accessible only through land telephone lines or fibre optic cables, and the connection is erratic. 

In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cyber cafes that offer rare access.

At the shops’ entrances, men and women — sitting, standing or leaning against the walls — have their eyes fixed to their mobile phones. 

“Cutting the internet is one of the means by the military council to widen the gap between (the protest movement) and the people,” prominent protest leader, Mohamed Naji al-Assam told reporters this week.

The impact of the blackout was felt Tuesday night when few came out onto the streets, even as protest leaders called for new night-time demonstrations.

Human Rights Watch slammed the blackout as a “gross violation”.

“Governments that seek to repress peaceful political opposition have in many instances cut off internet access during times of political sensitivity and crisis,” the rights group said in a report on June 12.

For the generals, the internet and social media are a threat.

“Regarding social media, we see during this period that it represents a threat for the security of the country and we will not allow that,” military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters last week.

And on Wednesday, the authorities prevented a consumer protection association from holding a press conference on the internet blackout.

‘People still communicate’ –

Businesses, hit by the blackout, are struggling to keep their services going.  

Kamal, an employee of an international travel agency, said his company — which regularly books tickets for embassies and UN agencies — has been forced to make bookings through phone calls and text messages, because they can’t access the internet.

“We get calls from our clients, then we call our back office in Nairobi. It is they who book the ticket and text us the ticket number,” he said.

“We forward the ticket number to the client, who then goes to the airport to take the boarding pass from the airport counter itself.”

“If a ticket needs to be modified, we used to do it from our system itself… but now we (have to) send people to the airline office.”

Other Sudanese travel agencies were shut for several days this month after protest leaders launched a civil disobedience movement, in the wake of the crackdown on protesters.

“Earlier, four, five, six or seven tickets could be booked in one day, but now, it takes four days to book just one ticket,” said travel agent, Hoiam whose agency was shut during the disobedience campaign.

The main factor was the “very poor” internet connection at her office, she said.

The internet blackout has been imposed by the generals “to put an end to the revolution,” she said.

“But still, with or without internet, people manage to communicate.”

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Feature News

The murky waters of illegal migration

In spite of the possibility of death, Africans keep attempting to reach Europe via international waterways

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The possibility of death in the high seas does not deter migrants who wish to escape the continent. Photo Credit: Bangkok Post

At all material times of the year, more than a few Africans make the decision to take to the high seas in search of a better life outside the continent. Stories have been told of how perilous the journey usually turns out to be, but these people set out in defiance, choosing to risk it all in the search of more comfortable existence. Visas are hard to come by, not least due to the negative reputation and stereotypes attributed to (black) Africans, so they opt for the long, tortuous journey that involves passing through the cold Mediterranean Sea and the unforgiving Sahara Desert.

The path is usually dangerous, with travelers getting exposed to the elements as they play out in full force across the ocean, and also being at the mercy of snakes and jackals in the desert. The ultimate peril, however, is being swindled by agents – the middlemen who make the travel arrangements – and playing into the hands of smugglers, who detain them when the agents in question don’t pay for “safe passage” in full. The migrants then have to pay exorbitant amounts of money – to the tune of $2,500 – to regain their freedom and resume their journey, or otherwise face the horror of enslavement. Libya, one of the major stops on the journey to Europe, is known for its slave markets, where men have to work as artisans and women are trafficked as sex slaves. The CNN special report on Libya’s slave markets which aired in November 2017 shed light on the ugly situation.

In analysing the fate of migrants who take to water and sand in search of greener pastures, one is sure to stumble on scary figures. In 2015, more than 3,770 people perished in an attempt to get into Europe via the Mediterranean. In August 2015, two boats capsized off the coast of Libya, with 160 bodies found floating in the water. In November 2017, about 26 Nigerian women were reported to have drowned in the Mediterranean. According to the African Centre for Strategic Studies, 79% of African migrants that entered Italy via Libya in early 2017 reported experiencing extortion, torture or outright bondage.

These experiences, however, seem not to deter people who intend to leave Africa by way of illegal migration. Boats still depart the shores of the continent’s rivers every now and then, many hoping to make it into Europe in spite of what they have heard. Just days ago, it was reported that 62 people – including children – died when a boat capsized off the coast of Mauritania. The boat, which was carrying about 150 people, departed from Gambia one week prior, and had run out of fuel, eventually capsizing after being stranded for days.

The fact that more people are embarking on these dangerous journeys in spite of the attendant risks is an indictment on the socio-political systems and living conditions across African countries. If there were adequate educational and health facilities, if the economies in these countries were remotely functioning, if people were not afraid of losing their lives for daring to oppose the government, then it is fair to reason that we would not witness mass migration of this volume. Wealthy and middle-class citizens are finding their way to First World countries through educational programs and asylum applications, while the poor have to settle for unseaworthy boats. Either way, Africans in large numbers continue to choose the possibility of death in the Mediterranean over remaining in Africa.

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Entertainment

Sugar Rush Is Back In Nigerian Cinemas

The movie has returned to Nigerian cinemas just about a week after its suspension.

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Nigerian action-comedy film, Sugar Rush is finally back at the cinemas after being suspended from screening by the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) over the weekend.

Yesterday, January 16, Jade Osiberu, the producer of the movie announced its return on her Instagram page. She further thanked fans, well-wishers and the NFVCB.

“We got such an outpouring of love in the last week, I couldn’t respond to all the calls and messages but your kind words and prayers were very encouraging ❤️❤️❤️Thank you soo much everyone. Thanks in particular to @alhadedayothomas and the @nfvcb for helping to get us back on the big screen and for the unwavering support of the industry.

“This film is really special, you guys made it special. This weekend is our official opening weekend now 😂😂😝 Take everyone you know to go see Sugar Rush for yourself!!! #SugarRush #SugarRushMovie,” she shared.

The movie which reportedly generated over N150 million in two weeks was suspended in what was initially perceived as an attempt to stifle creativity. Reports had it that the movie was banned because of the poor portrayal of the EFCC as incompetent.

However, the censors board quickly issued a statement to put the rumours to rest.

According to the Executive Director of NFVCB, Adedayo Thomas, the movie was pulled out of the cinemas because the temporary approval it was given by the board had expired.

The film at the time had not gotten the needed final approval from the board although the Director personally took the blame for that.

“I, however, take responsibility for the gap in communication and the delay in granting final approval as the temporary approval given for the movie exhibition expired before we could release an official statement due to my preoccupation with extant responsibilities and a backlog of movies requiring approval as a result of the December rush.

I am currently working with the distributor, producer, director and key actors to grant final approval for the resumed exhibition at cinemas,” he said.

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Entertainment

Trevor Noah Criticizes 2020 Oscar Nominations List

The popular comedian is unsatisfied with the lack of diversity in the recently released nominations list.

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South African comedian and popular TV host Trevor Noah has criticized the lack of diversity in the 2020 Oscar nominations list released earlier this week.

The host of The Daily Show particularly pointed out the notable absence of female nominees in the Best Director category. He also criticized the Oscars for snubbing the director of Little Women, Greta Gerwig.

On his show, Trevor didn’t mince words as he said the nominated movies were male-directed and in his words, “very male movies.”

“It’s really strange the movie was nominated for six awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, two acting nominations, but then somehow Greta Gerwig wasn’t nominated for Best Director.”

“How the hell did that happen? Two people were, like, ‘Yeah, what an amazing movie.’ ‘Yeah, did you know the movie directed itself?”

Earlier this week, Trevor picked up three nominations at the NAACP Awards for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series, Outstanding Host in a Talk or News/Information Show, and Outstanding Talk Series.

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