Kenyan telecoms giant Safaricom has come under pressure after it released conflicting statements on a nationwide internet outage on Tuesday. The disruption lasted over two hours and coincided with countrywide protests over the now-withdrawn 2024 Finance Bill

On Tuesday night, Safaricom reported an internet outage due to a problem with one of its underground cables. However, internet observatory platform Netblocks disputed this claim, stating no evidence of physical cable damage. Major undersea cable companies serving East Africa, including TEAMs, SEACOM, and Eassy, also didn’t report service disruptions on their cables.

The company’s CEO, Peter Ndegwa, later claimed the entire telco industry was affected. However, other internet service providers in the region did not announce the outage, save for Airtel Kenya, which said that its services were intermittent but not completely unavailable. Customers were surprised by how quickly Safaricom fixed the outage, considering undersea cable cuts usually take days or weeks to identify and repair. 

Telecom companies often have built-in redundancies to handle outages. Safaricom might have been able to reroute traffic through alternative channels while they diagnosed the main problem, which would explain why services were available after a short period

Safaricom’s internet disruption irked customers and some of its biggest creative partners, including social media influencers. Tens of them, including former rugby player and chef Ombachi Dennis, cut ties with the company. “I won’t be working with you, as your values are not aligned with mine,” Ombachi posted on X.

Some Safaricom customers also started selling their shares. The telco’s share price has dipped 3.6% today and is currently selling at KES 17.00 ($0.13).

“For the first time, Safaricom is in a real panic; there is no traditional arrogance,” a social media user noted on X

The outage became a public relations nightmare for the operator, with over 27 million monthly active mobile data users in Kenya. The telco’s CEO, Peter Ndegwa, “sincerely apologised” for the outage in a statement on X.

In 2022, Kenya’s ICT regulator, the Communications Authority (CA), issued new guidelines that mandated customer compensation (airtime equivalent) during network outages, except for disruptions from scheduled maintenance, natural disasters, or accidental damage. Considering the outage arose from accidental damage, per Safaricom, it is unlikely the affected customers will be compensated. 

Kenn Abuya Senior Reporter

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