Nyala — Intermittent, unreliable, and non-existent internet and communication connections, that have plagued Sudan and Darfur since the outbreak of the war, have prompted a proliferation of Starlink satellite receivers across Sudan, after the technology became available in August last year.
Sudanese civilians and businesses have had to cope with rolling communications blackouts ever since the war broke out in April 2023, leaving many isolated from potentially life-saving information. As reported by Radio Dabanga this week, El Sudani, MTN, and Zain telecommunication and Internet networks are all experiencing intermittent interruptions and extended blackouts in various parts of the country.
The demand for reliable connections has resulted in a surge of US-made Starlink satellite internet devices, with Nyala, capital of South Darfur, as the hub.
The Starlink internet service, operated by billionaire Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX, fell into the spotlight after reports that its satellites had been activated over Ukraine, at the request of the Zelensky government, to replace internet services destroyed during the 2022 Russian invasion.
Within a few months of the emergence of satellite internet services in Sudan in August 2023, capture dishes for thousands of the devices can be seen across villages and cities in Sudan.
El Basma, the company that supplies Starlink devices to Darfur, tells Radio Dabanga that the agent for the devices in Africa is in Nigeria, and that the devices initially flowed into Sudan via Chad and Darfur. However, they explain that restrictions imposed on the devices by Chadian authorities mean that the Sudanese distribution hub in Nyala is now mainly supplied from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) via South Sudan.
El Basma say that while the price of the device initially ranged from SDG2.8 to SDG3.3 million*, the increase in supply has seen prices drop. “Now we receive orders from Port Sudan, El Gedaref, El Gezira, and other states,” El Basma say.
The owner of one of the Starlink stores in Nyala, Mohamed Fateh Ismail, explained that some devices are still “smuggled from Niger and Nigeria into Chad” in spite of the prohibition. Ismail says that devices brought from Chad initially cost around SDG800,000, “but now it has increased because the Chadian government has tightened control, in addition to the transport costs. One of those devices now sells in Nyala for SDG2.2 million, which has prompted some suppliers to source them from Libya and the UAE.
The device consists of a router and a capture dish. He stated that the initial price from the producer company is $599. “We work with open packages, where the monthly subscription is between $100 dollars to $230,” Ismail says, explaining that the subscriptions themselves are usually paid by credit card from abroad.
“No camp in Darfur is devoid of these devices,” says Abdelrahim Muhammad, owner of a Starlink device in Otash camp for the displaced near Nyala. He says that the satellite internet service has become an alternative to communications networks to serve a wide sector in Darfur, but he pointed out that the costs have become burdensome for families, especially those who constantly need to communicate with their children or relatives abroad. He1 says that his centre is sensitive to the situation of many families, so those who really cannot pay are allowed some access for free.
Journalist Alaeddin Babiker confirms that many people in Darfur have dropped the terrestrial communications networks completely. He says that following the influx of large numbers of the devices into neighbourhoods, “they are now everywhere”. He says that people have become completely dependent on the satellite internet, and are not considering returning to the terrestrial communications networks.
* The middle rate of the US Dollar at the Faisal Islamic Bank in Sudan is currently quoted at SDG1,104, while the greenback is trading on the parallel market for SDG1,170 to SDG1,200.