This weekend, a ship was waiting to dock in the port city of Mombasa when it dropped anchor in a restricted area. The accident damaged one of East Africa's major fiber optic cable systems, called TEAMS. The other two systems, EASSy and SEACOM, were unaffected.
The three major cable systems were activated in 2009 and 2010, enabling high-speed internet and bringing an unprecedented level of connectivity to East Africa. TEAMS, a Kenyan government contract project, links Mombasa to the United Arab Emirates. EASSy runs along the coast, connecting South Africa with Sudan via several landing spots. And SEACOM, the first of the three systems to be installed, links up several countries on the eastern side of the continent. Most Africans had previously depended on slow and expensive satellite connections.
The increased connectivity wasn't just for consumers; it has proven to be an invaluable resource for entrepreneurs as well. Kenya has long been a trading hub for tangible goods in East Africa, but now a tech sector is blooming -- slowly. New enterprises include Mocality, a local search and directory site, which kicked off in 2010 and got media attention when Google was accused of using illegally mining its data. Then there's PesaPal, a Kenyan version of PayPal launched in 2009 that is compatible with mobile phones as well as computers. Also hitting the market is Simple Motion, an e-magazine and local news aggregation site launched in 2010.
For now, BBC News reports that these and other East African businesses can expect to face a connection slowdown of about 20 percent. Online traffic has been rerouted to the intact SEACOM and EASSy cables; meanwhile, TEAMS may be undergoing repairs for up to two weeks. Affected areas include Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
This isn't the first time Africa has faced cabling problems. SEACOM has repeatedly experienced downtime -- the most significant case was in 2010, when cable faults 4700 meters below sea level were discovered and repaired. And EASSy suffered its own cable cut recently, on February 17. The cut to the EASSy cable only affects the section of cable between Port Sudan and Djibouti, said EASSy MC Chair Chris Wood via email, estimating that the cut is likely to be repaired by March 20.
Correction: The original article erroneously reported that EASSy cables were damaged by the dropped anchor near Mombasa. In fact, only TEAMS cables were affected by that event.