Al-Shabaab Internet Blackout Disrupts Lives, Provokes Outrage in Southern Somalia
(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) For the thousands of residents in Hiran, Middle and Lower Jubba regions who have been unable to access the internet on their mobile phones for the past two weeks, al-Shabaab's internet blackout represents a new burden in life, one that makes communicating with loved ones around the world a nearly impossible endeavour.
Telecommunication companies began complying with al-Shabaab's order to cut internet services on January 21st, and then on Saturday (February 1st), al-Shabaab militants stormed Hormuud Telecom's main building in the town of Jilib in Middle Jubba region and ordered the staff to shut down the telecommunication system after the company refused to pay $50,000 the group demanded as "money for jihad".
Jilib houses the largest telecommunications lines connecting Mogadishu to Lower and Middle Jubba regions, and the incident has affected communication services throughout the entire Jubba regions.
Mogadishu resident Safiya Hassan, a 48-year-old mother of six, told Sabahi she was worried about her sister, a mother of seven children who lives in Jilib.
"I have not heard from her for two days. I call her number at least 20 times each day and I keep forgetting that al-Shabaab has cut off the district's telecommunication," she said.
Hassan described al-Shabaab's muzzling of the people who live in the affected areas as unbearable.
"Al-Shabaab has silenced the public. What they are doing should not be tolerated," she said. "I am asking the Somali government to immediately free the Somali people who are stranded in Jilib and are being held in bondage by al-Shabaab."
Ali Jeylani, a 55-year-old from Jilib who is currently residing in Mogadishu, said it was disheartening that al-Shabaab has cut off communications for thousands of civilians.
"We have no news of the state of the civilians who live in Jilib and the areas that come under it," he told Sabahi. "Before, I used to constantly communicate with my relatives who live in Jilib and I even used to call the villages so I can stay informed about the problems al-Shabaab is causing for the people."
Jeylani called on the government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops to hold an urgent meeting about the internet issue so that they can come up with a plan to free Jilib from al-Shabaab.
Sadia Mohamed, a 31-year-old mother of three who lives in the al-Shabaab-controlled Bula Burde district in Hiran region, said the mobile internet ban would take a heavy toll on her financially.
"To tell the truth, it has seriously damaged the communication we had with our relatives across the world," she told Sabahi, explaining that calling her relatives abroad through regular mobile or landline service is much more expensive than using mobile phone applications.
"In the last few years I have had a reprieve from the high expense of calling my relatives," she said. "But it is now inevitable that I will spend a lot of money to communicate with my siblings in Europe since al-Shabaab has banned the cheap internet mobile service."
Mohamed said she was afraid that al-Shabaab's next order will be a complete ban on using mobile phones.
"[If that happens], I will have to flee the lack of freedom in Bula Burde district," she said.
Jilib residents also are experiencing problems accessing their EVCPlus accounts -- a free mobile money transfer system operated by Hormuud that allows people to easily send money to their relatives and friends.
Mobile internet ban 'driven by fear'
Ali Yusuf, a 38-year-old who owns a clothing store in Jalalaqsi district in Hiran region, said al-Shabaab's ban on mobile internet access was cowardly and disgusting.
"Fear drove the militants to carry out their decision to ban the internet, and I am sorry that they are busying themselves with [harassing] the public when their power has decreased," he told Sabahi.
"I can say that the ill-conceived decisions that are constantly issued by al-Shabaab's leaders are disgusting," Yusuf said. "They cannot tell the difference between whether they are fighting the public or the army. I am telling al-Shabaab, 'we are civilians', so they should stop bothering us."
He said al-Shabaab's ban on mobile internet access has been a great hardship for citizens.
"We easily communicated with our friends across the world through Facebook and WhatsApp, but the enemy of the people, al-Shabaab, has stopped that," he said. "What it wants is to discourage the public. We are asking the government to liberate us from these terrorists."
Since October, al-Shabaab has been harassing residents who use smartphones and banned satellite television in towns it controls in the Lower Shabelle region, threatening those who keep using them with severe punishment.
Al-Shabaab's decision to cut off communications is based on its fear that it is being spied on, said Salim Ali, a 58-year-old elder from Bula Burde district.
"When the terrorist group could not find a safe haven any longer, it started banning anything that people use to share information with each other," he told Sabahi. "People's enmity towards al-Shabaab has increased in the last few years since the Somali people have come to despise the problems of al-Shabaab."
Copyright Sabahi. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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