Online businesses counting losses from Uganda’s 5-day total internet shutdown

internet shutdown
In an unprecedented move, the Uganda Communication Commission, the regulator of the telecommunication sector, ordered a countrywide shutdown of the Internet on the eve of the January 14 general election.

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Telecommunications service centers, internet cafes and sports betting shops are among the businesses that were directly affected by the internet shutdown during the Uganda’s presidential and parliamentary elections on 14th, January 2021.

Betting and gambling companies are largely dependent on foreign sports like football leagues in Europe which are followed by virtual sports fans.

More than 80 per cent of their businesses were brought to a halt when the internet was shutdown. The companies were just recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which hit the sports industry following the suspension of sports activities globally to contain the spread of the pandemic.

There are about 60 licensed operators with more than 1,500 branches countrywide, but there are also many unlicensed stand-alone operators. These say they conduct more than 80 per cent of their businesses online especially when it comes to foreign sports.

Sports betting market analyst, Ivan Kalanzi says the COVID-19 pandemic had made the industry adopt mobile phone and internet-based activities, encouraging their clients to bet without necessarily going physically to the outlets.

He however says that most clients were finding it easier to use the internet as opposed to mobile-phone USSDs where a client stakes the bet by sending the message via a short-code on the phone allocated to a specific betting or gambling company.

He says those who log into the websites of the companies are the most affected and that these were becoming the dominant segment of the customers.

However, the bigger part played by the internet is where the companies have to electronically relay developments happening in other parts of the world using their computers. This is what forced them to close their shops as they could no longer offer their products to their clients.

Kalanzi however says many companies have never reopened their betting halls since the lockdown meaning they are conducting businesses online. On average, a betting house received 50 to 100 visitors daily down from over 200 that used to go to the halls physically before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the shut-down of the internet even meant these were further reduced.

Some gamblers prefer using internet cafés to follow the events online, place bets and lodge claims because they argue that internet cafes are cheaper compared to using mobile phones.

However, internet cafes have also been closed and only open to offer other services like secretarial and stationery. A café operator along Kyaggwe road, Alex Kaggwa says his business was totally affected as his revenues fell more than 80 percent of the half a million he used to realize and gross.

Read Also: Internet, social media disrupted in Uganda ahead of 2021 polls

Meanwhile, telecommunications service companies had to close their customer service centers leaving customers more frustrated. The companies said most of their operations could not be conducted without the internet.

According to MTN Brand and Communications Manager, Martin Sebuliba, MTN alone has more than 250 service centers countrywide carrying out businesses like sales of products and services but also attending to customer queries and after-sales needs.

He said this was something beyond their control, since it was a regulatory directive that internet is switched off.