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Uganda's internet Shutdown (cloudflare.com)
152 points by jgrahamc 51 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments

It's sad to see what has happened to Uganda.

I lived there in '72 and '73. We had to leave in a hurry.

It's one of the most beautiful nations on Earth. Absolutely stunning.

Except for all the skulls.

Bad Things Happened there, and it has never recovered.

It has become a haven for religious crackpots. They had a Jonestown-type thing, a number of years ago, and it's a really, really bad place to be gay (even closeted).

> It has become a haven for religious crackpots. They had a Jonestown-type thing, a number of years ago, and it's a really, really bad place to be gay (even closeted).

It would be remiss to avoid mentioning that American Evangelical "Missionaries" were a (if not the) driving force[1] behind the clampdown on gay folk in Uganda - perhaps you were alluding to them when you said it's became a haven for them ;)

1. https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/03/scott-lively-an...

That had a lot to do with it, but Africa has always been fertile ground for that kind of stuff.

No less than Europe in medieval and Reformation times.

I can confirm, having spent some time there 15 years ago. The daily headlines about police busts of homosexuals was terrifying.

At some point Bob Geldorf called on Musevini to resign. The Ugandan papers carried knee jerk headlines of "is Geldorf gay?". It would have been comical had they not reflected a grim pervasive homiphobia.

Comparing present day Uganda to Uganda under Idi Amin is a grossly incorrect stature to take. Tbh this comment is a bit triggering for myself as a Ugandan and quite a misrepresentation of the country. Since this is right at the top, I feel like I need to respond.

All the skulls - That's not a thing, I can't recall seeing any growing up in Uganda. Sure there have been wars in the country but that was decades ago...

Bad things happened there and it has never recovered: The country has developed significantly since the 70s just like most other places in the world. That statement is so far from the truth

Homosexuality: Definitely a strong opposition to it in the country. However, the media representation is an extreme versus the day to day. If you are gay in Uganda, I do agree that it is probably best to stay in the shadows

I urge you to please think about what you are going to write before writing such a comment. You haven't lived in the country for 40 years. Can you really know anything about it's present state?

Good point. You have extremely valid criticism, and I appreciate your writing them.

I loved the nation, when I lived there, and it had a profound impact on my life. Leaving was heartbreaking. I have "survivors' guilt" from that, as I suspect that all the kids I used to play with were probably killed. I still have items with bayonet holes in them, from when the soldiers were making sure that my father wasn't smuggling out his students (who were all killed). I sincerely wish you well in your continued growth and success. It has been worse.

Idi Amin and Milton Obote killed around a million folks; from the end of colonialism, through the mid 1970s. I remember -extremely well- public executions in the park in Kampala.

I also remember how rich, cosmopolitan and modern the nation was, in 1972, and how it collapsed -almost overnight- after Amin kicked out the Asians. From what I see, it has never regained that stature. It was in really good shape, pre-Amin. The income from tea, alone, made it the richest country in East Africa. The rich, volcanic soil, meant that you could grow almost anything there. It also has vast mineral wealth (my mother was a geologist, and I remember touring mines in the Southwestern part of the country). I still have samples of ore from those mines on my shelf.

The LRA has probably been the most horrifying thing for me.

You have my thanks and support. Good luck, and Godspeed.

The LRA impact was very confined to the north. I grew up in Kampala and the LRA was simply something we heard about on the news and didn't impact our lives. That said, the impact they had on the northern districts especially on all the children there is heartbreaking and still felt to this day.

I wasn't alive in the 70s so can't say exactly what Kampala was like then but my parents and grandparents say it's more modern now. And overall there are more people having better lives on average than the smaller group of well off people at that time.

From an economically standpoint I think a challenge we have is that we are landlocked and have to be dependent on our neighbors substantially amongst other challenges that delving into would turn into an essay. That said I see future promise and growth for the country

I really want that nation to thrive. Despite the dark times, it had a profound impact on me. I named both of my companies, based on my memories of Uganda.

Thanks for bringing me up to date.

> it's a really, really bad place to be gay (even closeted).

Given that's where the "eat da poo poo" video originated, I'm not surprised.

> it's a really, really bad place to be gay (even closeted).

From what you saw, does this result in amplified masculinity, sexism, or gender roles?

I don't know if it "resulted" in anything, or was the "result" of that kind of stuff. Africa's a very complicated place.

In any case, it wasn't the issue, when I lived there. All that happened afterwards.

When I was there, this nice chap called Idi Amin was throwing a party, and we decided to tender our regrets.

Related, a few hours ago Bobi Wine (main opposition candidate) reported the military had entered his home. Unclear how the situation will play out, the incumbent is currently leading in the polls but there's been a huge amount of violence, arrests, etc. so I'm not sure one could say it's been a "free and fair" election. https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-01-15/uganda...

The Guardian did a nice podcast about Bobi Wine on Thursday.



There are tons of political discussions on HN. It's a difficult area, because some is on topic while some tends to turn into flamewar that destroys what the site is supposed to be for—but none of that has to do with the community "not caring".

Please don't post unsubstantive flamebait, and please don't post supercilious dismissals. It would be nice if you'd stick to the site guidelines so we don't have to keep banning you.


that's cool and all, but i was pointing a fact about the audience (case in point, it was the bottom comment on the thread). And I didn't put it in a way that gave away if I i think that is a feature or a bug :) take it easy.

It should not surprise you that a group of people who mostly live across the world from Uganda is only intermittently interested in Uganda.

While it's true that few of us remotely understand what life is like for most people, I don't think it's fair to say that none of us care. For the most part, we don't have the slightest clue of how to even help.

HN has a giant global user base. Wouldn't be surprised to find more than a few west Africans here. As for myself, here in northern Europe I'm a lead developer in finance/banking, but for a few weeks a year I'm a farmer in Nigeria. Just because someone is a geek for technical stuff, doesn't mean they have to have such a limited perspective on the rest of the world.

I'm not quite sure why you picked west africans. I'd hope there's africans from all over the continent on here. Personally I'm east african

For sure. I'm not American myself, and I also grew up as an ex-pat in a 3rd world country. While it certainly gave me some perspective, I wouldn't say for a moment that I really understand what it's like to be them.

If things got really bad, my family was always in the position to escape.

My bet is that HN traffic is power-law skewed toward the USA with Europe as a runner-up and then a long tail of everywhere else.

I resent that! I care about $$$ from adtech too.

For all you Bitcoiners talking about how it's impossible for a government to turn off the internet, this appears to be a counter-example.

Turning off the internet isn't impossible per-se, it's just very difficult without disastrous effects on the local economy. I don't know how developed Uganda is, but I can tell you for sure that if the internet is blocked in the US or any major European country, everything stops, including real-life things such as card payments and even airport timetable signs (interesting fact: most of the UK ones run a Chrome instance displaying a webpage hosted by a Romanian company). Even if access to national services is unaffected, those services themselves depend on various SaaSes that would be affected by the international blocking.

> it's just very difficult

It's really really simple, as shown by Uganda, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, India and many more countries.

My intent was to say it's difficult without incurring major side-effects to the economy. I've updated my comment to clarify.

Of course, if you don't have a significant economy to begin with or something else has already disrupted it (riots, uprising, etc - which could also be what prompts you to shut down the internet) then it's not a problem.

Or you simply value control over money. The economy is not the primary goal of everyone, not even all governments.

You need some degree of economy to have control though.

But evidence shows countries turning the internet off all the time, let alone specific filtering, and their economies haven't collapsed. India does it dozens of times a year.

In most cases you don't need to completely turn everything off, just shut down the mobile networks, and maybe the big domestic broadband networks, and that's good enough.

Turn off internet or block social networks?

If your country has natural resources it is very easy to heavily control that part of the economy and suppress the less controllable parts of the economy (by shutting the internet down for example).

North Korea says sup

It's simple if you setup your infra in such a way you expect to be able to turn it off. It'd be a lot harder in the US where things are a lot more decentralized. In Uganda, I wouldn't be shocked if all connectivity to outside of the country went through one physical building.

Maybe the US, which is a very large country, but issue an order to the major ISPs (cellular and cable) to stop carrying domestic network traffic and you accomplish pretty much the same thing. Sure there may be some WISPs in the middle of nowhere which aren't affected, but you've accomplished most of your goal.

There's two ways for internet to be shut down.

One is legal -- the government tells registered ISPs "stop forwarding packets". Doesn't matter how good your connectivity is when you simply have to turn it off. Your protection there are courts etc, but it's not technically difficult.

The other approach is extra-legal -- e.g a terrorist attack.

Just look at the effect from a car bomb in Nashville last month, I quote from a newspaper:

> The immediate repercussions were surprisingly widespread. AT&T customers lost service — phones, internet or video — across large parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. There were 911 centers in the region that couldn't take calls; others didn't receive crucial data associated with callers such as their locations. The Nashville police department's phones and internet failed. Stores went cash-only.

> At some hospitals, electronic medical records, internet service or phones stopped working. The Nashville airport halted flights for about three hours on Christmas. Rival carrier T-Mobile also had service issues as far away as Atlanta, 250 miles away, because the company uses AT&T equipment for moving customer data from towers to the T-Mobile network.

The area effected was about 100,000 square miles, roughly the same size as Uganda. From one carbomb outside one building.

I think there's only one major Internet Exchange point in Uganda (just like it seems there was one in the south east of the US), but there's certainly multiple fibres in and out. If you're in Mbarara and sending traffic to Rwanda it's unlikely to go via Kampala.

Here's a network map of one provider in Uganda: https://bcs-ea.com/service/uganda/

The UK has a few exchanges, but almost everything runs through Docklands in London - various Telehouse buildings within a mile of each other, Telecity etc. Almost all internet traffic in the UK runs through London, and the sites that aren't are owned by Linx (IXLeeds is the only one that isn't). A major flood breaching the Thames Barrier will cause chaos.

> One is legal -- the government tells registered ISPs "stop forwarding packets".

This only works as long as people respect the law. It wouldn't surprise me if in many countries they'd keep forwarding packets on the down-low. Black market internet access. At least for extended shutdowns. May not be any incentive if it lasts very short time.

Didn't Egypt end up with citizen-run satellite or mesh networks that crossed borders? I vaguely remember people from other countries organizing on Twitter to provide it somehow.

People always talk about networks like that. But the reality is they tend to only be a few thousand people max, while millions are still left unconnected.

They're good for exfiltrating news.

Iran, last year. Internet was out for like two weeks.


here 500 days and counting of no high speed mobile internet for 8 million + souls. thats worlds biggest democracy for you /s

honestly i have seen how life crashes without internet, its not fun

How many online businesses got shuttered that you know of?

My own for example. I do business online. Everything stopped for a year. Had to pay employees out of pocket because letting them go would mean their families go hungry. In all fairness, I could not do that so took a major hit. Same for restaurants, hotels, travel agencies, everyone doing wfh, tourism, we have a bunch of software development businesses, like huge ones and they simply closed shop and moved hundreds of employees outside the valley. Anyone who couldnt do that, like ours suffered. Simple as that.

> I do business online > Anyone who couldnt do that, like ours suffered.

I'm curious, what business operates online but can't move? Is it a company with large manufacturing that can't pick up and move?

Family considerations. Financial constraints. You dont want to take a loan when your immediate future looks like zero income.

Mh client base is in the valley itself so my moving wouldnt help as my customers wouldnt reach me anyways

If large manufacturing was in Kashmir there probably would be less of the problems there are now

Oh... we did have at one time, probably in 1930's the largest silk fsctory in the world. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/kashmir/after-30-years-s...

Sadly political mismanagement killed it.

Other than that the valley is too little for huge industries geographically.

We have dams built on either side of LOC but the governments take majority share of produce/revenue and locality is left with almost nothing so yeah

Here in a G7 country there have been many offline business shuttered this year. Life goes on.

My point was people in India love to sneer at Kashmiri supposed backwardness but kneecapping their ability to do business online is not going to win them plaudits.

Its not just business online. 8 million people includes millions of school children who have not gone to school since 5 August 2019. Then since March the corona happened and they had to stay back again. 1.5 years of no formal education but with a twist. While the world across everyone was on zoom, here in the valley the kids had to suffer because "buffering", no video, only either audio on zoom calls or the teacher snaps photos of Notes and forwards on WhatsApp, students copy that photo and work done. Same for audio messages on WhatsApp.

Point is, we dont know when schools will open but students are being prevented from getting some semblance of an education. I have a 4 Yo kid in the extended family and he's been in school for 8 days only. Hits out at anyone who mentions school.

Ugandan here. I spoke with my family in Kampala yesterday (cell phone calls still work) and whilst some things like atms not working are an issue, for the most part things are working, especially since there is a large use of mobile money for payments

I hope we never find out what happens if the US internet goes down. But with 2020's track record and what 2021 is starting to look like, we might find out!

Not trying to talk about existing politics.

Outside of a rogue president that convinces the military to act in illegal activity or a true government overthrow it won't happen.

No running or existing government in the USA will pull the plug because they know that would end their career. All their fundraising gone. Wall Street RIP. Riots all over the place.

Even without shutting off the internet, couldn't governments crush crypto by making it illegal to buy or transfer? Countries could do this simultaneously.

That would effectively stop ~99% of the affected populations from using it, no?

What's the counterargument to this possibility? It seems to hinge on getting too big to ban.

Game Theory. Let's say the US bans crypto, well then Russia will embrace it.

Also, drugs are illegal... and it hasn't stopped drugs from trading hands... drugs even manage to make their way into prisons.

The difference is you can make drugs. You can't make internet access.

Yes you can, and I believe the most basic infrastructure is already in place [1]. It would just need to be expanded on. Blockstream has been working in this space for several years now [2].

[1] https://blockstream.com/satellite/#:~:text=Blockstream%20Sat....

[2] https://blockstream.com/2020/05/04/en-announcing-blockstream...

I think they will see that possibility, though. So the US, Europe and others could agree to ban it at the same time.

Not all countries would need to sign on to essentially send it back to the stone age.

>So the US, Europe and others could agree to ban it at the same time.

Ah yes, like how the US and Europe agreed to ban drugs? How's that working for them?

That's not the same at all. Drugs have an inherent "value" or reason why people demand them. People love getting high. Drugs are addictive.

Bitcoin demand is driven mostly by speculative investors.

Maybe governments can't completely kill bitcoin, but they could certainly drive it back to fringe enthusiasts and criminal activity if they wanted.

Terribly. But that's a good example of countries agreeing to ban something.

How would they enforce such a ban?

By delisting the cryptocurrency from exchanges or shutting down cryptocurrency exchanges.

The US outlawed gold in 1933, but as far as I can tell that only made people want it more. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_Order_6102

I came across this project recently which solves for this problem.




A Harpia node is a Locha Mesh standalone node which can provide services on the network such as an Internet gateway, Bitcoin transactions broadcast, latest blocks data, Electrum Server, a remote monerod, or any other. This device can have a larger antenna plugged, a power amplifier, or even a satellite dish, extending the transmission range in several kilometers

Blockchains can still operate on decentralized P2P internet even if the main internet is shut down.

This is not at all a practical solution. How much "decentralized P2P internet" infrastructure do you think there is in Uganda? Hell even in the US its virtually nonexistent. Which P2P internet should I use? IPFS? Helium? Any of the other blockchain internet vaporware?

Any Blockchain operating in a small region would have no resiliency, be vulnerable to 51% attacks, and diverge significantly from the original internet ledger.

It's not practical until it is - having your internet shutoff isn't practical either, but with that barrier put into place a lot of things become quickly more practical, relatively speaking.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

You would still have to rely on one person still having access to the internet.

I think, there was a talk some year ago about a country in South America. It think they had almost mo internet, but a large P2P wireless network all over the country.

> For all you Bitcoiners talking about how it's impossible for a government to turn off the internet, this appears to be a counter-example.

I'll bite.

It's not that we don't think it can happen, in fact those of us actually adept in financial censorship as well as physical censorship have actually advocated that we build additional infrastructure for just this occasion.

I've been involved in the HK protests since the inception of the Yellow Movement, where we saw the CCP making its heavy handed presence felt and then had the local police shut down the internet in protest zones. This lead to the use of a bluetooth based app Fire Chat [0], which had also been used in Iraq when governments decided to crack down on 'dissidents' online. I personally never stopped advocatin for them to build meshnets and become familiar with p2p solutions as the financial censorship was soon to follow, and did not long after and still remains to this day: Jimmy Lai's charges is based on Money laundering something they do not have to prove simply claim and they can get away with it.

What came after that, especially for me as a I was involved in the CJDNS project in Switzerland and dabbled with hyperboria as well as Zeronet in the US for a short period, saw the need for the creation of an entirely new Internet.

Meshnets could serve only a limited capability for a short period of time, guifi is a cool project, but it cannot support the types of infrastructure we've all been reliant on for most of modern existence. I hold a lot of hope for Starlink becoming that after it becomes profitable and recovers its investments as we are in dire need of a new system. Or at least leases out some of its satelites for private use to help build something like it.

Thus, we have made progress towards that end in the Bitcoin community, though in my opinion not enough as we've spent countless hours debating BS topics about people and things who don't matter rather on solving some of the more glaring issues.

But Blockstream, even for all their misgivings and are far from perfect, are still moving toward the desirable end of having non-internet based transactions a priority to propagate on the mainchain-layer 1 protocol with their satellite [1]. There are other solutions as well, ham radio based tx etc... but I'll spare you the details of that for now as this is getting long.

In short, you're talking about some of the most paranoid people in tech with an understanding of cryptography based tools and OPSEC who understand the implications of what you've described as a hypothetical situation while some of us have actually lived through this and used this technology to solve some of the most pressing issues in massive Humanitarian crises in the 21st century (Maidan Revolution in Kiev, Venzuela hyper inflation etc...).

We're not all 'moonbois' and scammers though that gets the most headlines (I'm looking at you Micheal Saylor), and our tech, unlike even the stuff you overly compensated guys in FAANG aimlessly build and maintain to the detriment of much of Humanity, has this weird habit of working even when everyone else says it's dead: to this day nothing even comes close to Bitcoin's (the Network) reliability. Nothing.

0: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FireChat 1: https://blockstream.com/satellite/

Well said. Also, using Gotenna's TxTenna ( https://txtenna.com/) with Blockstream satellite downloading of bitcoin block data, one can send and receive bitcoin transaction data all without local internet connectivity.

Don't certain regions of India keep getting their internet cut off to quell uprisings?

Does anybody have good overview/resources to learn more about how the internet "pipes" are configured at a national level? I can understand conceptually how a government could disable internet connectivity to _outside_ the country by having some control over the connections that cross borders. _Inside_ the country you would need to have control over the internal routing mechanisms as well, assuming the DNS lookups could all happen in-country? (this is not my field/I don't know the correct terminology).

How would people with satellite internet connectivity be impacted (I assume there is some government entity able to turn off a satellite, but that probably only applies to a few countries in the world?)?

EDIT: I should have thought about this for a few more minutes before posting the original question - the shutting down ISPs is glaringly obvious in hindsight... I am still interested in hearing people's thoughts on satellite internet, though. HN occasionally talks about initiatives to have LEO satellites provide internet access. If the people running the satellite were outside of your jurisdiction, it would seem like these instances would be mitigated for many places in the world?

Government just calls ISPs and tells them to shut stuff down or face charges.

> there is some government entity able to turn off a satellite, but that probably only applies to a few countries in the world

A satellite internet provider can’t provide service to a country without the complying with its government rules (assuming there is any kind of trade relationship between the country and the country of the satellite internet provider).

> assuming there is any kind of trade relationship between the country and the country of the satellite internet provider

Assuming the other country has something worth trading for. I imagine Uganda wouldn’t really have anything to bargain with the US if a US satellite internet company rejected Uganda’s request.


In case anyone else is interested in the actual data for that.

Problem is why would a satellite internet provider provide service? Money is the obvious answer, but how will customers get money to them?

I could just see them continuing to provide service at no cost as a gesture of goodwill (particularly if their satellite covers another country), but only so long as limited customers use it that way. They won't be doing upgrades though. And it isn't hard to figure out who is getting internet in this way and physically confiscate their equipment.

Worst case, Uganda could just jam the satellites.

From what I understand, the US military is a major customer of commercial communication satellites. Jamming those satellites could be a very bad idea, regardless of who you were intending to inconvenience.

Especially in a country with less infrastructure, there's usually only a small number of mobile carriers that service the vast majority of the internet use; sometimes the government only calls the mobile carriers, and ignores the wired carriers and dialup ISPs.

If you can't route traffic outside of the country, it doesn't matter if you can resolve domains. You still won't be able to reach your destination IP.

DNS lookups still rely on your ability to route traffic outside your country anyways.

Neither of the above points even matter if your government can control the ISPs operating in its border. Government says to ISPs: "cease operation or well put you all in prison"

You replace the root DNS servers with your own. It isn't that hard, if you are reading this you should be able to figure out how to do it in less than a day.

Google.com returns an ip of your favored in country search engine - most likely people get a https error when trying to go there, but those that ignore the error find search works for allowed things and the rest learn to use the favored search engine.

You - as a national actor - can easily cut your country off from the internet while still getting many of the benefits of the internet.

Another option is turning off the upstream side of eyeball connections. Basically, shutting off DLAMS, CMTS, etc.

Here is a new interview with the current leader: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/01/15/africa/bobi-wine-home-sie...

I just looked at the cached version of the UCC act 2013, and it seems that section 56 explicitly forbids switching off the service for any other reasons than failure to pay the dues.

The cached version is still on Google...

I'm looking forward to more countries opening the door to Starlink for the economy boast and access to their people but also to reduce the chances of this happening.

If there was a ground station outside of the country the shutdown wouldn't have had an affect unless they tried to police each person running the dish during the ban.

It seems there is a bit of traffic left.

Is that only government-sanctioned networks/stations? Or perhaps, people who don't go through the large ISPs?

The only way around this for countries where the rule of law is weak is Starlink.

Importation or possession of a Starlink terminal will be made illegal (or controlled). You can't solve policy problems with tech without addressing root issues, especially around gadgets that emit radio signals in order to operate.

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