“Starlink” is a lifeline for Sudanese in light of the communications outage and lack of money

“Starlink” is a lifeline for Sudanese in light of the communications outage and lack of money

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In the town of Timbul, located in the eastern part of Gezira State in central Sudan, fifty people of different ages gathered in the courtyard of a house, holding their smartphones around an antenna dish to receive the Internet signal.

After nearly a year of war between the army and the Rapid Support Forces, which has controlled Tamboul for 3 months, and in light of the communications and Internet outages in Sudan, Starlink devices for connecting to the Internet via space constitute a lifeline for the Sudanese, as they help them communicate and transfer money.

“I spoke to my son in Saudi Arabia,” 63-year-old Sudanese Issam Ahmed told AFP, with a smile on his face. Ahmed continued that his son sent him money “via your bank (an electronic money transfer application), and I transferred it to someone here in the market. You will receive it from him (in cash) to buy household needs.”

Outside the courtyard of the house, 30 people stood waiting for their turn to get an Internet connection. The Starlink system, which connects to the Internet via satellite, belongs to the company “SpaceX”, owned by the world’s richest person, Elon Musk, and its services are spread in countries suffering from wars and where communications and Internet services are affected.

Since the outbreak of war between the army led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the Rapid Support Forces led by Mohamed Dagalo, the two former allies, on April 15, 2023, which resulted in thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people inside and outside the country, the Sudanese banking system has collapsed.

Salaries do not reach the vast majority of employees, and Sudanese have become largely dependent on online transactions through the Bank of Khartoum application, “Your Bank.”

Starlink devices have become a lifeline for those who did not leave the country during the war, so that they can communicate with relatives and acquaintances abroad and obtain money.

An hour of internet is $3

Starlink devices are spread in areas that have witnessed and are witnessing concentrated military operations, despite the ban on purchasing or trading this type of device in the country by a decision of the Government Communications Authority.

43-year-old Sudanese Areej Ahmed, accompanied by her son Salah (12 years old), walks a distance of five kilometers every week on foot from her village to the center that provides telecommunications and Internet service “in order to obtain a transfer from my husband who lives in Qatar.”

A person who sells Starlink devices, who requested that his name not be used, told AFP, “The devices come by smuggling from Libya, South Sudan, and Eritrea,” noting that the price of one device reaches 1.8 million pounds, or approximately $1,500.

In a village 60 kilometers north of the city of Al-Hasahisa in the state of Al-Jazira, Muhammad Bellah, who runs a Starlink service center, confirms that “you can get Internet service for an hour for the equivalent of $3.”

He continued, “Within only 3 working days, the price of the device can be compensated, after that all you achieve is a profit for you,” pointing out that the main purpose of using the service is “to transfer and receive money.”

In the Atash camp for the displaced near the city of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state in the west of the country, Sudanese Muhammad Bishara said via text message to Agence France-Presse, “Without the existence of this device, we would not have known how to manage cash.” Bishara corresponds with his son, who lives in Libya, once every two weeks.

Benefit

Citizens say that the Rapid Support Forces, whose members are accused by various organizations and individuals of committing acts of looting and theft, benefit from the profits generated by the “Starlink” system.

In the village of Qanab Al-Halaween on the western bank of the Blue Nile on the island, a citizen said that the Rapid Support personnel “come with a Starlink device in the morning and use it in the courtyard of a club, then leave in the afternoon after making a lot of money.”

In another village on the eastern bank of the Blue Nile, fees are imposed on providers of this telecommunications service. The owner of the Starlink service center told AFP that Daglo forces “impose fees on us on a daily basis amounting to 150,000 pounds ($140), and the army in areas under its control appears more lenient.”

The municipality of Omdurman, the twin city of Khartoum, announced at the end of February that Lieutenant General Al-Burhan had provided several “Starlink” devices as donations, in order “for residents to have access to the Internet for free.”

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