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Forecast podcast: Millions impacted by major internet outage in West and Central Africa

Voters queue near a desert tent to cast their ballots. There are over a dozen in an orderly line. They are wearing a variety of clothing styles.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Sophie Perryer discuss a major internet outage affect millions across west and central Africa, plus more on elections in Slovakia and Senegal, talks between the Polish and Ukrainian governments and the anniversary of a Wall Street Journal reporter being detained in Russia..

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Alex Moore, Awais Ahmad, Jess Fino and Jaime Calle Moreno. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is March 21.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got a major internet outage in west and central Africa, elections in Slovakia and Senegal, talks between the Polish and Ukrainian governments and the anniversary of a Wall Street Journal reporter being detained in Russia. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you’ll find a link to in the show notes.

Undersea cable cut, disrupting Africa internet

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at a major internet disruption affecting multiple countries in Africa. For more on that I’ve got Factal Senior Editor Sophie Perryer.

JIMMY: Hello, Sophie. 

SOPHIE: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Sophie, it’s always great to have you on the podcast talking about Africa, hoping you can tell us a bit about the internet issues wreaking havoc there. What’s – what’s going on?

SOPHIE: Absolutely. So, internet access was disrupted on the 15th of March for eight countries in West and Central Africa by an incident affecting undersea network cables. The Ivory Coast, Liberia and Benin were the most heavily affected, although disruption was also reported in Ghana and Nigeria. Outages were also initially reported in parts of South Africa, but these appear to have since resolved for the most part.

JIMMY: And what’s the latest, any new developments?

SOPHIE: Well, the West African telecoms provider MainOne says the outage was caused by damage to cables in the Atlantic Ocean between the Ivory Coast and Senegal. The damage has been attributed to some sort of seismic activity, most likely an undersea earthquake which caused a landslide. Given the distance from land and the depth of the cable, any sort of human intervention has been ruled out at this stage.

JIMMY: Obviously this is going to have impacted quite a number of people, but what kind of reactions have you seen? Have governments indicated how they’re going to fix the problem?

SOPHIE: Well, the region’s nascent digital economy has been severely impacted by the outages as businesses are not able to consistently access basic services like email and internet banking. In terms of fixing the issue, MainOne has dispatched a vessel to the site of the rupture, but full restoration of connectivity is expected to take a minimum of five weeks. In the meantime, some network providers have rerouted services through undersea cables in Brazil, while others have transferred services to a complex network of overland cables.

JIMMY: Well, you know, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

SOPHIE: Well, aside from the economic disruption, there’s a risk the outages give rise to disinformation with people unable to access verified or contemporaneous information via local media sites or other credible sources. This is a particularly pertinent concern for West Africa, which accounts for almost 40% of disinformation campaigns on the continent, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. I’m concerned for Senegal, especially, which is holding its delayed presidential election on Sunday. Now, if Internet access is disrupted, this could limit coverage of any violence surrounding the vote and could undermine the democratic process there.

JIMMY: Well, Sophie, we’ll pause there for today, but thank you so much for getting us up to speed. Always appreciate your updates.

SOPHIE: Thanks for having me.

Slovakia presidential election

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Slovakia will hold the first round of its presidential election on Saturday.

Almost a dozen candidates are in the running to succeed outgoing President Zuzana Čaputová.

The former foreign minister Ivan Korčok and parliamentary speaker Robert Pellegrini are the current frontrunners.

Of course, the Slovakian presidency is mainly a symbolic post, with the day-to-day running of the country carried out by the prime minister.

That role is currently held by Robert Fico, who was elected in 2023.

Fico’s government has a strong pro-Russian tilt, which the current President Čaputová has tempered up to this point.

That dynamic would likely continue if Korčok were to win. He oversaw significant Slovakian military aid to Ukraine when he was foreign minister.

However, the other frontrunner Pellegrini is much more pro-Russian and would support Fico’s pro-Russian stance.

This would likely threaten ongoing Slovakian military aid to Ukraine.

Neither candidate is expected to hold an outright majority, meaning Slovakia is likely heading for a presidential runoff election on April 6.

Senegal election

Information compiled by Awais Ahmad

JIMMY: Senegal will hold its presidential election on Sunday.

The poll was originally due to take place Feb. 25, but it was indefinitely postponed by outgoing President Macky Sall over alleged corruption in the candidate approval process.

Following mass protests and an intervention by the country’s constitutional court, the vote was rescheduled for Sunday.

Top opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has been released from prison, but is barred from participating in the vote. Still, he’s vowed to support his compatriots in his PASTEF party.

However, the government’s candidate, the former prime minister Amadou Ba, is the favorite to win.

Senegal is often thought of as a rare stable democracy in West Africa but delays to the election and violent protests have threatened that reputation. 

Further disruption is possible on Sunday, including a risk that the government cuts the internet to suppress coverage of any violence.

Alongside the political instability, Senegal is also in economic trouble – about 36% of people live in poverty and nearly a third are out of the workforce.

Poland-Ukraine government talks in Warsaw

Information compiled by Jessica Fino

JIMMY: Government officials from Poland and Ukraine will meet in Warsaw next Thursday. They’re gathering to discuss farmers’ protests along their shared border.

Demonstrations have been taking place since November. 

Polish farmers want the government to ban the import of agricultural products from Ukraine through the eastern border. They say the Ukrainian products are cheaper and are creating unfair competition.

Talks were held between Polish authorities and farmers earlier this month but they broke down and no resolution was reached.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said his government is considering several measures, including closing the border entirely. 

However, this would have a major impact on the flow of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy had asked for talks to be held sooner, but Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said he wanted to stick to the March date

Anniversary of WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich’s detention in Russia

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: Friday marks the one-year anniversary since Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was detained in Russia.

Gershkovich was arrested in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023, on suspicion of espionage.

The charge carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years.

Both Gershkovich and the Wall Street Journal deny the charges, and Russian authorities have not provided any evidence.

Gershkovich has been in pre-trial detention for a year. He’ll remain there until at least March 30 after Russian officials rejected his latest appeal last month.

In an interview with conservative news personality Tucker Carlson last month, Russia’s newly re-elected President Putin suggested Gershkovich could be released as part of a prisoner swap.

In exchange, the US would likely have to release a Russian national – there are several currently detained in the United States on cybersecurity-related charges.

Putin said negotiations are underway, but no resolution has yet been reached.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Alex Moore, Awais Ahmad, Jessica Fino and Jaime Calle Moreno. Our interview featured Senior Editor Sophie Perryer and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas, with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2024 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: Senegalese voters line up in Grand Yoff in Dakar for the 2019 presidential election. (Photo: VOA / Seydina Aba Gueye)

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