South Sudan: Measuring Internet Censorship in the World's Youngest Nation
Maria Xynou (OONI), Kenyi Yasin Abdallah Kenyi (TAHURID), Leonid Evdokimov (OONI), Stanley Nyombe Gore (TAHURID)
Image by Mandavi
Established in July 2011, South Sudan is the youngest country in the
world. But the transition to independence from Sudan has been far from
smooth, as the country experiences an ongoing civil war. Even though
internet penetration levels remain quite low, two media websites and two independent blogs were reportedly blocked
This report is a joint research effort by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and South
Sudan’s The Advocates for Human Rights and Democracy (TAHURID). We examine internet
censorship in South Sudan through the collection and analysis of
Our findings corroborate
on the blocking of media outlets Sudan Tribune
and Radio Tamazuj,
and independent blogs
and Paanluel Wel,
suggesting that these sites have been blocked for a year. MTN appears to
block TCP/IP connections to these sites, while IPTEC appears to block
access by means of DNS tampering. Measurements collected in 2017
highlight the presence of the Mikrotik HTTP transparent proxy.
South Sudan has been plagued by civil wars over the last
The first Sudanese civil war
was a conflict from 1955 to 1972 between the northern part of Sudan and
the southern Sudan region that demanded more autonomy. Following the
first civil war, the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region was temporarily
formed, but a second civil war
erupted in 1983 and lasted until the end of 2004. After the second civil
war, the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan was created. South
Sudan became an independent state on 9th July 2011,
following a referendum.
The country though remains in turmoil. Two years after independence, a
civil war erupted
within South Sudan between the government and opposition forces. In
to end South Sudan’s civil war was threatened by ceasefire violations
and the war restarted
by July 2016. South Sudan’s ongoing civil war has resulted in the
displacement of millions (who have
seeked refuge in neighbouring Uganda, Sudan, and Kenya) and in tens of thousands of deaths
(though aid workers reported in 2016
that the true figure might be as high as 300,000 deaths, which is
comparable to the number killed in Syria during five years of war).
Recently, the Security Council of the United Nations renewed sanctions
(previously imposed in 2015) on South Sudan for 45 days, setting a
for the civil war to end by 30th June 2018. Even though South Sudan’s
main belligerents came to a peace agreement in late June 2018, experts
that it fails to solve issues that have been at the heart of the civil
Amid conflict and political turbulence, South Sudan has one of the
telecommunications and internet systems in the world. Fifteen Internet
Service Providers (ISPs) operate in South Sudan, but the lack of
fibre-optic cables and the limited availability of public power hinder
connectivity. MTN enjoys the greatest share
within the mobile phone market, followed by Vivacell and Zain. Earlier
this year however, Vivacell’s license was
for not paying USD 60 million
Internet penetration levels have
since independence in 2011, but remain quite low. According to the
National Communication Authority, around
of South Sudan’s population is estimated to have access to the internet,
mostly concentrated in Juba and largely based on mobile internet
South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution of 2011
guarantees freedom of expression and press freedom under Article 24,
with possible exceptions for public order, safety, or morality. The
Article also calls on media to abide by professional ethics. Article 32
of the Transitional Constitution guarantees the right to access official
information, with exemptions for public security and personal privacy.
The regime though regularly violates media freedom
protections in practice, and government officials have engaged in
rhetoric that contributes to a hostile environment for the press.
Two media websites and two independent blogs were reportedly blocked
in South Sudan in July 2017. The censored sites include Paris-backed
Sudan Tribune and Dutch-backed Radio Tamazuj, as well as the
Nyamilepedia and Paanluel Wel blogs of the Nuer and Dinka tribes,
South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups.
Measuring internet censorship
In an attempt to verify
on the blocking of websites and to examine South Sudan’s internet
landscape more broadly, we ran OONI Probe network measurement
tests in South Sudan.
OONI Probe consists of a number of software tests that scan TCP, DNS, HTTP and TLS
connections for signs of network tampering. Some tests request data over
an unencrypted connection and compare against a known good value. Others
check for HTTP transparent proxies, DNS spoofing, and network speed and
To measure the blocking of websites, we started off by carrying out some
to identify South Sudanese URLs to test. We subsequently
added these URLs
to the Citizen Lab’s test list repository on GitHub, since OONI Probe is
designed to measure the blocking of URLs included in these test lists.
Over the last few months, we primarily ran OONI Probe’s Web Connectivity test (among
other OONI Probe tests) in two networks: MTN South Sudan (AS37594) and
IPTEC Limited (AS36892).
As part of our testing, we measured the blocking of URLs included in the
(including internationally relevant sites) and South Sudanese
(including sites relevant to South Sudan) test lists. Once we collected
OONI Probe network measurements from South Sudan, we analyzed them with
the aim of identifying network anomalies that could serve as signs of
Last year, media outlets Sudan Tribune
and Radio Tamazuj, and independent blogs
Nyamilepedia and Paanluel Wel, were reportedly blocked
in July 2017. Our recent testing not only corroborates these reports,
but also suggests that these sites remain blocked one year later.
The following table links to network measurements pertaining to the
recent testing of each of these sites across two ISPs.
Our findings suggest that MTN (AS37594) blocks TCP/IP connections to
these sites, while IPTEC (AS36892) blocks access by means of DNS
tampering. It’s worth noting that both MTN and IPTEC block access to
South Sudanese authorities blocked these sites for publishing
“subversive content” and
that the bans would not be lifted until those institutions “behaved
well”. Sudan Tribune and Radio Tamazuj are foreign-based media outlets
of hostile reporting against the government.
Paanluel Wel is a leading blog for the
Dinka tribe, known for spearheading tribal political interests for the
Dinka people and inciting hatred and violence against the Nuer people
and other tribes. Nyamilepedia, on the other
hand, is a leading blog for the Nuer tribe, known for promoting Nuer
political interests and spearheading hatred against the Dinka and other
Nuer who left the rebellion to join the Dinka-led government.
TAHURID reports that
Almshaheer and South Africa’s Centre for Conflict Resolution are inaccessible on
IPTEC, but accessible on MTN (the accessibility of which is also
confirmed by OONI data testing
Many other URLs presented network anomalies (such as HTTP failures) as
part of our testing, but such anomalies were most likely caused due to
poor network performance and transient network failures. This suggests
that South Sudanese internet users may encounter challenges in accessing
sites in various points in time, even if they’re not intentionally being
It’s worth highlighting, however, that many of the URLs that we tested
(including internationally popular and local sites) were found to be
accessible in South
Sudan during this study. These include sites related to conflict
resolution and peacekeeping, such as the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS)
Measurements previously collected in 2017 highlight the
presence of an HTTP transparent proxy (Mikrotik).
This proxy is revealed in the HTTP response body in OONI Probe
measurements (linked below) pertaining to the testing of the following
These measurements clearly show that the Mikrotik HTTP transparent proxy
was present last year in the network path to the above sites through
South Sudan’s 4G Telecom (AS327786) network. It remains unclear though
if this proxy is still in use, since measurements haven’t been collected
from this network in recent months.
It’s worth noting that this equipment may potentially be used for
implementing internet censorship and/or for caching (the Mikrotik HTTP
proxy has this feature) to improve connectivity. Given though that most
of these sites were
accessible (and the
ones that weren’t presented different errors, sometimes triggered as
part of anti-DDoS protection), it may be the case that this proxy was
primarily deployed for improving connectivity and network performance.
South Sudan is a young nation in politically turbulent times. Within the
context of conflict, local experts
the challenges of drawing a line between freedom of expression and
which spurs violence.
Internet censorship does not appear to be pervasive, but limited to
sites that authorities
to publish “subversive content” and incite violence. This is evident
through the blocking of
and Paanluel Wel,
the leading blogs of the Nuer and Dinka tribes who are known to incite
violence. OONI data also
corroborates the blocking of media outlets Sudan Tribune
and Radio Tamazuj,
both of which are hosted outside of South Sudan. Local journalists and
media organizations though face different (non-digital) forms of
Juba Monitor, for example, is an
independent South Sudanese newspaper critical of the government. Their
website was found to be
but their editor was
in 2016 as a result of his reporting and the newspaper has been
ordered to cease its publishing
over reports that the government considered “against the system”.
Security personnel has been
at the printing press, forcing journalists to remove or edit articles
critical of the government and its officials prior to publication.
Self-censorship might be one of the most effective forms of censorship
in South Sudan, as suggested by the reported
and killing of journalists.
that the media in South Sudan operate in a state of fear. Earlier this
year, even UN-backed Radio Miraya was
on the grounds of not having acquired a broadcasting license.
Nonetheless, the fact that South Sudan has already started implementing
internet censorship raises questions as to whether its internet
censorship apparatus will expand as internet penetration levels increase
and political events unfold. Further research and testing is therefore
required to better understand the country’s internet landscape and
monitor any new censorship events.
This study offers some initial observations based on network measurements. Since we used
free and open source software,
open methodologies, and open data, our research can
potentially be reproduced and expanded upon.