[Column] Greg Whitaker: Embracing VPNs in the wake of government-imposed internet restrictions in Africa
African businesses can find themselves stymied by restrictions and exposed to risk because they have misconceptions about what a VPN can do and how much value it can add. Wholesalers have something of an educational role to play by unlocking the boundless opportunities on the continent.
The growth in the popularity of VPN services reflects the increasing sophistication of business networking requirements around the world and the complexities arising from remote workforces and the reliance on bandwidth-intensive applications.
Businesses are using VPNs to connect with remote data centres and network resources and to protect communications on untrusted public networks with secure encryption. In certain cases, VPN may be the only way to keep businesses connected, as recently demonstrated in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian case
In June 2019, the Internet across Ethiopia was restricted for 10 days after several top government officials were assassinated in an apparent coup attempt. While the Internet shutdown was enforced in the name of national security, it was to the detriment of local businesses – many of whom rely on the Internet to trade.
This was not an isolated incident. In April 2018 many regions of the country were subjected to an Internet blackout that lasted for three months. This was as a result of pockets of unrest in the run-up to a national election. But not every Ethiopian business was left unconnected. Some navigated these difficulties with VPN.
Despite the inevitable damage to the economy and long-term business and investor confidence, it is not uncommon for Internet restrictions to be enforced during elections or times of heightened tensions. It is therefore essential for businesses to equip themselves with a cost-effective and reliable VPN solution, something wholesalers can easily do.