On 11th of June, Ethiopian residents were cut off from the internet. The nationwide internet shutdown lasted for almost a week. Netblocks, an NGO monitoring internet censorship, reported that this has caused Ethiopia to lose around £4.5 million per day. The only and state-run Ethio Telecom apologized to the people after the internet was restored but did not give an official statement about the shutdown. News had it that it was an annual measure for preventing cheats at the national exams – University entrance exam as well as national vocational courses, which usually take place in May and June.
(photo credit to: )
Impact on the country’s economy
Despite upholding an integrity over the exam and preventing students from distractions, Ethiopian internet block is a nationwide scale and has huge impact on citizens’ life as well as the country’s economy.
An Ethiopian tech start-up was interviewed and claimed that the disrupted internet had made them lose opportunities for business development. “It is hours of wasted productivity but also losing trust from clients who are across Canada, Hong Kong, Japan and the US, ” said by the founder and chief executive of Ethiopia’s first Artificial Intelligence lab iCog.
This internet block casts Ethiopia’s economy a cloud of instability. It hit the business in Ethiopia hardly as they depend on online services a lot to keep it running. Netblocks again stated that, “Hard-earned investors and consumer confidence have evaporated.”
According to the International Monetary Fund, Ethiopia was rated the second fastest-growing economy in sub-Saharan African region last year, when Ethiopia even projected its growth rate at 7.7% for 2019. As internet access has gradually become a key to the country’s economy, it remains restricted and controlled by the government. An independent watchdog Freedom House reported that roughly 16 million internet users in Ethiopia have experienced internet block since 2015.
Ironically, last year on 22nd of June, Ethiopian government declared free expression as a foundational right. It was followed by a move of unblocking over 200 websites.
Over the last weekend, a failed military coup led to officials being killed and therefore on Monday Ethiopia held a mourn in Amhara region where the casualties took place. A full military funeral will be held on Wednesday. Ethiopia has stated that the region is now back to its peace.
However, as this failed coup was followed by the internet block. Limited internet access made Ethiopians reply on national television or radio for updates. The watchdog Freedom house pointed out that, “Switching off access will only delay and radicalise critical voices as the government is likely to realise when the shutdown ends and Ethiopia’s internet users start coming back online.”
Ethiopia still offline?
Currently, the internet is still in its shutdown. Netblocks reported on 24th of June that, “The nationwide disconnection may have taken place after the plot was uncovered in support of counter-operations to put down the insurgency.” However, it is still unclear that exactly which party ordered the internet shutdown. Specific reasons of why Ethiopia is still offline cannot be defined.
ICRD this year in May advocated freedom of press, freedom of media and freedom of speech. We believe that internet has gradually taken its importance in nowadays civil society. It provides the citizens to access to information and a platform to voice out. (Read our analysis on digital technology importance to diplomacy)
ICRD hopes that the internet can soon be restored in Ethiopia and allows free access to its people. The development of information, communication and internet technology has really changed the scope of civil society. Therefore, internet has really become an importance in human right as it stands for freedom of speech, freedom of media and press.
Author: Yung Lin, Researcher at ICRD