Ethiopia has been offline, and nobody really knows why
By Samuel Getachew, CNN, Mon June 17, 2019
(CNN) — Internet outages that prevented many Ethiopians from accessing online services have entered a seventh day, sparking anger and frustration among citizens.
Access to social media platforms like Whatsapp and Telegram have been restricted since June 11, according to internet monitoring service Netblocks.
In the capital of Addis Ababa, business owners and journalists told CNN Monday they were using VPN to connect to the internet and access messaging platforms.
Tour operator Serak Tadele complained that he has been struggling to get online to book travel plans for his clients since the internet restrictions began last week.
“Every time there is a suspension of internet, we continue to use the business center at luxury hotels,” Tadele told CNN.
“It’s expensive and is an added cost to us, and sadly, we can not simply pass that on to our customers. But it ultimately, this hurts our business,” he added.
Speculation is rife that the internet restrictions are in place to prevent cheating by final year secondary students sitting for a national examinations.
Connections were partially restored at different times last week but many people were unable to go online most of the time. Text messaging services have been disabled since last Thursday.
There should be an official explanation from the concerned office regarding the Internet shutdown. If it is related with the national exam taking place, it should be disclosed properly. Customers must not be kept in dark. #Ethiopia
— Sileshi Yilma Reta (@Sileshiyilma) June 11, 2019
Cherer Aklilu, executive director of Ethio Telecom, the country’s only telecoms provider, declined to comment to CNN on Monday.
“There is no official statement from our side,” she said.
CNN contacted the Office of the Ethiopian Prime Minister but there was no response.
An Ethiopia and Eritrea researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW), Felix Horne said the web outages could negatively impact the country’s economy and commitment to freedom of expression.
“Blocking the internet countrywide to deter a few possible exam cheats makes it impossible for all Ethiopians to access information,” Horne said. “It hurts the economy, it hurts Ethiopia’s international image, and it flies in the face of the government’s stated commitments to freedom of expression.”
Before Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April 2018, the internet had been switched off for three months in many regions where there had been pockets of unrest.
When he took office, Abiy ended the blackout; freed political prisoners, journalists and bloggers and implemented economic reforms to attract foreign investment to the country.
“While Abiy’s government has made impressive progress on freedom of expression and access to information, blacking the internet is a step backward and reminiscent of the previous government he is so keen to distance himself from,” Horne added.