Internet shutdowns have disrupted millions of lives in Ethiopia

By Yohannes Eneyew Ayalew, April 4, 2020

Internet Laureate

(QZ) — The people of Wollega province in the western part of Ethiopia did not have access to the internet from January this year to the end of March.

Wollega province is endowed with natural resources such as coffee, gold, platinum, coal, and precious stones. It is also one of the largest provinces in Oromia region where rebel forces such as the Oromo Liberation Front once agitated to create their own independent state. This is the rebel group responsible for the latest attacks on government forces.

The internet and telecommunications blackout was connected to an ongoing security crackdown in the area which has seen conflict between government forces and rebels. The chief executive officer of internet provider Ethio-Telecom said that the shutdown was a result of insecurity in the province. She apologized for the disruptions and said that the company would defer to the decision of the authorities, who have now announced a reconnection in western Oromia—that is, in Kelem, west and east Wollega, and Horo Guduru Wollega.

The three-month-long shutdown affected the region in a number of ways.

A two-week internet blackout in 2019 under prime minister Abiy is estimated to have cost the country $66.9 million.

It prevented families from communicating, severely affected humanitarian services in the region, and contributed to an information blackout. This significantly affected the human rights of citizens in Wollega province. For example, the shutdown made it difficult to locate students who were abducted from a local university in January by effectively ending an online campaign for their rescue. They have yet to be traced. As my research shows, internet shutdowns are not unusual in Ethiopia. Since 2016 the internet has been shut down at least six times. In 2019 alone, Ethiopia experienced three major internet disruptions across the country. One was an attempt to protect the country from cyber attacks, the other was to prevent leakage of school exams over the internet, and the third in response to high profile assassinations in the country’s Amhara region.

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