“The Internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” – Barack Obama
Whilst this statement may apply to the global village of tomorrow, internet is certainly not always accessible for Ethiopians. My colleague stationed in Addis Ababa often complains that limited internet access is the toughest part of living in Ethiopia.
Whilst Internet cafes are gradually appearing everywhere in Addis Ababa, internet connections in Ethiopia remain amongst the worst on the continent where bandwidth is often insufficient. The average connectivity speed is said to remain at levels of 1mbps in the best connected areas. With an internet penetration rate below 4% (penetration stands at more than 43% in neighbouring country Kenya), the government is attempting a broader expansion of access throughout the country. However, this effort is impeded by a large rural population in Ethiopia and government’s failure to grant any privatisation in the telecommunications market.
The state-owned Ethio Telecom remains as the sole internet service provider in the country. As such, slow connectivity (or even no connectivity at certain restricted times) extends to businesses, NGO’s, private and government colleges and universities as well. The Ethiopian government has continuously emphasised that the telecom monopoly will not be privatised in the near future. Whilst Ethio Telecom was dubbed a “cash cow” for the government, its management was outsourced to France Telecom for 2 years in order to meet the demands of the fast-growing country.
The Ethiopian government is highly suspicious of the internet. According to reports produced by the OpenNet Initiative and Freedom House, the Ethiopian government imposes nationwide politically motivated internet filtering. Opposition websites and others critical of the government are frequently blocked. Writer’s experience in Ethiopia was that even the Sameway website was also blocked! During the unrest in 2016, all social media was completely blocked and internet was patchy (inclusive of all corporate businesses). More recently in June this year, internet was shut down for 2 weeks across the country because of university entrance exams taking place. As copies of the exams were leaked online in the prior year, the government decided on a nationwide internet blackout to prevent such incidents again.
In one of the fastest growing economy in Africa, is internet a threat or an opportunity for Ethiopia? Either way, it seems internet will remain a luxurious good in the near Ethiopian future.