Ethiopia ended a three month internet blackout on Monday as its new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed settles into his role. Ever since 2015, when protests and demonstrations erupted in the Oromiya and Amhara regions to call for more political representation in government, land rights and a breakup of the ruling coalition, there have been fears that Ethiopia was on the brink of a breakup.
However, along with the appointment of Abiy Ahmed, who hails from the Oromo region, putting an end to the internet blackout is pointing to a gradual thaw for government-sponsored repression.
Ethiopia’s economic rise in the past few years has often beenderailed by the festering political crises. The East-African country was the third-fastest growing economy in the world between 2000 and 2016, and it is currently the fastest growing economy in the world in 2018. The economy is booming.
The protests in 2015 revealed the deep seated anger many minority groups in Ethiopia felt towards the ruling coalition of Ethiopia. In return, government repression of citizens living in the affected regions followed these protests since 2015, resulting in the loss of many lives (more than 600 people) and properties. It also led to the government intermittently shutting down internet access, a new pastime of many authoritarian African governments.
Internet shutdowns are usually established by African governments to stop the online proliferation of news they don’t like, and also prevent the mobilization of people for rallies on such platforms as Whatsapp, Facebook, and Twitter. Ethiopia loses millions of dollars whenever it shuts down the internet, but that is negligible to the effect it has on small business owners like Internet cafe owners, who are usually helpless as they watch their businesses crumble months on end, sometimes up to 6 months, due to government repression.
In a country where mobile subscription is still quite expensive, internet cafes are the other ways through which information can be disseminated on a wide-scale. And the latest online blackout end is good news for businessmen like Hassan Bulcha, who owns an internet cafe in the Oroma region. “We are very happy that it is back to normal,” he said, after being interviewed by the New York Times.
Ethiopia hopes to bring an end to the political crisis in the country, and the appointment of Abiy Ahmed looks in order. The 42 year old Oromo indigene and former Ethiopian army officer who embodies different motivations, has begun travelling around Ethiopia to placate the people affected by government oppression in the past few years.
Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, and the fastest growing economy in the world, deserves the accolade of “Giant of Africa”. Though the country is still under a state of emergency, announced after its previous prime minister stepped down, the resumption of normal internet services and the appointment of a minority member as prime minister indicates that Ethiopians can begin to hope again.