10 days after the internet shutdown in Ethiopia following the assassination of six top government officials, internet access is being restored. Cherer Aklilu, secretary director of Ethio Telecom, the country’s state-owned monopoly of telecom services, told the Associated Press that internet access has been restored in Addis Ababa today and that it will be restored in other locations across the country “step by step”.
The 10 days internet shut down began June 22, 2019, and became nationwide the following day June 23, 2019, amid report of a failed coup attempt to unseat the regional government in Bahir Dar, Amhara state, north of Addis Ababa. No official explanation was given for the internet cut but the timings from NetBlocks’ observatory suggests it was imposed once the coup plot was uncovered. Ethiopians also suspect that it was aimed at preventing critics from communicating to wide audiences and to protect the country from fake news.
Ironically, on June 22, 2018, exactly a year to the day the internet was shut down 10 days ago, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government had announced a set of reforms aimed at facilitating free speech, declaring that freedom of expression is a foundational right. “A free flow of information is essential for engaged and responsible citizenry. Only a free market of ideas will lead to the truth,” Ahmed’s chief of staff, Fitsum Arega announced.
For the past week, Ethiopians who rely on internet services to conduct businesses have been frustrated. Consequently, the cut has affected the country’s economy; it is estimated that Ethiopia was losing a minimum of $4.5 million daily due to the internet cut. “The government should stop cutting the internet whenever some security or exam issues pop up,” Ethiopian businessman, Abinet Haregu said. “This is a tactic that was tried and failed in the past.”
According to Alp Toker, executive director of NetBlocks, an organisation that monitors internet censorship, the internet shutdown will only delay and radicalise critical voices as Ethiopians are bound to speak up once the internet siege ends and users are back online.
State-ordered internet disruptions and shutdowns are becoming the norm in Africa. In the last five years, at least a score of African countries has completely or partially blocked the internet or social media networks for political reasons. Countries including Mauritania, Sudan, Algeria, Somalia, and the DRC have all shut down the internet during political uprisings, elections and national examinations. Meanwhile, countries like Uganda and Tanzania did not outrightly disrupt the internet but sought to regulate it by it by introducing social media taxes.