Old habits die hard: Ethiopia blocks internet in the eastern part of the country again

Amid growing tensions between the national and regional governments in the Somali region of Ethiopia, the national government has resorted to shutting off broadband and mobile internet. The picturesque cities of Harar and Dire Dawa and the whole Somali region of Ethiopia have been without access to the internet for four days, while violence in Eastern Ethiopia has claimed the lives of many civilians.  

The Ethiopian government has a troubling history of implementing internet shutdowns. Until very recently, the whole country did not have mobile internet except in the capital, Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is also one of several countries known to have deployed internet shutdowns during school exams.

Ethiopia’s new prime minister had reiterated his commitment to protect and expand freedom of expression online and offline during his inaugural speech. This commitment was followed by the unblocking over 260 websites that were previously unavailable inside the country. These moves ushered in a sense of hope in Ethiopia that the new administration would not regress to old habits.

However, the government’s actions this past weekend show that Ethiopia still has a long way to go to protect freedom of expression and access to information in the country. The lack of transparency around the decision to cut off the internet and the deafening silence from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and Ethio-Telecom continue to make shutdown incidents in Ethiopia a mystery.  The #KeepItOn community has sent a letter to MCIT calling on the minister’s office to restore the internet in Eastern Ethiopia.

Ethiopia can’t afford to shut down the internet

In addition to harming human rights, internet shutdowns also cost the country millions of birr. According to data from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and NetBlocks, the current shutdowns in Eastern Ethiopia have already cost the country more than 3.5 million birr.

Your story could help stop the shutdowns  

If you’re in Ethiopia, your voice is especially important right now.  You can use this form to tell your shutdown story, to provide a narrative account with details on the direct impact it has had on your life. It is critically important to show the real effect of shutdowns on the people who suffer from them.