Dibora Samson

The internet has played a crucial role in changing millions of lives in Ethiopia. Lately, thousands of technology-driven private and public enterprises have been popping up everywhere across the nation, and the latest episode of nationwide internet blackout has taken its toll on the budding industry, writes Dibora Samson. 

For the world we are in right now, shutting down the internet even for a day is supposed to be a violation of the right to information and digital rights. Ironically, in Ethiopia, it has not been a quite bizarre phenomenon. Internet shutdown has occurred more than a dozen times following an occurrence of different national instabilities the country has been through during the last few years.

Following the unrest in the country in the wake of the tragic assassination of popular Ethiopian artists, Hachalu Hundessa, another round of government-enforced internet shutdown that lasted for over 15 days threatened to cripple the already-struggling digital industry. Despite the partial restoration of the fixed-line broadband network a few days ago, mobile data which takes over 80% of the overall internet coverage remains still off. The shutdown continues to cost the country millions of dollars every day.

Following the first cases of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ethiopia, the nation saw a significant surge in the use of the internet and online services as more people made decisions to work from home. Virtual entertainment events, conferences, online learning, and other streaming services and eCommerce services were on the rise while some eCommerce services such as Deliver Addis were seeing a record level of market increase when the internet shutdown brought the entire sector to a screeching halt.

The past two weeks of internet blackout has been a tedious time of his life for Kidus Dawit, a taxi driver working with RIDE, a leading internet-based ride-hailing company in Addis. “Due to the shutdown, I have been completely out of work as a RIDE driver,” Says Kidus, “I had also started an online course on Accounting and Finance from Corporate Finance Institute (CFI) before the internet shut down, I have completely pushed off the grid because of the blackout” Explains Kidus.

After the global urge of applying physical distancing rule, various event organizers in Addis had started taking roots with a growing audience base. Webinar sessions, virtual concerts, and other online events were going increasingly viral on various platforms.

Jupiter Toastmasters’ Club was among such event organizers hosting their sessions online. “We canceled all the online sessions we intended to deliver for our members. We also had to meet with other fellow clubs and design the annual plan of our educational programs but we were forced to cancel that both due to the shutdown,” explains Mohammed Mustafa, Area Director at Jupiter Toastmasters overseeing three clubs.

“Our physical session used to occur held every two other international and east African Toastmaster clubs webinar sessions.” Said Mohammed.

Chimp events and promotions were one of the organizers that arranged a virtual concert for its audiences.

 “We planned to host a live-streamed virtual concert titled Des Des that was planned to begin in the first week of internet shutdown. We planned the concert to be streamed live every two weeks on social media, with a large number of audiences,” Mikias Zena, Founder of Chimp Events notes, “We will be coerced to start the promotion over as soon as the internet comes back.” Mikias adds.

While the government claims the reason behind the nationwide internet shutdown has been the effort to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, many agree that the ensuring the safety and security shouldn’t come at the expense of a young and growing sector of the economy. “After all,” says Eyob, a manager at a local digital media and marketing company, “If anything, the government should recognize the internet and digital sector as an integral element of the economy, and shutting down the internet should be off the list in the government’s security protocol”

 

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