Ethiopia: Continuing internet shutdowns cast pall on reforms
By Tasie Theodore
The continuing use of internet shutdowns as a means of curbing the spread of misinformation in crisis times is casting a pall on the reforms so far initiated in Ethiopia by the Abiy Ahmed administration.
While the practice had preceded the coming into office of Ahmed as Prime Minister, it has however remained on the cards as an option used by the authorities from time to time, with critics saying that the inability of the Ahmed administration to find more bearable means of addressing information and security challenges in the country was simply not good enough.
The latest use of the weapon came after, particularly members of the Prime Minister’s own Oromo community protested the killing of musician, Hachalu Hundessa. It was in response to that situation that an internet shutdown that lasted three weeks was put in place. It was only lifted on July 23, 2020.
Hundesa had been shot dead by unidentified armed men in the capital, Addis Ababa, consequently triggering deadly protests that spread from the capital Addis Ababa to the Oromia region and claimed over 230 lives even as some other 10,000 people were displaced.
In 2019, there was a similar internet shutdown and information blackout following an alleged assassination and coup attempt in the Amhara region. It had a total impact of over 100 hours and left the country largely offline for 10 days.
It will be recalled that Prime Minister Ahmed has chalked a string of plaudits and awards, including the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace, on account of the early spate of reforms introduced in his first few months in office.
He had also been awarded The Difference Newspaper’s #AfricanLeaderoftheYear 2018 award.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia