Internet ‘Shutdown’ Disincentivizes Business

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a name for himself as an African reformer because of the successive policy changes he introduced to liberalize one of Africa’s closed economies. The licensing of the second telecom operator, Safaricom, which ended Ethiopia’s 127 years of telecom monopoly, has indeed sent a strong signal about Ethiopia’s commitment to build a digital economy.

The country has also taken several policy reforms to smooth the transition towards a more liberal and open economy. It crafted a new digital Ethiopia 2025 strategy, the goal of which is to bring technology to the people, as well as to industries. Digital Ethiopia 2025 focuses on e-commerce and the ability to digitize services. The use of modern technology to operate in these spaces will create better room for investment. Digitization in the public sector, such as the implementation of the national ID database, would boost efficiency as Ethiopians shall be able to connect to the internet through a single streamlined system.

The initiative to partially privatize ethio telecom is further expected to improve the competitiveness and service quality of the state giant and over all telecom industry. The government has also take several other policy measures to put behind age old challenges which made online payment and transactions almost impossible in Africa’s second most populous country.

With all these positive remarks that earned a big respect for the government and the premiere, the recent regressive measures demonstrated with intermittent internet blockage and social media platforms is denunciable.

Sparked by tensions between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the government, the shut down on social media platforms, including Telegram, Facebook, and TikTok started in the second week of February. The shutdown has continued until now even though peace between the church and the government has been restored almost a month ago.

Internet blockade is a human rights violation because it is a denial to access to information and freedom of expression. Nevertheless authorities in Ethiopia have frequently blocked access on several instances citing growing security concerns. While the need to address peace and security issues should always remain top in the government’s priority, respecting citizens’ right to information is equally crucial.

Beyond the political repercussions, internet shutdown bleeds the economy. A new report by Top10VPN, a London-based virtual private network (VPN), review firm that assesses internet privacy, security, and freedom shows that Ethiopian businesses have lost USD145.8 million due to internet blackout in Tigray in 2022The country lost USD100 million to internet outage in 2020. The figure further grew to USD164.5 million in 202l. This is a big price to pay for a country that has to do so much to attract investment. It’s a disincentive to the many flourishing internet based businesses that’s taken Ethiopia’s name in the map. It scares investors and tourists from coming and investing in Ethiopia.EBR

11th Year • March 2023 • No. 115


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