The internet shutdown in Ethiopia will drain millions of dollars from the economy, besides undermining citizens’ rights to impart and seek information, observers of the current state of emergency say.
Ethiopia, the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile phone connectivity in the world. The current protests, which have engulfed the country since Nov. 2015, have only exacerbated that situation. More than 500 people have died in the protests in both the Amhara and Oromia regions according to rights groups, 55 of whom died during a religious festival on Oct. 2.
The thinking behind this blanket shutdown is to curb the spread and flow of information about the unrest, says Endalk Chala, a doctoral candidate in media studies at the University of Oregon, and one of the co-founders of the Zone 9 blog in Ethiopia. (The bloggers, who have gained international recognition, have been arrested and arraigned in court in Ethiopia almost 40 times since April 2014, and some of them have even fled the country to live in exile.)
The latest restriction of internet access has drawn concerns from both regional and international bodies. The African Commission on People and Human Rights, which is based in Addis Ababa, said the governmentshould unblock the internet in the country. As a rising economic powerhouse, Ethiopia is facing a critical moment as two of the country’s biggest ethnic communities protest against the government.