For immediate release, June 24 2019
On the 22nd of June 2019, Ethiopia experienced an attempted coup against the administration in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region. The failed coup in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara regional state government led to four people being killed, including Ethiopia’s Army Chief of Staff and regional governor Ambachew Mekonnen. The Prime Minister confirmed this on a press conference on the 23rd June where he urged the nation to unite and assured them that the situation was under control.The shooting in Bahir Dar occurred when the state president was holding a meeting to decide how to stop the recruitment of ethnic Amhara militias by Asamnew. In a video spread on Facebook a week earlier and seen by a Reuters reporter Asamnew had advised the Amhara people to arm themselves in preparation for fighting against other groups.
Director of Programs, Paradigm Initiative, Tope Ogundipe stated, ‘’Prior to the attempted coup there was an internet shutdown from 11 June 2019’’. According to NetBlocks on 14 June, 4:00 p.m. UTC the internet was partially restored, however national connectivity was unstable. Network data showed that messaging apps like Telegram remained restricted as of Friday 21 with no explanation as to why. It was also reported that Ethiopia’s internet was largely disconnected from Saturday evening 22 June 2019 during procession of attempted coup. Paradigm Initiative’s Google Policy Fellow for Eastern Africa, Rebecca Ryaktimbo, noted ‘’This leaves much to be desired; that there’s possibly more to the shutdown than meets the eye at this precise time in the transformation process of Ethiopia’’.
Ethiopia is not new to internet shutdowns it has been common to experience shutdowns during uncertain times and school examination periods. However since the onset of the new administration efforts have been made to reform Ethiopia’s human rights scope. Among the attempts of this current regime is the privatisation of the Telecom industry which is dominated by a state owned Telecom company. Earlier this month, Ethiopia’s parliament approved a draft law that enables foreign companies to invest in the telecommunications industry of Africa’s second-most populous nation.The legislation establishes an independent communications regulator, accountable to the prime minister, that will be responsible for promoting competition.The new law also says that ownership of telecoms companies “shall be open without limitation to private investors including both domestic investors and foreign investors”.
Paradigm Initiative’s Google Policy Fellow for Eastern Africa, Rebecca Ryakitimbo added, ‘’Now more than ever the government of Ethiopia needs to keep the digital space open, at a time of rebuilding the democratic landscape of the nation’’. This includes freedom of expression and access to information. She continued, ”While governments may think that throttling and keeping a tight leash on the internet may help to control narratives during crisis, this is not the case in fact it does not only damage the economy but further destroys the people’s trust in the system.” The growing ecosystem of technology and innovation in Ethiopia is not the only party to face turbulence when the internet is shutdown more so the end users who are building businesses, relationships and finding their voices and communities of trust online are at the receiving end of the consequences of a shutdown.
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