Ethiopia, a nation celebrated for its rich history, diversity, and stunning landscapes, stands at a crossroads in terms of its digital landscape. With an Internet penetration rate of just 25% as of January 2022, the country is striving to expand digital access nationwide. However, Ethiopia grapples with challenges related to internet censorship, social media regulations, and surveillance, particularly in the context of civil unrest and political transition. The country is a member of the African Union, which does engage in discussions related to cyber governance.
Internet Censorship and Freedom
From May 2005 to April 2018, Ethiopia faced a dark period characterized by censorship impacting independent media, journalists, bloggers, and politicians. More recently, under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, internet shutdowns have intensified as a control mechanism during periods of social and political turbulence. Such shutdowns disrupt entire channels of digital communication and severely limit access to information and freedom of speech.
Peer-to-Peer Services and Torrenting
Limited data is available on the Ethiopian government’s stance on P2P services and torrenting. However, given the broader context of internet censorship and control, it’s reasonable to assume that unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material could lead to legal repercussions.
Media Websites and Social Media Access
Social media blockades are not uncommon in Ethiopia. Platforms like Facebook, Telegram, Tik Tok, and YouTube have been selectively blocked by the authorities. These blockades often extend for prolonged periods, with reports indicating that social media blackouts have even lasted for months. These restrictions usually align with periods of political tension or conflict.
Ethiopia does not have comprehensive regulations that directly address the issue of net neutrality. The largely rural demographic and the absence of a privatized telecommunications market make it challenging to assess the behavior of ISPs concerning net neutrality principles.
While efforts have been made to counter cybercrime, comprehensive laws related to digital rights, data protection, and internet freedom are yet to be fully developed. The government’s reluctance to privatize the telecommunications market further complicates efforts to legislate on these issues.
Surveillance and Privacy
Surveillance is a growing concern in Ethiopia, particularly under the guise of public health measures like the COVID-19 Surveillance System. This aligns with the CDC’s global health security efforts in Ethiopia, aimed at enhancing the country’s ability to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious diseases. While such measures may serve public health objectives, they raise questions about the scope and limitations of digital privacy.
Targeting of Dissenters
The recent civil war in Ethiopia, resulting in the death of around 600,000 civilians, has significantly impacted the digital landscape. Internet shutdowns have often accompanied military actions, leading to humanitarian concerns. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali’s declaration of war on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front further exacerbates the complexities surrounding digital rights and freedoms in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s digital landscape is fraught with challenges that include internet censorship, social media restrictions, and surveillance. As Ethiopia navigates these complexities, it’s crucial to highlight that these issues are not unique to the country but are part of a broader, global conversation on digital rights. Individuals concerned about digital privacy should consider using encrypted communication tools and reputable VPNs as protective measures.