Ethiopia anger over texting and internet blackouts

Tuesday June 18 2019

Ethiopia's text messaging service has been shut down since June 13, 2019 and internet blackouts began on June 11, 2019. PHOTO | BBC


Ethiopians are angry that the country's text messaging service has been shut down since Thursday without any explanation.

Internet blackouts, which began on June 11, 2019, are also still affecting many areas of the country.

The state-run Ethio Telecom, the country's only telecoms provider, has refused to comment on the outages.

The closure of the services coincides with nationwide exams, which some say may be the reason for the shutdown.

There has been speculation the measures are aimed at trying to stop students cheating, the BBC's Kalkidan Yibeltal reports from the capital, Addis Ababa.

The messaging app Telegram, which is popular among young Ethiopians, also remains inaccessible.



The internet was shut down in 2016 and 2017 to curb the leaking of exam papers amid popular anti-government protests.

But when reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came into office last year he allowed more freedom of expression and previously banned websites were unbanned.

This is the first time since he came to power that there has been a clampdown - and the lack of any official explanation is a reminder of the behaviour of previous governments.

After protests that followed disputed elections in 2005, the text message service was closed for about two years.

This time the texting service was turned off after it was reported on Wednesday that four students had been caught cheating after sending each other messages.

If the shutdowns are linked to exams, things should return to normal on Wednesday - as the last exams are being held on Tuesday

But the fact that there are no exams held on weekends has left people questioning why the text service has remained off.

Over the past week, the internet has occasionally returned at night and has been available in Addis Ababa since Friday evening, but it has not been switched back on in many other towns.


Besides the everyday inconvenience and frustration, it is having a bad effect on business.

According to Neblocks, an organisation which monitors freedom of access to the internet, a one-day shutdown of the internet costs Ethiopia at least $4.5million.

Netblocks director Alp Toker told BBC Focus on Africa such outages also have long-term consequences by affecting investor confidence.

This is important because on Thursday Ethiopia's Parliament approved a law to open up the telecommunications sector, allowing foreign operators access Africa's second-most populous country.

The country expects to issue the first licences to multi-national mobile companies by the end of the year, bringing an end to a state monopoly in one of the world's last, large telecommunications markets.