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Ethiopia: The bad habit of government shutting down Internet is back again

by Felix Omondi
ethiopia internet

Just when the world was thinking Ethiopia was on track to becoming politically stable and no more civil clash. On Wednesday, the world woke up to a dark and inaccessible Ethiopia as the government went back to its bad habits of shutting down the internet. These acts were particularly common before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took leadership of the East African nation.

On Wednesday this week, Ethiopians woke up cut off from the rest of the world. Something they had gotten used to, and were very glad it had never happened under the reign of the new Prime Minister.

The internet blackout cause major disruptions in the city. For hours, we had no connection to the rest of the world,” complained a DW’s correspondent Yohannes Tarake from the capital Addis Ababa.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (42-years-old) and former intelligence officer, came into the helm of Ethiopia’s political leadership with a raft of reforms and shaking public institutions upside down when he took office six months ago.

As the first-ever Prime Minister coming from the ethnic majority group, Oromo. He was seen as a public figure who will foster peace in the ethnic-diverse nation consisting of over 80 ethnic groups. His predecessor, Hailemariam Desalegn run in the Premier office was marred with unrest, bloodshed with thousands dying, and numerous protest from the Oromo ethnic group.

When Abiy Ahmed took the mantle from Desalegn, he pledged to reform Ethiopia’s security forces and install a multi-party democracy. He has also been instrumental in the reconciliation between Ethiopia and its arch-enemy Eritrea.

So why the return to the old ways all of a sudden?

Six months down the road of Abiy Ahmed Premiership, it appears the government is returning to its old ways of shutting down the internet to muzzle dissenting voices and hide the news from the outside world.

It appears that the new Prime Minister Ahmed’s reforms are rubbing some people in government the wrong way. In a country of over 100 million people coming from 80 different ethnic groups, the Prime Minister is on a tough balancing act of ensuring the interest of each ethnic group is attended to. At the same time, some representatives of certain groups are threatening to shoot down his reformist and reconciliation agenda, since they feel it does not play out to their best interest.

The Military’s Loyalty to Prime Minister put in question

Perhaps the biggest challenge Prime Minister Ahmed is facing in his quest to reform all government bodies is from the army. Some top leaders in the Ethiopian army don’t agree with some of the reform agenda the new Prime Minister is tabling and that could easily jeopardize the country’s political stability.

Army Chief of Staff Fitsum Arega took to Twitter an made a tweet that sent alarm across Ethiopia. Few moments after that tweet, the Prime Minister through the local media address the public saying:

We do not need to resort to name-calling and childish games. We have one state and one government. All citizens are allowed to help strengthening it. And all doors are open to all citizens apart from illegal ones.”

Has part of the Army gone rogue?

Several hundred disgruntled elite soldiers within the Ethiopian army, in their full military regalia and arms, marched to the Prime Minister’s office demanding a meeting. They wanted the Prime Minister to address their payment, working conditions, and some of his reform agenda.

Either way, you look at it, you cannot deny that acts sent a very worrying message not just to Ethiopians but the world at large. Though there are reports that the several hundred soldiers in the march had gotten official clearance from their superiors within the army ranks. It might be too soon to use the word ‘coup’ to describe the situation, but it close enough to befit the situation.

The Internet and Social Media is a threat to Totalitarian governments

Time, and time again, the internet through social media has proved to be a platform for the voiceless. A platform where just about anyone can come and tell the world their version of the story. It empowers citizens. It is that very power that is a threat to totalitarian regimes around the world.

We saw how critical the internet and social media was in the Arab spring, where the citizens coordinated online to bring up protests, which eventually led to the overthrow of dictators from power. It is against this backdrop that governments in Africa, with less-than-democratic leadership, keep targetting the internet and social media whenever there is political tension.

We saw it in Burundi when the President was running for his contentious third-term in office. We see it now in Uganda where the incumbent changed the constitution to remove age limit. Ethiopia has been famous for its internet blackout, especially when the Oromo people stage protests, which often turn out bloody as the authority engage them.

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