Ethiopia is still one of the few countries around the world where the state owns the monopoly telecom operator. For that reason, shutting down the internet is always a call away for the people in authority; the situation would be much complicated if there were other private companies operating telecom businesses.
Well, following recent ethnic tension leading to the outbreak of violence in the eastern parts of the country, the authorities shut down internet access in that region. This becomes the first time Ethiopia has shut down internet during the reign of new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who has been praised for being a reformist.
It is reported violence broke out on Saturday in Jijiga, a town that can be described as the capital of the Somali ethnic group in Ethiopia. Apparently, some mob went around looting properties owned by ethnic minorities in the region. Security forces had to intervene in leading to the shooting of four people.
Residents of the Oromia and Harar region are now concerned that the violence could spread from Jijiga neighboring regions within eastern Ethiopia. Normally, such violence leads to revenge attacks by the ethnic group that perceived they were attacked in the first place and must defend their people by retaliating.
The former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn was forced to resign earlier this year in February due to these inter-communal attacks. During the former Prime Minister Desalegn reign, internet and social media shut down were frequent. The government was using it as a tool to stop the youth from organizing attacks and/or retaliatory attacks. There were times the government under Desaleng would switch off the internet for several months at a time.
That mostly happened in Oromia, a large region surrounding the capital Addis Ababa and extends eastwards all the way to the Somali region. In the borders between the Somali and Oromia ethnic groups, about one million people have had to run away from their homes to save their lives from the ethnic violence and killings.
When the new Prime Minister Abiy took office, the government had not (until now) interfered with citizens’ use of social media and other internet services. Abiy has been praised as a reformist who has taken the country’s politics and the economy for a good turn. Though inter-ethnic tension still remains a thorn in his administration.