Press Release – Advancing Digital Rights in Ethiopia: Launch of Network for Digital Rights in Ethiopia (NDRE)

Ethiopia, September 26, 2019: Civil society leaders and interested citizens today launched an initiative to advance digital rights in Ethiopia under the auspices of the Network for Digital Rights in Ethiopia (NDRE). 

Composed of prominent human rights lawyers, civil society leaders, and interested citizens, NDRE works to identify digital right gaps in Ethiopia and seeks proactive solutions that advance freedom of expression, association, and economic rights of citizens utilizing the digital space.

We are a network of people who advocate for uninterrupted internet access to Ethiopians, help protect their privacy rights, create awareness and build capacity in partnership with civic groups, government, private sector and citizens at large to advocate and protect a principal medium of communication that people depend on,” said Amha Mekonnen, Chair of the digital rights group NDRE.

An increasing number of Ethiopians are using computers and networks to conduct work and activities in their private lives. However, there is no organization that works for the protection of their digital rights. As a result, there are many limitations and dangers in using Information and Communication Technologies in Ethiopia. This is why a group of interested individuals and organizations established the Network for Digital Rights in Ethiopia (NDRE) to work for better understanding and protection of digital rights in Ethiopia.

Atnafu Berhane, a digital rights advocate and a member of the iconic Zone 9 bloggers movement said, “forming a network of civic groups and individuals committed to the advancement of digital rights has a long-lasting impact in the respect of freedom of expression, association, and economic rights of Ethiopian citizens”.

NDRE works to influence policy, laws, and regulations that affect platform ownership and the right to internet access that is deemed critical for the socio-economic advancement of Ethiopians.   

The administrative and legal home of the network, The Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD), hosted the launching NDRE on the sidelines of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) that took place in Addis Ababa from September 23-26 2019.

Media Contacts

Henok Fente| hsf2104@gmail.com and Atnafu Brhane| atnafu.b@ndrethiopia.org| +251965681507

Internet Shutdowns are hurting Ethiopians

Between 2016 and 2019 Ethiopia had more than 8 Internet shutdowns. In the first half of 2019 only, the country experienced a series of nationwide blackouts to “avoid national exam cheating” and “national security” reasons. NetBlocks estimated that Ethiopia lost 4.5 million USD per day as a result of these Internet shutdowns. We can easily guess that many sectors such as tourism, foreign direct investment, and businesses that have foreign suppliers or clients were affected. But there was no study that showed the impact of Internet Shutdowns on regular Ethiopians and foreigners living in Ethiopia as well as their organizations. This is why the Network for Digital Rights in Ethiopia in collaboration with Internet Society conducted a survey that has shed light on how regular Ethiopian citizens have been affected by Internet Shutdowns.

The results of this survey, conducted online in September 2019 and responded by 222 people, revealed the frustration of Ethiopians and foreigners living in Ethiopia with regards to shutdowns. A solid majority (65.32%) of the respondents said that Internet shutdowns have considerably affected their work (Figure 1) while 35.59% said they were also affected considerably in their private day to day life. The survey showed that all the sectors of the economy are affected by Internet shutdowns.

Figure 2: How much was you work affected by Internet Shutdown

Many also said that shutdowns have subjected them to significant financial losses and inefficiency. Indeed, more than a quarter of the respondents said that their work efficiency decreased by an astounding 75% or more (Figure 2).

Figure 2: How much of your work efficiency do you loose when there is no Internet

Some of the personal testimonials from the respondents who have been impacted by the shutdowns in Ethiopia are below:


“I was a final year Computer Science student and my team and I were working on our final year project at the time of the shutdown which challenged us in finishing the project as scheduled”.


“We use sensors to monitor the functionality of motorized water supply systems in Afar and Somali lowland and remote areas. Our sensors use GSM network to transmit data to a cloud based server. Since three years ago, the frequent internet shutdowns affected our work tremendously: data loss, equipment malfunctions due to battery drainage repeatedly trying to send data but failed to do so, etc. During the 2017 six months long internet shutdown, we lost about USD 50,000”


“I write and submit academic articles for international journals and due to the shutdowns I have been unable to respond to comments on time which has resulted in the rejection of many of my articles.” 


“I am a social media marketer which means my work literally depends on the Internet and I have not been able to do my work…”

“We couldn’t download artworks of our advertisers. So, we had to go to their office in person to get the files, which caused extra cost and significant delays in our printing time”.

In today’s connected world, shutdowns significantly affect the increasing need for access to information and communications technology as well as undermine the economic benefits of the Internet, affecting economic growth and longer-term development. Additionally, shutdowns disrupt access to essential services such as health care risking the safety of citizens. This survey shows that Ethiopia is no different from other countries and Internet Shutdowns are affecting negatively its citizens and its economy. 

While we recognize that the government has the duty to safeguard the security of its people, ensure the reliability of exam results, etc. we do not believe that shutting down the Internet is a sustainable solution. On the contrary, it might hurt the economy and the morale of the population and exacerbate the same problems the government is trying to solve.

The full results of the survey will soon be available on the website of Network for Digital Rights in Ethiopia. For more information contact: info@ndrethiopia.org.

Together let’s #KeepItOn

Contact Us

We have just set up our digital rights group, and we would love to hear from you! Reach out to us via info@ndrethiopia.org

Working Groups

In order to address the different digital right issues, we will be setting up working groups that focus on specific digital right issues. Any individual or organization can propose a working group as long as the working group’s objective is within the scope of the network and it provides a ToR that satisfies minimal criteria to be established by the network. Our flagship working group is Preventing Internet Shutodwns in Ethiopia, aka PISE working group. More information about this working group will follow soon.

Our Work

NDRE has three objectives: we aim to increase awareness about digital rights, establish communities that work together to promote digital rights, and influence policy, regulations, and legislations that affect digital rights

We have a publically accessible mailing list that is open to the public and will be used to engage policy, advocacy, and technical issues related to internet shutdowns in Ethiopia.

We also have different working groups that focus on specific digital right issues. Any individual or organization can propose a working group as long as the working group’s objective is within the scope of the network and it provides a ToR that satisfies minimal criteria to be established by the network. Our flagship working group is Preventing Internet Shutodwns in Ethiopia, aka PISE working group. More information about this working group will follow soon.

About Us

On a rainy Monday in Addis Ababa, where the monsoon heavens have opened ushering in Kiremt, Ethiopia’s prominent human rights lawyer, Amha Mekonnen, had called a meeting to discuss a blackout. Internet was out for weeks and it had nothing to do with the weather. Local and international headlines pointed fingers to the country’s new reformist leader, Abiy Ahmed, who was hailed as a guardian of freedom of expression going quickly for the internet kill switch. This was not an isolated incident, and there was no explanation from the government telecom provider, which was a cause for concern for Amha Mekonnen. 

“What shall we do about internet shutdowns and lac restrictions?” he asked a room full of civic groups and interested individuals. “Is internet shutdown an effective way of improving public order?” provoking a brainstorming session that let to the creation of the Network for Digital Rights in Ethiopia, a volunteer group composed of civil society and interested individuals that works to improve digital rights in Ethiopia. 

NDRE is led by prominent Ethiopian lawyer Amha Mekonnen, and its administrative and legal home is the Center for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD), a registered civil society organization in
Ethiopia. NDRE is a civil society-led network composed of human rights, media, and digital rights advocacy civic groups and interested individuals.

Mission

NDRE works to identify digital right gaps in Ethiopia and seeks proactive solutions that advance freedom of expression, association, and economic rights of citizens utilizing the digital space. To do so, we create strategic partnerships with civic groups, government, private sector and citizens at large to advocate and protect a principal medium of communication that people depend on. 

Objectives

We are a volunteer, open membership crew working to advance digital rights in Ethiopia through the following priority areas of civic engagement and actions:

  • Build capacity to create awareness on privacy gaps, uninterrupted access to information online, and protect economic opportunities citizens have in the digital space. 
  • Establish communities online and offline that protect digital freedom, setup platform watchdog groups that monitor and respond to misinformation and advocate for data privacy.
  • Influence policy, laws and regulations that affect platform ownership and the right to internet access that is deemed critical for the socio-economic advancement of the continent. 
  • Proactively and strategically engage with telecom providers, government regulators, courts, law enforcement, private sector, civic groups and other stakeholders to mitigate internet shutdowns.        

Theory of Change

Universal internet access and use unleashes people’s potential to create, innovate, communicate and open their entrepreneurial spirit to an interconnected world. With internet on, business thrives, disadvantaged groups, gain access to knowledge and information they use to change their lives, free speech flows and futures are secured.