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.
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).
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.
Together let’s #KeepItOn