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The Internet equivalent of three meals a day

By Hindessa Abdul

Ethiopia[‘s dictator] has minted a new ministry of Communication and Information Technology. It is not yet clear what it is officially entrusted to do. The most obvious thing though, the country has largely missed out on information technology. The state’s monopoly on telecommunication didn’t help improve matters. To the contrary, it was part of the problem. Lately there has been some talk of liberalizing the sector. A French company is expected to take over the management of the dreaded Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC).

Words spoken

“We plan to ensure universal access and Internet connectivity to all the tens of thousands of rural kebeles (districts) of our country over the next two to three years.” Prime minister Meles Zenawi. (AP, April 5, 2005). That is the Internet equivalent of three meals a day!

Sometimes back, the newly appointed minister while heading the Ethiopian Information Communications Technology Development Agency (EICTDA) was quoted as saying: “Ethiopia’s investment in Information and Communication Technology is considered to be one of the highest in the world”. Though we don’t know where he got the figure from , he unabashedly added : “the government has invested over USD 14 billion over the last decade.” (The Reporter, August 25, 2007)

Where is the beef?

The Phone – With a motto of “Connecting Ethiopia to the Future”, ETC has actually thrown the country in communication doldrums. Just a little over 3 million people have mobile phones. Ethiopia’s mobile phone penetration rate stands at 5% while that of sub-Saharan Africa is 39%. “Elsewhere in Africa, the debate is about the relative merits of Blackberries and iPhones. In Ethiopia, it is simply about getting a phone,” wrote the Economist in its May edition.

The government has been resisting liberalization on this sector not wanting to share the profits with others. A couple of years back a top government official defending the monopoly was quoted as saying the mobile phone is a cow yet to be milked. That is at the expense of the population. Not only is the number limited, as the government controls the network, it can deny services at will. From 2005 to 07 Ethiopians were denied text messaging services because the ruling party fared miserably in the usage of the medium to garner support while the opposition parties were efficient in mobilizing supporters using the new media. When the government finally felt confident of its firm grip on power, text services resumed.

Internet – When it comes to the internet, the picture is even grimmer. Ethiopians not only are at the mercy of one single provider, but they get the most expensive service. A study on broadband internet connection access sponsored by UN tells a gruesome reality. Ethiopia is the second most expensive place to get a fixed broadband connection only preceded by the Central African Republic.

According to International Telecommunication Union, Ethiopia has around 360,000 internet users which is a mere 0.4 % of the total population. While some countries have already passed a law making broadband internet connection to each household an obligation so government can provide services online (Finland), Ethiopia seems to be in a medieval period. 15 years after the Internet has become a global phenomenon, it is only the lucky few who can chat over Skype or use web cams to communicate. And when it happens, in most cases it is with relatives and friends living abroad rather than Ethiopians living in different corners of the country.

It is not unusual to see people in Internet cafes reading magazines while surfing the internet. So much for the “highest in the world” investment.

Hope you like jammin’ too

If there has been a success in the government’s endeavor to develop the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector so far, it is the blocking of websites and jamming of electronic media broadcasters. Ethiopia began filtering websites well before many countries as early as 2005. ETC’s monopoly helped ease blocking the sites and monitoring personal email exchanges, hosted in its servers. The Open Net Initiative, a leading internet freedom watchdog said of Ethiopia as “the only country in sub-Saharan Africa to actively engage in political Internet filtering.”

And it is right there where the motive of establishing the new ministry lies. To undertake the jamming and filtering more vigorously. Not playing a suicide bomber when jamming broadcasters. Remember when they knocked of poor ETV from the spectrum in their bid to jam ESAT!

As former security chief at the Bole International Airport, the newly appointed minister Mr Debretsion Gebremichael, knows a thing or two about jamming. Some are already calling him jammer-in–chief for the role he played so far. For that “unrelenting service”, last month he has been promoted to the 9 member TPLF executive committee. And his latest appointment is an extension of that. The move tells loads about where the rulers’ priority lies.

Getting by

Even with the abysmal state of the internet connection in the country people have been yearning to tap from the benefit of ICT. Recent studies indicate that there are about 143,000 Facebook users in Ethiopia. (Kenya with less than half the population of Ethiopia has close to a million Facebookers). Not that hooking to the social networking sites is the yardstick for ICT development, but it gives some idea about the level of expansion of the sector. People have long understood the benefits. The government which is supposed to expand the sector is trying their best to control it in every possible way, hindering the growth. Never forget that even with the most minimum access to internet, Ethiopians were among the first bloggers in the Sub Saharan Africa.

What’s to be done?

* The most straightforward thing to do is just expand the broadband connection. There were already talks about ETC signing contract with SEACOM, a Mauritius based company which was supposed to connect the country through submarine fiber optic cable to the rest of the world via Djibouti.

* Avoid ETC’s monopoly. ETC, at its current state, cannot connect Ethiopia to its past, let alone the future.

* Stop filtering online media and jamming electronics broadcasters. The World Wide Web carries information and ideas. ICT is not about the computers and the gadgets, it is about the information carried and transmitted through it.

* Finally, no need to reinvent the wheel by churning out new ministries.

11 thoughts on “The Internet equivalent of three meals a day

  1. Is Meles going to stop invading people’s privacy? Invading privacy by listening to people’s phone conversation and reading people’s e-mails is a serious crime which Meles does on a daily basis.

  2. Who are our rulers to wish us well? Our rules are not ours to provide us with basic necessities much less cutting edge technologies. Nobody provoked the Woeyanes. No Ethiopian had had bad blood with Woeyanes yet here they are still defecating on the Ethiopians after 19 years. The world is awash with Syrian/Assyrians in key places. Meles having sat on David’s Throne is the catalyst. There is Steven P. Jobs, Apples CEO, whose biological father – Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian Muslim. The world’s richest, Carlos Slim Helú, is a Syrian-Mexican by way of Lebannon. So is Sudan’s Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, an accused genocider, a Syrian descent. Power, Wealth, Technolgy – you name it – they have it. Do not sing glory songs for them yet for they are better at that, too.

  3. Mr. Abdul

    When the government said it spent 15 billion on telecommunication, they are actually telling the truth.

    Most of that money was spent on the latest jamming technology from China.

    your truly,


  4. Dear Hindessa Abdul,

    Thank you for the well written piece. The new Minister is not new. He has been the boss of ETC for a few years, as Chair of the Board of Management. He acted as CEO of the company. He made decisions by himself even without the consent of other members. A few members complained about his actions and their role and finally resigned from their assignment. Mr Debretsion is a dangerous dictator with a vengeful spirit.
    It doesn’t surprise me if he invests anything to jam oposition voice. By the way, the involvement of the French team has nothing to do with liberalization. It is just outsourcing the management function of the monopoly operator. According to inside sources, ETC will pay around 30Million dollars a year for the service. Telecom was one called a “Cash Cow” by one of the government officials, Kassu Illala. The TPLF government will not let anybody to touch its “Cash Cow”. On the other hand, they can only have the jamming power if it is only under government monopoly.
    When the government decided to close down the Text Message service after the 2005 election, ETC lost millions of dollars from the service. No private operator would be willing to lose that amount of money. ETC, however, can “afford” to lose because it belongs to the government.
    The important factors “Cash Cow” and it ability to “inform citizens” make the telecom sector a hostage by the TPLF led government.

    By the way, the government has invested a huge sum of money for its video conferencing facility, what they call Woreda Net. It was built purely for its cadres and did not do much. It still sits idle except a few times a year where the PM and Tefera Walewa was lecturing to their cadres.

    Thank you for the information. If there is interest I can write a lengthy article on the subject.

    Thank you again.

  5. The last part of the article,

    “* Avoid ETC’s monopoly. ETC, at its current state, cannot connect Ethiopia to its past, let alone the future.”

    is classic, I like it and its true, if it connects us to the past, its glorious to have nationalist leaders we had throughout our history, if it connects us to the future, then it would be the riddance of woyanne, since they are against both venues, they have chosen to connect us to the present…”the junta regime”

  6. የአንድ ዕብድ ትንቢት D.K.

    አንድ ዕብድ አራት ኪሎ ላይ ጆሊ ባር ፊት ለፊት ቆሞ «ወደፊት የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ በስድስት ይከፈላል፣ በስድስት ይከፈላል» እያለ ቡትቶውን እየጎተተ ይጮኻል፡፡ አጠገቡ የነበሩ ጋዜጣ ሻጮች «ዝም በል፣ ዕብድ፣ ተነሣብህ ደግሞ፤ማን ይከፍለዋል ደግሞ፤ መዓት አውሪ» አሉና ሊያባርሩት እጃቸውን ወነጨፉ፡፡ እርሱም በተራው ከት ብሎ ሳቀና «የዕውቀት ማነስ ችግር አለባችሁ፡፡ ኩላሊታችሁ ችግር አለበት፡፡ የኛ ሰው መከፋፈል ልማዱኮ ነው፡፡ በዝባዥ እና ተበዝባዥ፤ አድኃሪ እና ተራማጅ፤ ፊውዳል እና ፀረ ፊውዳል፤ ኢምፔሪያሊስት እና ፀረ ኢምፔሪያሊስት፤ አብዮተኛ እና ፀረ አብዮተኛ፤ ሕዝባዊ እና ፀረ ሕዝብ፤ ልማታዊ እና ፀረ ልማት፤ ኮሚቴ ሰብሳቢ እና ኪራይ ሰብሳቢ» መልሶ ከት ብሎ ሳቀ፡፡

    ቀጠለ «ወደፊት የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ በስድስት ይከፈላል» አለና የቀኝ እጁን መዳፍ ጠቅልሎ እንደ ጡሩንባ ነፋው፡፡

    «ምን ተብሎ ነው የሚከፈለው» አሉት አንድ ጋዜጣ የሚያነበቡ አዛውንት፡፡

    «ጥሩ ጥያቄ ነው» አለና ጉሮሮውን በስላቅ እንደመጠራረግ ብሎ «የሚበላ፣ የሚበላ /’በ’ ይጠብቃል/፣ የማይበላ፣ የሚያባላ፣ የሚያስበላ፣ የሚያብላላ ተብሎ ይከፈላል» ይህንን ሲናገር በአካባቢው የሚያልፉትን የብዙዎችን ጆሮ ለመሳብ ችሎ ነበር፡፡ አንዳንዶቹም መንገዳቸውን ገታ አድርገው ያዳምጡት ጀምረዋል፡፡

    «እስኪ ተንትነው» አሉት እኒያ አዛውንት ጋዜጣቸውን አጠፍ አድርገው፡፡

    «’የሚበላ’ ማለት ጤፍ መቶም መቶ ሺም፣ መቶ ሚሊዮንም ቢገባ መገዛቱን እንጂ የተገዛበትን የማያውቅ፤ በጋዜጣ ካልተጻፈ፣ በሬዲዮ ካልተነገረ በቀር የኑሮ ውድነቱ የማይነካው፤ የውጭ ምንዛሪ ቢጠፋም ባይጠፋም ዶላር የማያጣ፣ ወረፋ ቢኖርም ባይኖርም ባንክ እምቢ የማይለው፣ ጨረታውን ሁሉ ለማሸነፍ የሚያስችል ድግምት ያለው፤ ተራራ ቁልቁለት መውጣትና መውረድ ሳያስፈልገው ቤቱ ቁጭ ብሎ ሚሊየኖችን የሚያፍስ፤ ሰው ሁሉ በእጁ የጠቀለለው በእርሱ ጉሮሮ የሚያልፍለት፤ ሰው ሁሉ የጎረሰው በእርሱ ሆድ የሚቀመጥለት፣ ሰው ሁሉ ሮጦ እርሱ ሜዳልያ የሚሸለም፣ ለመብላት እንጂ ለመሥራት ያልተፈጠረ ማለት ነው፡፡

    «’የሚበላ’ ማለት ደግሞ ጉቦ ለመስጠት፣ ኪራይ ለመክፈል፣ ግብር ለመክፈል የተፈጠረ፡፡ ምንም ሕግ አክብሮ ቢሠራ አንዳች ጉርሻ ካላጎረሰ ሥራው የማያልቅለት፤ ለመጋገር እንጂ ለመብላት ያልታደለ ማለት ነው፡፡ ‘ቅቤ አንጣሪዋ እያለች ጎመን ቀንጣሿን ምች መታት’ ሲባል አልሰማችሁም፡፡ የርሱም ነገር እንደዚህ ነው፡፡ ለመበላት የተፈጠረ ነውና ሕገ ወጦቹ ተቀምጠው እርሱ በሕጋዊ መንገድ እየሠራ እና እየኖረ እርሱ ነው የሚከሰሰው፤ እርሱ ነው የሚጉላላው፡፡ እዚህ አንዳንድ ሠፈር ያሉ ቀበጥ ወላጆች ለልጆቻቸው ሁለት ሁለት ሞግዚት ነው አሉ የሚቀጥሩት፡፡ አንዷ አሳዳጊ ናት፡፡ አንዷ ደግሞ ልጁ ሲያጠፋ የምትመታ ናት፡፡ ልጃቸው እንዳያመው እርሱ ባጠፋ ቁጥር እርሷ ትመታለች፣ እርሷ ታለቅሳለች፡፡ እነዚህም እንደ እርሷ ናቸው፡፡

    «’የማይበላ’ የሚባለው ለቁጥር የሚኖረው ነው» አለና ወደ ሕዝቡ ዘወር ብሎ «አሁን ለምሳሌ እኔ እና እናንተ ጥቅማችን ለቁጥር ነው» ሲል ብዙዎች በፈገግታ አዩት፡፡ «አዎ እኛኮ ቁጥሮች ነን፡፡ ቁጥር ደግሞ ምዝገባ እንጂ ምግብ አያስፈልገውም፡፡ የኛ ሥራ መመዝገብ ነው፤ መብላት አይደለም፡፡ የኢትዮጵያ ሕዝብ ሲቆጠር እንካተታለን፤ ሲበላ ግን አንካተትም፤ ርዳታ ለማግኘት እናስፈልጋለን፤ እርዳታውን ለመቀበል ግን አናስፈልግም፡፡ ስለዚህ ቁጥር ነን ማለት ነው፡፡ ወደፊት እንጀራን በቴሌቭዥን ዳቦንም በፊልም ነው የምናየው፡፡ ወደፊት ምግብ ቤቶች ሁለት ዓይነት ክፍያ ያዘጋጃሉ፡፡ አንዱ ለሚበላ፣ አንዱ የሚበላውን ለሚያይ፡፡ እኔ እና እናንተ ገባ ብለን ምግብ እና አመጋገብ አይተን እንወጣለን፡፡

    እንጀራ በሰማይ እኔ በእግሬ ሆኜ
    አልደርስበት አልኩኝ ባክኜ ባክኜ

    የተባለው በ’ፍካሬ ሕዝብ መጽሐፍ’ ላይ የተጻፈው ትንቢት ይፈጸማል፡፡

    «’የሚያባላ’ የሚባለው ደግሞ ከሚበላው ተጠግቶ ለበይዎች እንደ ‘ሀፒታይዘር’ የሚያገለግል ነው፡፡ አያችሁ የሚበሉት መንቀሳቀስ አይወዱም፣ ውቃቢያቸው ይጣላቸዋል፤ ስለዚህም የሚያባላቸው ይፈልጋሉ፡፡ እነዚህ የሚቀበሉ፣ የሚያቀባብሉ፣ የሚያስተላልፉ ናቸው፡፡ እንደነዚያ ጠግበው ባይበሉም ትርፍራፊ ግን አያጡም፡፡ እነዚያ ግንድ እነዚህ ሥር ናቸው፡፡ እነዚያ ሆድ እነዚህ ግን እጅ ናቸው፡፡ የነዚህ ጥቅማቸው ከምርቱ ሳይሆን ከቃርሚያው ነው፡፡ በሞያቸው፣ በልምዳቸው፣ በአፍ ቅልጥፍናቸው፣ በመመቻመች ችሎታቸው ከሚበሉት ይጠጉና ‘እባክህ ጌታዬ እንዲበላ ብቻ ሳይሆን በልቶ እንዲያተርፍም አድርገው’ እያሉ እየጸለዩ ይኖራሉ፡፡ እነዚያ የሚበሉት ምግብ ሲዘጋቸው የሚያባሉትን ይሰበስቡና ይጋብዟቸዋል፡፡ ታድያ እነዚህ መታ መታ እያደረጉ ሲበሉ የነዚያም የምግብ ፍላጎታቸው ይከፈትላቸዋል፡፡ ምናልባትም የሚበሉት ካልተስማማቸው የሚያባሉት ይታመሙላቸዋል፡፡

    «አንድ ጊዜ አንድ ገበየሁ የሚባል ሰው በምኒሊክ ጊዜ ነበር አሉ»

    «እ…………..ሺ» የሚል የቀልድ ምላሽ ከከበበው ሰው አገኘ፡፡

    «እና ገበየሁ በወቅቱ ለነበሩት አቡን አገልጋይ ሆነና የተጣላውን ሰው ሁሉ እያስገዘተ እጅ እግሩን አሣሠረው፡፡ ይህንን ያዩ ያገሩ ሰዎች

    ገብሽ መች ቀሰሰ ከየትስ አምጥቶ
    ይወጋናል እንጂ ካቡን ተጠግቶ

    ብለው ገጠሙለት አሉ፡፡

    «’የሚያስበላ’ የሚባለው ደግሞ የተሰጠውን ሥልጣን፣ ዕውቀት እና ኃላፊነት ተጠቅሞ የሚበሉትም እንዳይራቡ የማይበሉትም እንዲጠግቡ ማድረግ ሲገባው ‘ላለው ይጨመርለታል’ እያለ መሬቱን ሲቸበችብ፣ ግብር ሲቀንስ፣ ያልተፈቀደ ዕቃ ሲያስገባ፣ ሕገወጥ የሆነ መመርያ ሲያስተላልፍ፣ የሚውል ማለት ነው፡፡ እነዚህ ሀገር የሚያስበሉ ናቸው፡፡ ስሕተቱን፣ ጥፋቱን፣ ሕገ ወጥነቱን፣ ጉዳቱን፣ በኋላ ዘመን የሚያመጣውን መዘዝ እያወቁ እኔን ምን ቸገረኝ ብለው ለበይዎች የሚስማማውን ብቻ የሚሠሩ ናቸው፡፡ እነርሱም አይጠቀሙም፤ መጨረሻቸው ጥፋት ነው፤ ሀገራቸው ማረሚያ ቤት ነው፤ እነሆ ነገ ግዳጃቸውን ሲፈጽሙ እንደ ሸንኮራ ተመጥጠው፣ እንደ ሙዝ ልጣጭ ተልጠው ይወድቃሉ፡፡»

    ‘የሚያብላላ’ ይህ ደግሞ ለመብላት የሚያመች ሕግ ፣መመርያ፣ አሠራር እንዲዘረጋ የሚያደርግ፣ የሚበሉት አጋጣሚዎችን ሁሉ እንዲጠቀሙ መንገድ የሚያመቻች፤ ከበሉም በኋላ በተቻለ መጠን የበሉትም ፣አበላላቸውም ሕጋዊ መልክ እንዲኖረው የሚያመቻች ነው፡፡ መንግሥት ለበጎ ብሎ የዘረጋውን አሠራር፣ ያወጣውን መመርያ እና ያዋቀረውን መዋቅር እርሱ እንዴት ለበይዎች እንደሚስማማ ያጠናል፣ ያመቻቻል፣ ያስፈጽማል፡፡ ከመመርያው እና ከአሠራሩ ጋር የሚሄድ ደረሰኝ፤ ዶክመንት፣ ማስረጃ፣ ያዘጋጃል፤ አበላሉን ያሳልጠዋል፡፡ እነዚህ የጨጓራ አሲድ ናቸው፡፡ የጨጓራ አሲድ የበላነውን እንዲዋሐደን አድርጎ ይፈጨዋል፣ያስማማዋል፡፡ እነዚህም እንደ ጨጓራ አሲድ ይፈጩታል ያስማሙታል፡፡

    «አንተ ይህንን ትንቢት ከየት አመጣኸው» አሉት አንዲት እናት ገርሟቸው፡፡

    «በዕብድነቴ ነዋ እናቴ፤ አዩ እዚህ ሀገር ካላበዱ በቀር ብዙ ነገር አይገለጥልዎትም፡፡ እንዲገለጥልዎት ከፈለጉ እንደ እኔ ማበድ አለብዎ፡፡ ለነገሩ እዚህ ሀገር ዕብዱ ብዙ ነው ግን ዓይነቱ ልዩ ልዩ ነው» አላቸው፡፡ «ደግሞ የዕብድ ምን ዓይነት አለው፤ ሁሉም ያው ነው» አሉት እኒያው እናት የነጠላቸውን ጫፍ ወደ ትከሻቸው እየመለሱ፡፡

    «ተሳስተዋል፤ አዩ ይህም ቢሆን ካላበዱ በቀር አይታይዎትም፡፡ ብዙ ዓይነት ነው ዕብዱ፡፡ የመጀመርያው ያበደና ማበዱን እንደኔ የተረዳ ነው፡፡ ሁለተኛው አብዶ ማበዱን እያወቀ ግን ማመን የማይፈልግ ነው፣ እንደ ብዙዎቻችሁ፤ ሌላው አብዶ ግን ማበዱን ባለማወቁ የተምታታበት ነው፡፡»

    «ቆይ አንተ ችግሩ ብቻ ነው የተገለጠልህ፤ መፍትሔውን አልገለጠልህም፤ ማበድህ ካልቀረ ለምን ከነ መፍትሔው አታብድም ነበር» አሉት እኒያ አረጋዊ፡፡

  7. The Ethiopian people should thank the Western powers, including the World Bank and IMF for providing aid to Ethiopia in order to enable the Meles government to pay the Chinese for their service of filtering and blocking websites and jamming electronic broadcasts to Ethiopia. Our poor country has become the “raison d’être” for their so-called aid organizations.

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