The shutdown in Tigray, home to around 6 million people, has hampered the delivery of aid, cut people’s contact with loved ones, devastated the local economy, and stopped reporters from bringing the plight of the region to the world’s stage. A new report by Top10VPN, a London-based VPN review firm that assesses internet privacy, security, and freedom, estimated that local businesses have lost $145.8 million just in 2021 due to the blackout in Tigray. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization was quoted as saying it needed to resort to communicating via paper reports that had to be delivered by hand.
Internet access restrictions also exacerbated the spread of misinformation during the conflict, as people struggled to get access to news about what was happening on the ground, fuelling speculations and falsehoods.
The Ethiopian government began restricting access to telephone and Internet services in Tigray on November 4, 2020, hours after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared a state of emergency. The government ordered a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front which soon escalated into a full-scale civil war war.
The ceasefire signed in November 2, 2022, required the government to restore connectivity, but no timeline has been set for lifting the blackout. Government officials accuse the rebels of deliberately damaging telecoms networks, while critics accuse the government of using connectivity as a bargaining chip. In January 2023, Ethio Telecom said it had repaired 981 out of the 1,800 kilometers of damaged fiber. Reports state that telephone access has been restored but Internet access is still either unavailable or so slow it is unusable. The blackout is one of the longest running Internet shutdowns to date.
Ethiopian citizens are no strangers to Internet shutdowns: the government is one of the world’s most prolific users of disruption, and has cut access nine times since 2019.
- Ethiopia’s cracking down in Tigray. But activists are spreading the news – Washington Post
- Ethiopia Rights Commission calls on gov’t to restore communications – Addis Standard
- In dozens of countries, governments rely on Internet shutdowns to hide repression – Washington Post
- ‘No timeline’ for restoring Internet to Tigray: Ethiopia minister – Al Jazeera
- A Two-Year Internet Outage in Ethiopia – Reuters
- Ethiopia shuts down telephone, Internet services in Tigray – The East African