Ethiopia cuts off internet after high school exam leaks


Ethiopians may have experienced a frustrating sense of déjà vu when they tried to log on to social media or use the internet on their cellphones Wednesday.

That's because the Ethiopian government has terminated mobile internet connectivity, a tactic the administration has used repeatedly in recent years to quell anti-government sentiment.

Twenty-four hours after the blackout, Deputy Communication Minister of Ethiopia Zadig Abraha told AFP that mobile data also had been deactivated. However, on Thursday afternoon most Ethiopians were still unable to communicate. Algeria has also reportedly taken similar measures to prevent cheating on exams. According to him, only social media outlets were blocked, and important services such as airline bookings and banking, which require internet access, are unaffected.

Despite being one of Africa's fastest-developing economies, Ethiopia has an extremely low internet penetration rate of just 2.9 percent, according to U.S. NGO Freedom House; in neighboring Kenya, penetration stands at 43 percent.

It is not the first time that Addis Ababa has pulled the plug on the internet. The capital, Addis Ababa, is home to the African Union and the UN's Economic Commission for Africa headquarters. One country took those measures to the extreme, though, by shutting down the entire country's internet as a measure to keep students from cheating.

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This is especially easy for the Ethiopian government to do, since all Internet and phone service in the country is provided through through a single government-owned Internet service provider, Ethio Telecom.

Ethiopia has been censoring its internet for more than a decade, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have been blocked since unrest previous year.

The government subsequently confirmed the shutdown and said it was to protect the integrity of high school exams.

But the current blackout is different from previous mobile Internet and social media shutdowns that have been imposed in an effort to prevent exam leaking.

"For the wrong reasons, [it] sees the internet as a threat rather than as an opportunity", says Owono. "The reaction of the Ethiopian regime is contrary to this global aim".