by Victor Oluwole
The war, which has been going on since November 2020, has destabilised the populous country in the Horn of Africa, leaving thousands of people dead with 350,000 others living in famine conditions.
Ethiopia will soon launch its own social media platform to rival Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, the state communications security agency said on Monday.
The move by the Ethiopian government comes after the director-general of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), Shumete Gizaw, accused Facebook of deleting posts and user accounts which he said were “disseminating the true reality about Ethiopia”.
In June, days before national elections, Facebook said it had removed a network of fake accounts in the country of 112 million that targeted domestic users. Facebook said the fake accounts were linked to individuals associated with the Ethiopian government. Facebook, however, refused to comment on Shumete’s accusations.
Speaking on the development, Shumete told Reuters that the agency wants to reduce reliance on foreign technology firms that meddle in the country’s politics. However, it does not plan to block the global services. He added that Ethiopia drew inspiration from China, which bars US social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, encouraging citizens to use homemade alternatives.
Ethiopia’s cracking down in Tigray.
On November 4th, 2020, the observatory NetBlocks released network data from Ethiopia confirming an Internet disruption in the Tigray region. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the launch of a military campaign against Tigrayan rebels on Facebook and Twitter, and in the hours that followed, phone lines and Internet access across the country were shut down.
With the start of the war, it was in the government’s interest to maintain total control over the narrative. However, several human rights groups have criticised the Ethiopian government for unexplained shutdowns of Internet services. They cited many economic and humanitarian concerns contributing to the gradual worsening of the situation on the ground, adding that the war has destabilised the populous country in the Horn of Africa, leaving thousands of people dead with 350,000 others living in famine conditions.
Shumete declined to comment on a timeline, budget and other details about the country’s progress on the social media platforms. However, he told Reuters, “The rationale behind developing technology with local capacity is clear … Why do you think China is using WeChat?”
He also said Ethiopia had the local expertise to develop the platforms and would not hire outsiders to help.