16 June, 2012

Ethiopian Government to Stop Internet

The BBC reports that the Ethiopian government is cracking down on the Internet. To me this is a bit surprising. When I was in the country a couple of years ago, internet access there was so erratic and hard to come by that I am amazed the authorities thought it was worth trying to control. Back then they were more inclined to control mobile phone networks and had blocked SMS so that people could not organise demonstrations by text message, as had happened after the current government was suspected of stealing the 2005 election.

That was in 2008. With the passage of time, the Internet must have developed in Ethiopia to the extent where it became worth trying to control, so the government have stepped in. Use of Skype and Internet telephony services have been criminalised, with some reports saying that use of such things now carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail.

Security considerations may not be the only concern here. One other fear is that people might use Skype in Internet caf├ęs to make voice calls, eating into the revenue of the state telecommunications provider. But Ethiopia is a country whose authoritarian government wants total control of communications. Skype and things similar to it are hard to monitor, so it represented a danger to the regime's censors and had to go.