Ethiopia – Only country in sub-Saharan Africa to actively engage in political Internet filtering

Written by CyberEthiopia
Friday, 21 August 2009
Global Internet FilteringIn a report on Internet filtering in sub-Saharan Africa, the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a collaborative partnership of four leading academic institutions, reveals that Ethiopia is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa to actively engage in political Internet filtering.

ONI unearthed evidence of systematic blocking of Internet content in only one country, Ethiopia, though one could imagine other countries in the region doing the same”, the report states.

Opponents of the current political regime have increasingly used online media to criticize the government particularly in the aftermath of the highly contested elections in 2005.

The response of the regime was to implement a nationwide Internet filtering plan blocking access to popular blogs and community web sites (including CyberEthiopia), many news organizations, dissident political parties, and human rights groups. Many sites including millions of blogs created with Google’s are inaccessible from Ethiopia since May 2006 (read Google blocked in Ethiopia).

As reported in our article “Are websites unblocked in Ethiopia?“, there were few indications that web sites and blogs were unblocked in March 2009, yet our sources in Ethiopia had only confirmed an erratic access to CyberEthiopia and other ethiopian news sites. The apparent lifting at the time of the Internet filtering came few days after President Obama’s administration released its Human Rights reports in 2009 accusing the Ethiopian government of restricting Internet access to its citizens and of “blocking web sites”

Email FilteringMany sources as well as documented evidence of the Opennet Initiativeconfirm a systematic, nationwide and politically motivated Internet censorship and surveillance in Ethiopia. Analogous to the Chinese Internet censorship, the banning is not just limited to blocking specific web sites and their IP addresses. It also filters keywords and ideas that go through the state run firewalls. For example, the keyword “cyberethiopia”  like many other words is on the blacklist, therefore users in Ethiopia are not only restricted from accessing the web site, but they can not even include a link (web address) to it nor mention it in an ordinary email from Yahoo or Gmail. Keyword filtering makes also the use of proxy servers (or “mirror” web sites) difficult to circumvent cybercensorship. The Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation uses several techniques to disguise the political filtering practices by attempting to confuse users with different error messages.

Despite numerous calls from Global Media watchdog, government officials always denied restricting access to the Internet saying that they had no explanation or information about the inaccessibility of these web sites.

It is to be recalled that all Internet users in Ethiopia access the World Wide Web through the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC), a state monopoly and sole Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the country. Despite repeated media announcements by the government about huge infrastructure investment in Information Communication Technology (ICT) and expanding services, Ethiopia remains at the bottom of the table in Africa in ICT including Internet penetration. According to the International Telecommunication Union’s report, it has the lowest mobile phone density in Africa (measured as number of subscribers per 100 inhabitants), only 0.45 Internet users per 100 inhabitants and widespread political internet filtering (ONI).

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