A Revealing Analysis of the Internet Shutdown in Ethiopia

A Revealing Analysis of the Internet Shutdown in Ethiopia


By Lauren Gray | Customer Success Operations Specialist
Man sits outside of an internet cafe in Addis. Photo taken on July 31.

For most of July, Ethiopia experienced a nationwide internet shutdown. The shutdown began on June 30, following protests in response to the murder of Haacaaluu Hondessa, on June 29. Haacaaluu was one of Ethiopia’s biggest music stars and a prominent Oromo activist. He used his music to highlight Oromo marginalization, historical injustice and advocate for political representation and equality. His tragic death sparked a wave of protests, unrest and violence from Addis Ababa to the surrounding region, Oromia, and beyond. Over the month of July, the death toll from the unrest surpassed 289 and over 7,000 people have reportedly been detained. The Ethiopian government responded swiftly to the increasing unrest with a near-total shutdown of the internet nationwide. The shutdown began around 9 a.m. local time on Tuesday, June 30. In the early hours of the internet shutdown, connectivity was reported to be as low as 1-2% of normal levels. Connectivity remained less than 20% of ordinary levels until partially restored landline internet connections were reported on July 14. Mobile phone internet, which the majority of the population relies on for connectivity, was eventually restored on Thursday, July 23.

Shortly after the internet was restored across the country, Premise released a survey to our network of contributors in Ethiopia to learn more about their experience during the internet shutdown. Over 1,000 responses were collected and examined across each regional state and self-governing administration. The data shows that contributors across Ethiopia were overwhelmingly impacted by the internet shutdown, while sentiments and responses in response to the shutdown were varied.

How the Shutdown Impacted Ethiopians

Almost 90% of respondents indicated knowledge of an internet shutdown in their community within the last month. Almost 70% of respondents reported not being able to access the internet at all during the shutdown and 20% reported being able to access only at certain times or on certain days. More than 90% of respondents indicated they experienced the internet being blocked or suspended in their area at least once within the past year.

An internet shutdown can have a large impact on access to information and communications. Almost 20% of Premise Contributors in Ethiopia use mobile internet exclusively and 75% rely on both mobile internet and WiFi for internet access.

In the absence of the internet, users indicated their primary source of news and information during the shutdown was television followed by radio and newspapers or other print media.

While internet and mobile data were unavailable to contributors, the primary method of communication for most was phone calls, followed by Short Message Services (SMS) and in-person communication.

When contributors were asked if any websites or mobile phone applications are currently blocked in their local area, 56% of contributors responded yes. Contributors overwhelmingly acknowledged Facebook is currently blocked, followed by Telegram, the most widely used messaging platform across the country.

The State of Protest and Unrest in Ethiopia 

Almost 65% of contributors across the country indicated that within the last month, they had seen or heard of protests within their local area. For contributors in the Oromia regional state alone, almost 80% of contributors indicated that they saw or heard of protests within their local area within the past month.

Of contributors nationwide that reported witnessing or hearing of protests, almost 90% reported hearing or seeing violence associated with those protests.

The Complex Response to the Nationwide Shutdown

Sentiments in response to the internet shutdown were considerably varied. Contributors were asked to share their thoughts with the following statement: “Turning off the Internet can be necessary for maintaining peace and stability.” Almost 70% of contributors across the country indicated some level of agreement, 20% provided a neutral response, and 13% indicated disagreement with the statement. These responses indicated that contributors across the country highly value peace and stability within their community, perhaps at the expense of certain liberties such as access to information.

Similarly, contributors were asked to share their level of agreement or disagreement with the following: “I support the decision to shut off the internet.” Responses to this question were more varied, with slightly over half showing some level of agreement, 20% indicating a neutral response and about 25% disagreeing.

Contributors who reported they experienced the internet shutdown were asked if the shutdown would impact the party or candidate they vote for in the general election. 40% of contributors indicated the shutdown would affect who they vote for, while 60% responded the shutdown would not impact their vote. Similarly, contributors that responded they were unaware of the shutdown last month were also asked if a government imposed shutdown would affect the party or candidate they vote for in the general election, with just over 30% of contributors replying “yes.” In March, the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia announced the parliamentary elections, originally planned for August, would be postponed due to COVID-19. The decision was approved by parliament in June. 

Conclusion

The data collected reveals the widespread impact of Ethiopia’s nationwide internet shutdown and the complexity of the sentiment in response to the shutdown. With Premise’s global network of over 2M+ contributors, it’s easier than ever to gain global real-time insight and monitor sentiment around current events. Interested in working with us? Email info@premise.com.

About Lauren Gray

Lauren Gray is a Customer Success Operations Specialist in Washington, D.C. With a background in international development and national security, Lauren previously worked in East Africa with social businesses focused on health and technology. At Premise, she focuses on project design and operations for Premise’s international development and governance clients.