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Even internet cuts can’t demarket Ethiopia’s telecom sector

Attam bulte, That's "good morning" in OromoIt’s rare to see an African leader resign, so when Hailema
Even internet cuts can’t demarket Ethiopia’s telecom sector
By get.Africa Weekly • Issue #28 • View online
Attam bulte,
That’s “good morning” in Oromo
It’s rare to see an African leader resign, so when Hailemariam Desalegn voluntarily left office in 2018, it came as a surprise.
3 years of anti-government protests left scores of Ethiopians dead, which, in turn, complicated the prime minister’s job, so while he wasn’t exactly forced out of the Menelik Palace, he did feel a nudge.
Singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa played a major role in that, his music provided the soundtrack to the protests.
Sadly, Haacaaluu was murdered in June, and the protests that followed his death prompted the current prime minister to make a move that, contrastingly, should have come as no surprise.
Costly peace
Ethiopia was taken offline for 16 days.
Internet blackouts and brownouts aren’t uncommon in parts of Africa, especially around election time or when violence erupts, but in Ethiopia, the tactic is employed even when the stakes are considerably lower; the best example being to curb exam malpractice.
For every day of the blackout, the Ethiopian economy lost approximately $4.5 million. The potential impact on foreign direct investment, particularly in the country’s telecom sector, could be similarly devastating, although that’s unlikely.
Cold feet?
Internet blackouts are effective in Ethiopia because the whole country uses one state-owned operator: Ethio Telecoms.
However, the sector is in the process of being liberalized. Interestingly, an expression of interest for telecom licenses that attracted giants such as MTN, Safaricom and Orange closed only 4 days before the latest shutdown began.
Since the government announced liberalization plans about a year ago, there have been similar disruptions, but that hasn’t discouraged telcos from eyeing a piece of the estimated $2.2 billion industry.
And even if it did, there’ll be no shortage of takers for access to Africa’s second-most populous nation and one of its final frontiers for telecommunication development.

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