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Ethiopia restores social media after 5 months of shutdown

Ethiopia has taken a momentous stride towards reinstating communication freedom and reconnecting its citizens with the digital realm by lifting its social media ban after a prolonged five-month shutdown.

The restoration of access to popular platforms like Facebook, TikTok, Telegram, and YouTube comes as a welcome relief for millions of Ethiopians who were cut off from the global digital landscape since the government’s drastic measure in February.

The Ethiopian government imposed the social media ban in response to escalating political unrest and protests following a disagreement with the country’s largest and oldest Orthodox Church.

A split within the church’s ranks escalated after three Bishops formed their own patriarchate named ‘Oromia and Nations and Nationalities Synod’ in January.

The move led to weeks of unrest, divisions, and violence in some regions. The shutdown was aimed at quelling the dissemination of what authorities deemed as inflammatory content and misinformation that allegedly incited violence and division.

Throughout the five-month ban, numerous Ethiopians resorted to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) as a means to circumvent the restrictions, while some sought refuge in alternative communication channels, such as messaging apps equipped with end-to-end encryption.

Not everyone had access to these workarounds due to various factors, including technical constraints, limited knowledge, and inadequate internet infrastructure in certain regions.

The shutdown had far-reaching implications for Ethiopia’s society, economy, and international reputation.

Businesses, especially those heavily reliant on digital platforms for marketing and communication, faced significant setbacks, hindering economic growth and foreign investments. Additionally, human rights organizations and international bodies criticized the government’s actions, arguing that the shutdown curtailed freedom of expression and access to information.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was re-elected for a second term during the shutdown, announced the lifting of the social media ban.

 

He said, ‘the decision to restore social media access is taken to uphold Ethiopia’s commitment to democratic values and to address the concerns raised by citizens and human rights groups regarding internet freedom.’

The government has also outlined measures to address the misuse of social media platforms to spread hate speech and misinformation. The Prime Minister emphasized the need for responsible online behavior and warned against any attempts to incite violence or engage in activities that could destabilize the nation’s unity.

As social media platforms gradually become accessible to the public again, Ethiopians have expressed both relief and caution. Many are eager to reconnect with friends and family, share their experiences, and participate in the global digital community. However, some citizens remain wary of potential government surveillance and the risk of renewed unrest.

International leaders and organizations such as Amnesty International have commended Ethiopia’s decision to end the social media shutdown, urging the government to uphold its commitment to internet freedom and protect the rights of its citizens to express their views and access information.

The restoration of social media access marks a crucial milestone for Ethiopia, as the country seeks to strike a delicate balance between preserving national security and upholding democratic principles in an increasingly interconnected world.

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