Could Ethiopia Be The Next Outpost For Internet Freedom Community Cyber Dialogue?
By Arthur Gwagwa, London, U.K. and Melaku Girma, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Since 2005 when it became a modern constitutional republic, Ethiopia has faced a dilemma, with the choice between increasing digital freedoms that can facilitate national development and participation in the global information economy, and restricting digital freedoms to try to tamp down internal dissent and preserve the regime’s power (Ginsberg, 2017). The country is at yet another critical juncture as the new prime minister is charting a new course that promises greater freedoms. Moving forward, Ethiopia can and should pursue both digital freedom and economic objectives. The internet freedom community should capitalise on the current buoyancy in Addis Ababa, in particular, the current strong political will for change, to invest heavily in Ethiopia’s civic tech space. If the international corporations such as Facebook and other tech giants take the plunge first, this may result in cyber policies that pay lip service to human rights. Worse still, China, already heavily invested in Ethiopia, may consider the country as its next strategic partner under the Belt and Silk Road Initiative, thus leading to an entrenchment of its geopolitical gambit and a further entrenchment of illiberal internet governance norms. Investing in Ethiopia now will ensure citizens are connected to networks where their voices counts, opening a window on topics like technology, inclusion and democracy. Investing during this period of nascent openness is crucial in order to capitalize on this opportunity and do so before services that may restrict citizens’ freedoms are introduced. A vibrant digital society in Ethiopia is good for the digital economy as it is for democracy because it constitutes a consumer base for the digital services.
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