Friday, August 18, 2006

End of Blockade?

By Fikru Helebo

Since earlier this summer the Ethiopian government has been blocking most web sites and blogs (this one included) that are critical of it. Apparently that blockade is over, at least for now, as you can see from the graph below for the countries of the last 100 visitors to Enset blog from today and as confirmed by a recent posting on Seminaworq, a blog run from within Ethiopia.

The response from the Ethiopian blogosphere to the blockade was to educate Ethiopians at home on ways to
bypass the blockade and to put a "Do Not Enter" sign in a prominent place on the blocked web sites and blogs to publicize the government's futile attemt to suppress the free exchange of information and ideas. The blockade lasted for about three months, and in the end the government blinked. To my knowledge, no blogger or webmaster has bothered to change the internet domain they are running on. Anyhow, the government could have easily added the newer domain names to its list of blocked URLs just as it did with the current ones, and it would have been a waste of time to change a domain name because of the blockade.

Why the Addis Ababa regime decided to unblock the web sites is anyone's guess. But it seems to me that the government probably decided that the criticism it has been getting from the donor community for its continued blocking of these web sites got to a point beyond which it could not defend its actions. I have a feeling that a lot of folks from the donor community in Addis peruse these blocked web sites and blogs to gauge the temperature of the Ethiopian political scene and they probably did not like being inconvenienced in accessing these web sites and blogs.

As important as these web sites and blogs may be in the evolution of freedom of expression in the Ethiopian political culture, their importance pales in comparison with the role that was played by the independent newspapers and magazines that are now silenced by the regime in power. The Addis Ababa regime must realize that the road it has chosen in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections is a dead end one and it will never be able to silence the Ethiopian people by continuing to jail journalists who criticize it. Therefore, it should release all journalists and the thousands of political prisoners it currently holds in its rotten jails immediately and without any preconditions.

In any case, I welcome the government's action to unblock these web sites and blogs. However, the "Do Not Enter" sign on this blog will remain until such a time that the lifting of the blockade is widely acknowledged as not being a temporary measure on the part of the regime.

No comments: