Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Internet in Ethiopia

Dr. Samuel Kinde of MediaEthiopia has a well researched article on the state of Internet usage and connectivity in Ethiopia tiltled "Internet in Ethiopia - Is Ethiopia Off-line or Wired to the Rim?". Samuel reports that Ethiopia is lagging well behind virtually all African countries in Internet penetration rate (percent of population that uses the Internet), with a mere 0.25% of Ethiopia's population considered having access to the Internet. Not only the Internet penetration rate is embarrassingly low, Internet connectivity for those who are currently using it is a nightmare! Samuel puts the blame for this sad state of Internet usage and connectivity in Ethiopia squarely on the government's monopoly of the information and telecommunications infrastructure. As an antidote to this problem Samuel writes:
While there are a multitude of consequences of current Internet connectivity ownership, the remedy is very simple and straightforward. As experience everywhere in the world indicates, the only proven model is that of a free-market in the ISP space. This simple solution that has been argued in-favor of over the past several years is the sole solution that is on the table.

The reality is, of course, that proponents of government ownership have their reasons for continuing such a model. The arguments often cited are that Ethiopia's conditions are so unique that the farmers which form the majority of the country's population will be left out in a free ISP market. This argument assumes Ethiopia's conditions to be so different from any other country on the face of the earth that it almost places the country as something out of this natural world. Conditions on the ground show that this argument is, of course, outdated, inaccurate and ingenuine. The truth, as any independent observer could see, is that there is a mistrust and fear of wide Internet access that could allegedly be used for political agitation purposes. However, this fear - as shown in the rest of the world including even China - is unsubstantiated and almost paranoid. No government - as conditions on the ground testify - has ever lost power because Internet access is widespread.

In a nutshell, therefore, attitudes have to change - particularly at the government level - where access to Internet by the average citizen is considered something to be feared. If the history of the country itself and the rest of the world is any indication, limiting an access always results in more damage than in any good that may come out of it. Looking forward, the country needs to make a decision between following a path that has so far proved unsuccessful and unsustainable and a correction of path that enables the proliferation of a dynamic sector that could add 0.5-1% points to the country's GDP as demonstrated by other progressive countries around the globe.

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