Internet users in Ethiopia heaved a sigh of relief following the government’s move to end a three month online blackout. The action raises hopes among Ethiopians of a relaxation of restrictions after the arrival of new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who promised reforms.
Mobile and broadband internet services shut down in December in many regions outside the capital that were hit by unrest that threatened the ruling coalition’s tight hold on country.
Activists had accused the government of trying to stop them from spreading news online and organizing rallies that called for land rights and other freedoms, charges that the government has since denied.
According to internet users, services started returning following Abiy Ahmed’s inauguration.
“We are very happy that it is back to normal,” said Hassan Bulcha, who runs an internet cafe in Shashemene, a town in the state of Oromiya which has seen some of the worst violence since protests erupted in 2015.
Welcoming the move were also groups that monitor internet usage in Ethiopia. “Restoration of Ethiopia’s internet is a short-term win in a long-term struggle,” said Peter Micek of Access Now, a group that said it recorded two large-scale internet shutdowns in Ethiopia in 2017 and three in 2016.
Unlike other African countries where the majority of internet users access the web through mobile phones, internet cafes are still widely used in Ethiopia because smartphones remain expensive and mobile data costs are high.
Africa’s second-most populous nation has also clocked the region’s fastest economic growth rates over the past decade but it has among the region’s lowest internet penetration rates.