Ethiopia lost at least $100 million during internet shutdown, civil society group says

Ethiopian Federal Police officers try to restore order during a protest. The latest protests in Ethiopia triggered a 23-day shutdown of the internet costing the economy millions of dollars. Image: REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Ethiopia’s shutdown of the internet at the end of June in response to deadly protests over the murder of a prominent musician cost the economy at least $100 million, according to NetBlocks, a civil society group which monitors global internet freedom.

Alp Toker, an Executive Director at NetBlocks, told Kenyan publication the Daily Nation that their calculations showed that direct and indirect losses were divided evenly.

According to the group, the numbers take into account lost business, informal trade and a degree of lost confidence.

“Beyond the impact on fundamental rights, each day of an internet shutdown in Ethiopia runs up a bill in excess of $4.5 million, in terms of the economic impact to the GDP according to the Cost of Shutdown Tool,” Netblocks said.

The Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST) is a model developed by NetBlocks and the Internet Society which factors in telecom industry and development indicators to calculate the economic impact of internet disruptions.

Last Thursday, Ethiopia fully restored internet access after the 23-day shutdown, which is considered the nation’s worst in terms of severity and duration.

The government, however, defended the shutdown saying that it helped manage the situation and avoided unwanted destruction by violent protesters.

“Given the extended duration of Ethiopia’s shutdown and heightened reliance on digital communications during the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe the overall impact to be somewhat higher.”

As a result of such actions, Toker noted that industries or businesses which are dependent on internet access to make profits or achieve social impact will essentially be shunned by investors. Digital services have also begun being integrated into Ethiopia’s traditional sectors making them susceptible to negative effects from such actions.

Cutting off internet access in Ethiopia is not an uncommon action by the government. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released in March that Ethiopia shut down the internet eight times in 2019 alone.

Last year, Ethiopia shut down the internet following the assassinations of top government officials in June in what Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said was a coup attempt. In the same month, the government also cut off internet access during national school examinations to curb instances of cheating.