Skype and Ethiopia. By Yilma Bekele
The origins of the Internet can be traced to ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) that was funded by the US Department of Defense (DARPA) for use by its research labs in the 1960’s. The Internet as we know moved from connecting research institutions and Universities into commercial use in the middle of the 1980’s.
Today the Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks. The beauty of the Internet is nobody really owns it. Every computer that is connected to the Internet is part of the network. Your laptop or desktop together with millions of private, public, academic, business, government networks forms part of this vast system of interconnected computers.
The Internet has revolutionized human communication like nothing before. It is the most outstanding innovation in human history regarding communication capability. Our lives have changed dramatically due to the Internet. The great economic boom of the 90’s all over the world can be traced to innovation that accompanied the Internet. Where does our Ethiopia fit in this human advancement story?
I am afraid we are absent or unaccounted for! We are not even in the periphery. Our participation in this humongous, game changer event is nothing to write home about. It is so embarrassing the best option is not to talk about it, discuss it or raise the issue. If our country was a computer it will be considered to be in hibernation mode, not on not off barely alive. The Meles regime and his TPLF party can get all the credit for condemning eighty million people to live in darkness. That is exactly where we find ourselves-in complete darkness and no chance of light at the end of the tunnel either. You think I am exaggerating and being so negative because I am filled with hate. I am afraid that is not so. Look at the table below and you be the judge my friend.
Country Internet users % Of Population Internet providers
Ethiopia 666,101 0.75 1
Ghana 2,081,056 8.55 12
Uganda 4,174,835 12.5 9
Kenya 8,568,890 20.98 15
Tanzania 4,608,218 11.0 17
See what I mean? Out of eighty million plus people only half a million Internet users. That leaves seventy nine million five hundred thousand in the dark. Why do you think this is so? Is it because we are poor? We are stupid? Uneducated? Unable to figure how it works? Not interested? Didn’t think it is important? Felt investment in such technology is a waste of time and resources? Or too busy developing other technology? Or you think it could it be due to lack of leadership? As people we are no different than Americans Europeans or our African neighbors. The only thing we see here is the quality of leadership that differentiates our country from others. The leaders set the pace, define the priorities and the people follow.
When it comes to the Internet our leader felt that is not a priority and that is not where our budget should be invested on. Why do you think Ato Meles and company felt the Internet not to be the place to invest and grow? The simple but obvious answer is the word ‘communication’. Communication is knowledge and knowledge is the first causality of a tyrannical regime. Keeping people in the dark is the main goal of a dictatorship. Illiterate people are docile. It is easy to manipulate a damned down population. Internet is the number one enemy of the Ethiopian government. Instead of laying fiber optic to speed up the wiring of our country the Meles regime invests the limited budget in blocking, censoring and spying on the citizen. The last two weeks have been a busy time to the TPLF regime. It has rolled out one draconian law after another to bully, intimidate and ride rough on our people. Here is the evidence.
Skype is a voice- over-Internet Protocol service and software application. Skype allows users to communicate over the Internet using voice, video and instant messaging. As of September of 2011 Skype has over six hundred million users worldwide. The Ethiopian government has made using Skype a crime punishable up to fifteen years in prison.
Tor (short for The onion router) is a system intended to enable online anonymity. The Tor project a 501(c) research/education nonprofit organization distributes the software free of charge. According to the wonderful people of Tor network their ‘client software routes Internet traffic through a worldwide volunteer network of servers to conceal a user’s location or usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis.’ The Ethiopian government is actively blocking Tor network.
There are over eighty million Ethiopians. As of 2012 there are about a million fixed line service users and close to three million mobile users in Ethiopia. It is the lowest teledensity in Africa. There are less than half a million Internet users in Ethiopia and that is in the bottom even for Africa. That number constitutes .06% of the Ethiopian population.
Why is the Ethiopian government enacting such draconian law when you can clearly see Internet does not play any major role in the life of the citizen? Why is the government becoming the laughing stock of the planet by equating phone usage to committing murder? All indications are the issue is not about Skype or Tor but it is all about control and bullying into submission. It is all about instilling fear. Fear is the main currency of a dictator. They are not worried about the .06% but they are very much interested in showing the ninety nine percent who exactly is in charge. In your face is how they like to operate. They are saying we can do anything we want and tough luck there is nothing you can do about it!
Do you think they are crazy? I am afraid not. They have been getting away with that kind of attitude the last twenty years what makes you think it will be different this time? We will talk about it, we will gossip, we will condemn silently ( yechelema gelmecha) and life will go on as usual. Actually that is not true about all of us. There are a few working hard to circumvent this tragedy. Groups such as Ginbot7, OLF, ONLF, ALF, Andenet Party, our independent Web sites, ESAT among others are working day and night to teach, organize and help our people stand up to Woyane abuse.
There are different avenues to fight injustice. There are hundreds of ways to resist oppression. I will paraphrase two Chinese educators on this subject. According to Sun Tzu the ‘best defense is a good offense’ and Mao Zedong followed it with ‘the only real defense is active defense.’ meaning for the purpose of counter attacking and taking offense. I believe the current aggression against our people begs for a robust counter offense. Here I am speaking about cyber warfare.
It is about time our people developed this type of self-defense to protect our freedom. It is within our capability and it is our moral duty to protect our country and people. According to a recent Time magazine article that is what the US is helping the Syrian opposition with. Developing a cyber warfare capability. They are training the freedom fighters to resist the Assad regime in the art of circumvention technology. The use of encryption, SIM card in cheap burner phones that can easily be discarded and developing ‘Internet in a suitcase’ to provide Web access when Assad shuts it down is being explored. Apps are being developed that download a panic button that will instantly wipe out contacts and documents from smart phones and computers. They are experimenting with Apps that present a false screen when the wrong security code is entered and Apps that blur the faces of dissidents when posting videos and photos on line. Today the camera is as powerful as the AK47.
It is also important our highly educated lawyers and Human Rights advocates explore the concept of ‘I am just following order’ defense that is sure to be used by those that are doing the dirty work for the minority based illegal regime. Whereas the current Ethiopian Constitution is full of guarantees of rights and freedom to the citizen those that are killing, imprisoning, torturing, spying and using their know how to block and jam should be warned about accountability. They should be made aware of their oath to uphold the Constitution not the rule of one man or a single party. ‘I am just following order’ did not hold water in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi criminals.
Those educated Ethiopians that are enabling the regime to spy on fellow citizens, block Web sites, target emails and social media postings should be warned about the consequences of their actions. They are following illegal and immoral orders given by those that are using force and coercion to stay in power. Sooner or later this house of cards will come tumbling down and it will be time to answer for all those that used their technical know how to hurt their people. Blind allegiance is not a wining strategy or ignorance a valid defense. It is a shame some sell their soul to the devil for fame and fortune.