Twitter, WhatsApp Down in Ethiopia Oromia Area After Unrest

By William Davison

whatsapp

  • Messaging apps said unavailable on phones for more than month
  • Authorities alleged to have killed at least 266 protesters

(Bloomberg Technology) — Internet messaging applications such as WhatsApp haven’t worked for more than a month in parts of Ethiopia that include Oromia region, which recently suffered fatal protests, according to local users.

Smartphone owners haven’t been able to access services including Facebook Messenger and Twitter on the state-owned monopolyEthio Telecom’s connection, Seyoum Teshome, a university lecturer, said by phone from Woliso, about 115 kilometers (71.5 miles) southwest of the capital, Addis Ababa.

“All are not working here for more than one month,” said Seyoum, who teaches at Ambo University’s Woliso campus. “The blackout is targeted at mobile data connections.”

A spokesman for Twitter Inc. declined to comment on the issue when e-mailed by Bloomberg on Monday. Facebook Inc., which bought WhatsApp Inc. in 2014, didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

Protests that began in November in Oromia over perceived economic and political marginalization of Ethiopia’s most populous ethnic group led to a crackdown in which security forces allegedly shot dead as many as 266 demonstrators, according to a March report by the Kenya-based Ethiopia Human Rights Project. The government has said that many people died, including security officers, without giving a toll.

One social-media activist, U.S.-based Jawar Mohammed, disseminated information and footage from protests to his more than 500,000 followers on Facebook.

No Explanation

Restricting access isn’t a policy and may be because of “erratic” connections, according to government spokesman Getachew Reda. “We have not yet found any explanation,” he said by phone from Addis Ababa on Monday.

The move fits a “familiar pattern” of restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information by Ethiopian authorities, said Leslie Lefkow, deputy director for Africa at New York-based Human Rights Watch. “Pulling the plug on social media is a predictable attempt to cut the flow of news and information about the Oromo protests,” she said Monday in an e-mailed response to questions.

The government has the technology to “control” the messaging applications, the Addis Ababa-based Capital newspaper reported on April 10, citing Andualem Admassie, Ethio Telecom’s chief executive officer. Andualem didn’t answer two calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.

Hawassa city in Ethiopia’s southern region has suffered similar difficulties in accessing applications for more than a month, said Seyoum Hameso, an economics lecturer at the University of East London. “We couldn’t communicate with relatives,” he said in an e-mailed response to questions on Monday.

One Response to Twitter, WhatsApp Down in Ethiopia Oromia Area After Unrest

  1. whitestar April 12, 2016 at 8:36 am #

    So this is their logic! how long will this work ? unfortunately for tplf this can’t help. keeping people in the dark in modern times where news travels faster than the wind. No wonder utopia is left behind when it comes to telecommunication and this hinders the development they want achieve. The oromo were quietly looking down farming on their land put you decided to take their land, now they started to look up and around them. Now they are being political than ever before. TPLF you opened pandoras box.. Enjoy the party.kkkk

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