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EPRDF’s Mistakes: Part I Telecommunication

by Aklog Demissie ( )

If we can express the past 20 years of Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation or the current Ethio-Telecom in one word it will be ‘inefficient’. Compared to the progress made in other African countries in the expansion of telecommunication services at an affordable price driven by market competition, the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation’s progress has been slow. And many have blamed the government as it tightly controls the industry. The political and economic interest of the government in the industry is the main reason behind the inefficiency.
Politically the EPRDF government has been scared of the public being able to access information which it thinks threatens its existence. Even with less than 0.5% of the country’s 80 million population able to use internet, the government’s reaction of blocking opposition and activist websites is expected. These few users represent the well informed influential people of the country that can affect the dynamics of the political field tremendously. By blocking information from the internet, the government expects the people to accept information coming only from state controlled media sources. Comparing internet service expansion in Kenya and Ethiopia in the last ten years, the percentage of internet users in Kenya grew more than ten folds to reach 8.6% while that of Ethiopia’s grew from almost 0 to 0.4%.
Economically the dominance of the industry by the state enabled the government to impose an unfair charge of the public for its services. The state minister responsible for telecommunication described the company as a cash cow and resisted any liberalization efforts. The fact that the company used to charge customers $20 just to get a new mobile sim card says it all. Lack of any sort of competition in the field has degraded the service of the company and even with a new management from France Telecom, services continue to be lousy. Many institutes such as Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian Commodity Exchange reported that they are looking for satellite based internet service since the below par service from ETC has negatively affected their performance.

Ethiopians are constantly expressing their frustration in the company and the opposition movement should use this as a political playing field to get more support from the people. First of all, the opposition should be assembling a qualified team of experts that will oversee a range of activities aimed at improving the company. This tink-tank should assess the current situation of the telecommunication industry in the country and make it public to the society, develop a legal framework to monitor the industry with a quicker liberalization in mind, develop a realistic national road map to improve the quality of service and increase research activities in ICT in higher education institutes.

A credible assessment of the current situation can be used as a reasonable attack against the government and enlighten people on the unsatisfactory level of telecommunication in Ethiopia. A well established legal framework should make any information blocking activities to be held liable in law and it should also form suitable law that protect users once the company is privatized. Development of a national roadmap to enhance ICT expansion should focus on regional support, skill development, entrepreneur support and ICT research at higher education institutes.

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