A communications shutdown in parts of Ethiopia is hindering access to the internet and phone services at a critical time for information during the fight of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ethiopia imposed an internet shutdown and communications blackout on January 7th, citing security concerns, blocking internet access and phone services in areas under federal military control – namely western Oromia’s Kellem Wellega, West Wellega, and the Horo Gudru Wellega zones.
The Ethiopia internet shutdown coincided with government military operations against the armed wing of the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
Over the last number of years, the Ethiopian Government has shut down the internet on a number of occasions, affecting the lives and human rights of the Ethiopians resident in concerned areas: hampering their ability to share and access information or simply to maintain contact with loved ones.
Ethiopia is not the only country to shut down communications links and the United Nations has highlighted the issue to try and stop the shutdown at such a critical time globally. Now is the time the internet and knowledge sharing is critical, avoiding the sharing of misinformation and fake news with facts from reliable sources such as Kenyan born Ushahidi.
Meaning “testimony” in Swahili, Ushahidi, was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election violence in 2008. Since then, thousands have used the crowdsourcing tools to raise their voice and the technology is yet again being used for positive impact to support the collection and dissemination of COVID-19 data and facts.
“We urge all governments to immediately end any and all blanket internet and telecommunication shutdowns. Everyone has the right to receive and impart information. Blunt measures such as blanket Internet and telecommunications shutdowns, sometimes for prolonged periods, violate the principles of necessity and proportionality and contravene international law” shared Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Now, amidst the COVID-19 crisis, fact-based and relevant information on the disease and its spread and response must reach all people, without exception.
“Authorities, medical professionals and relevant experts must be able to share accurate and vital information with each other and the public about the pandemic” Colville added.
It is also essential that information on the disease is readily available in understandable formats and languages, and information is adapted for people with specific needs, including the visually and hearing-impaired, and reaches those with limited or no ability to read or no access to technology.