Citizen Media and You – Part I

When the first time Internet was introduced to Ethiopia it was not actually planned for Ethiopians. The main goal was to reach the tourists and encourage Ethiopian tourism. Currently, less than 1% of the populations have access to the Internet, one of the least in the world.

As it was originally intended, Internet remained around foreigners, and foreign organizations. In early millinuem diaspora Ethiopians and college students start to use Yahoo! Mail services and pen pal sites (probably one of the first social media platforms in the world) as day to day Internet use. With 56kps modem connection, only the international organizations and universities were enjoying the relatively faster connection. Yahoo! Still remains the main email service in Ethiopia until now even the Ministers use it as an official email correspondence.

Introduction of Online Tools

The first social media was undoubtedly the Hi5. When MySpace was very famous in Western countries, Hi5 was the favorable one in Ethiopia. But it wasn’t just by chance, MySpace takes long time to load. As you can imagine opening a single multimedia web page with 56kps (usually about 10kps) takes considerable amount of minutes if not hours. For the students’ horror, MySpace was blocked by ethio telecom (formerly ETC) for long time. As the Ethio telecom has been straggling finding its working ground and role in the countries development, very little has been done really targeting Ethiopian citizens.

Generally bigger projects, yet designed and financed by foreign organizations, say the failed SchoolNet project and relatively working WeredaNet networks, haven’t created any tangible impact. The government owned monopoly, Ethio telecom, remains the main obstacle for Ethiopian Internet growth until now. The highest Ethiopian official once declared “Internet is a luxury material”. This is the generally accepted mindset when it comes to Internet. Obviously, the poor Ethiopians can never be an official target. I have tried to point out some of the main failure of Ethio telecom services in my previous posts. [1][2][3][4]

So in early 2000, Internet was just Yahoo! And Hi5. Google was used for searching information on the Internet, mainly for scholarships and financial aids.

Introduction of Facebook

Mike, a friend of mine, owns an Internet cafe. Out of curiosity, I asked him once if he can track what people browse to get the general information what people interested at. He almost laughed at me with my question, without thinking twice he said, “People stand in front of my door and asked me ‘Is there Facebook?’” For many, today, Internet is just facebook. The facebook penetration of online population is 111.19%. There are more facebook users in the country than the interent penetration. Yes, it exactly means, there are people who have facebook profiles but don’t use Internet.

This single platform, which happens to be a social medium, takes the ownership of the internet from forieners to Ethiopians! In the same time, for the first time in Ethiopian interent history, the target groups to reach through internet became Ethiopians themselves. Yet, this is not only a pleasant news. This one medium usage higher than the interent penetration means, the telecom company(s) – hopefully, Ethiopia will have more ISPs soon – has a hell of assignments to increase the penetration.

Part II: Focuses on what Ethiopians access online, the future of internet, and who is working what.

17 comments

  1. sirarmany · February 21, 2012

    Awesome this would be the best research blog about Ethiopian social media and internate two thumbs up.

  2. Eskender · February 21, 2012

    It is amazing, Thank you marko for the info. keep it up!

    • eweket · February 21, 2012

      Thank you Eskender for your kind words!

  3. sukersays · February 21, 2012

    Mark, you should have written this for a magazine. (to get paid for it, of course)

    Great job.🙂

    • eweket · February 21, 2012

      Sarah! We have friends here to read

  4. Elyas Mulu Kiros · February 21, 2012

    Insightful!🙂 Keep at it! Looking fwd to read the next article.

    My first email account btw was hotmail. It just sounded HOT.🙂

    And then seeing my friends were on yahoo, I did create yahoo account too. Ever since, been jumping around like a frog.

    Given the current situation in the country and the benefit of the internet and social networking sites to speed up political activism, I doubt the officials would encourage more internet advancement in the foreseeable future; as long as they stay in power, they would rather let it sink. So far that seems the working policy. What say you?

    • eweket · February 24, 2012

      Elyas, my first email was also hotmail. You know, as the standard IE loading it comes the MSN page. i had something like markoslemma20032007@hotmail.xxx something like that email address Lol…

      I agree a little bit on the fact ethiopian politicians would probably be against social media. But i also hope that they will realized, they can use it for their own good…. and the countries development. There are some commitments from the gov right now, like building the ICT part and such..this kind of efforts are nothing if we don’t encourage content generation. at the end, having the infrastructural progress and the medium is nothing compare to what people use it for

  5. Tolossa · February 23, 2012

    Some factual errors, mr markos. Long before etc’s Internet services uneca used to relay emails using satellite uplinks twice a day, everyday. Internet service was not meant just for foreigners but for 1) faster communication between humanitarian orgs and gov. 2) UN and affiliated orgs 3) aau. In 1997 when Internet was introduced in ethiopia, not many had email as hotmail and yahoo were just starting to grow beyond the tech saavy communities. Ethiopian gov. spent upwards 40 million dollars to purchase and install the equipment from Dimension Data.

    The modems didnt do 56k at the time, they never went beyond 14k until 1999 or so. The copper lines were of terrible quality.

    Anyway if you’re interested in knowing more, look up Lishan Adam. He’s the father of Internet in Ethiopia, an amazing individual who poured his heart and soul in getting us connectivity to the outside world.

    • eweket · February 24, 2012

      Yes, it would have been probably made this blog post more pretty if i mentioned Lishan Adam’s name. I was focusing on the social media aspect of progress in general, and i want to/ have to emphasis on the community contribution instead of a one man efforts – though! big respect for Lishan!

      UNECA never introduced internet connectivity for public use. As far as i know, UNECA has its independent VSAT. Since most foreigners in late 1990th are coming as a humanitarian works and international organizations – the internet was never been intended to Ethiopian citizens

      Thanks for dropping by and your informative and constructive comment!

      • tolossa · February 29, 2012

        Interesting you say that Markos, I still feel like internet is *still* not intended for use by average consumers. It’s a gov. tool, mostly for gov. use. If it was meant for consumers, then we wouldn’t be suffering from neglect and mistreatment by ETC staff. Internet in Ethiopia is a privilege, only meant for those with political might.

        The last stats by gov has fiber laid on 78,000 km (longer than all fiber in Africa combined? maybe. But definitely beats South Africa, which has the second longest at about 10,000km). Weredanet is basically 5 to 10 evdo/cmda cards at each kebele, and maybe a dish, the Hugh apparatus and a plasma screen. Gov. claims even World Bank is impressed by this, but what’s the point of laying pipes when there’s nothing flowing through? No content, no communication so no use. So farmers cut fiber cables and use it as rope.

        Lishan’s excellent paper on the state of internet in Ethiopia “Ethiopia ICT Sector Performance Review 2009/2010” is a must read.
        http://www.researchictafrica.net/publications/Policy_Paper_Series_Towards_Evidence-based_ICT_Policy_and_Regulation_-_Volume_2/Vol%202%20Paper%209%20-%20Ethiopia%20ICT%20Sector%20Performance%20Review%202010.pdf

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  7. jenemar · March 8, 2012

    This is a trash. not based on enough supporting document. It is merely an
    opinion. For Example, you mentioned that Internet was not meant for Ethiopians first. when it was first started in US, it was not meant for ordinary Americans neither.

    Anyways thx for sharing

    • eweket · March 11, 2012

      Thanks for dropping by. Your comment would have made sense if you could point out specific factual errors.

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