Ethiopia Is Restricting Access to Social Media, and Internet Reacts
Social media has become rampant, and it’s a part of our daily lives, so one can only imagine how Ethiopians reacted when the platform was restricted just before a rival rally. The decision came in after a split in the Orthodox church.
It all began about a month ago when certain clerics alleged that the main church discriminated against people based on their ethnicity. The church has denied these allegations but it didn’t stop the protestors from moving forward.
The protests which were to take place on Sunday were banned by the authorities. Some of the supporters of the church seemed angry, mainly because they believed the authorities were backing the group that accused the church.
Members of the church have said to post details of the rally and their determination to proceed with it even with the ban in place. The orthodox church is one of the oldest churches in the sub-Saharan Africa region and has been in place prior to European missionaries settling down in the region.
Internet Shutdown Scare
The internet shutdown scare is a common tactic Ethiopia uses when they need to control the population or require them to comply with rules set in place. While it’s not common for the country to go ahead with a shutdown, especially in the capital, the threat is sometimes needed when there’s a population of roughly 115 million to control and the fear that they might go rogue.
While complete internet shutdown is a rare phenomenon in Ethiopia, it’s not unheard of. Certain areas of Tigray were deprived of the internet with an aim to put a peace deal in place last November. The ban put an end to a two-year conflict which was brokered by the African Union. It’s surprising to see what preventing people from the internet can get them to do.
Since Ethiopia has only blocked social media, sites like TikTok, Telegram, Messenger and Facebook are affected. This is being handled by an organization called Netblocks. Since people can still browse the internet, using a VPN can help them gain access to social media sites as well. However, if the country was to ban internet services, this wouldn’t be an option anymore.
According to TOP10VPN, the demand in Ethiopia for VPNs went up 1,430% on Friday. Schools were shut on Friday due to the tension between the religious societies and the fear that it might get out of control at any time.
With all that’s happening, the authorities are preparing for an annual AU summit next week. The last time such a meet was held, it was to finalize the Tigray deal. People in Addis Ababa might not be at ease while the government holds this meeting at the AU headquarters situated there.
What Caused the Split?
The leadership of the main orthodox church was accused by three archbishops from Oromia, a place that surrounds Addis Ababa (one of the most populated places in the country) that it lacks diversity and discriminates against people based on ethnicity.
They claim that for a very long time, the church has been handled only by ethnic groups. People need to use Amharic as the working language for the people due to the leader of the church being an ethnic Tigrayan.
The clerics claim that there should be services in Oromo. While the church claims to use the language for services, the clerics say it’s barely used. The archbishops have a large number of supporters in Oromia and have planned a rally in Addis Ababa to protest against the church.
Things didn’t go as planned for the clergy with the authorities placing an injunction on their plans to protest and banning them from entering the church as well. This isn’t a fallout that will go unnoticed and will grab political attention as well.
According to certain analysts, Abune Mathais who is the patriarch hasn’t been on the best of terms with the authorities post the discussion about the war in Tigray.
The rally was a planned one to prove the strength of the people who supported the notion. The interference angered Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He stated his cabinet ministers should stay away from the conflict.
Post the ban on social media and the rally, it has been announced that Mr. Abiy will meet with the patriarch to help ease tensions in the next few days. A Human Rights Commission linked to the state has also come forward. They issued a statement stating that the security forces used excessive force against the main church followers. This statement is in reference to the arbitrary arrests, harassment and beatings. This includes the killing of eight people due to these clashes which took place in Shashamane, a town in Oromia on Saturday.