Looking past the turbulent history of Ethiopia, one that has been impacted by famine, drought and war, there is evidence today which confirms that this East African region has fully embraced ICT to advance itself and establish a secure position amongst developing economies with high-growth potential.
However, challenges do remain – including slow response by government to mobile money adoption, infrastructure, connectivity, as well as the country’s repressive stance on digital freedoms, particularly social networking and the internet.
It was only at the beginning of 2013 when Ethiopia’s government approved mobile money in the country, allowing banks and micro-finance institutions to provide transaction-based banking online.
The 2013 Web Index, brought out by the World Wide Web Foundation, gave Ethiopia an overall ranking of 80th position out of 81 countries (taking into account several sub-indexes including universal access, relevant content and impact & empowerment). The country also scored 12.9 in terms of freedom and openness, the criteria of which includes the degree to which users have rights to online information, their ability to express opinion, as well as safety and privacy.
The internet brimmed with information and reports in mid-2012 when news broke of the Ethiopian government’s intention to ban Skype and other VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services, as well as video chat platforms, for businesses.
Mobile, internet investment
Despite these challenges, the country continues to attract considerable interest from global telecommunication companies. In December 2013, it was reported that a $1.6 billion deal between China’s Huawei Technologies, Ethiopia’s state-run Ethio Telecom and ZTE had been struck to bolster local connectivity services nationally.
Included in the eight-month deal is the implementation of a high-speed 4G network by Huawei Technologies as a key component to the venture, established to also expand mobile phone infrastructure.
Among the anticipated outcomes of the project are that some 400,000 subscribers stand to benefit, that the country will increase the total number of subscribers and there will be an enhancement of existing 3G services.
The alliance is expected to double the volume of subscribers to 50 million.
Mobility and the Internet remain key areas of focus for authorities and these resources are seen as critical to efforts to build the economy. In mid-2013, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), mobile-cellular penetration rates stood at 96% globally and 89% in developing countries. In 2012, the percentage of individuals using the internet in Ethiopia was 1.48%.
In June 2013 the BBC reported that less than one percent (1%) of the country’s 85 million citizens, at the time, enjoyed connectivity.
The ITU’s ICT Indicators database states that in Africa, less than 10% of fixed/ wired broadband subscriptions provide speeds of at least 2Mb/ps. However, between 2009 and 2013 Africa has shown the fastest growth in terms of internet penetration in households at 27%.
The social impact of the Internet is an important component of the overall online development strategy.
In the third quarter of 2013, the ITU partnered with Facebook and the African Child Online Protection Education & Awareness Centre (ACOPEA) to run a pilot project in Ethiopia to train community activists and other stakeholders in key safety messages and tools.
As an example of the level of collaboration that exists within the ICT sector, in March 2013 local media reported that several telecommunication companies, including ZTE, Techno Mobile and Security Innovation Network (SINET), secured 25,000 sqm of land to establish incubation centres within Ethio ICT, an ICT Park that is reported to represent a total financial outlay of five billion Birr (approximately $270 million).
The Park is scheduled for completion in three years.
A Cyber Security Africa report on the Ethiopia Banking & ICT Summit 2013 stated that “Investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is considered to be one of the highest in the world, taking into consideration the level of poverty prevailing in the Country. Currently, Ethiopia’s “committed” investment in ICT accounts for 10 percent of the country’s overall GDP, the proportion of the investment standing higher than what is the case in most other countries of the world, the government has invested over USD 14 billion over the last decade.”
* Image source: Shutterstock
Chris Tredger – Online Editor