Ethiopia has begun development on its own social media platforms to rival US-based social networks like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. The state communications security agency said on Monday that the country does not have any plans to block the global services, as per Reuters.
Instead, according to the director general of Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency (INSA), Shumete Gizaw, the government wants its public platforms to “replace” Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Zoom.
Shumete also accused Facebook of deleting posts and user accounts that he said were “disseminating the true reality about Ethiopia.” The country has been embroiled in a major armed conflict since last year, which pits the Federal Government against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), an armed group that controls the Tigray region in the north of the country.
The Ethiopian government has been criticised by international human rights groups for unexplained shutdowns to social media services, including Facebook and WhatsApp in the past year.
Facebook’s Africa spokesperson, Kezia Anim-Addo, declined to comment on Ethiopia’s social media plans and did not respond immediately when prodded about Shumete’s accusations.
Shumete declined to provide any specifics about the local social media’s development – timeline, budget or any other details. Reportedly, a trial has already been completed of a platform to replace WhatsApp and Zoom and that platform will soon be operational.
In terms of why the government is seeking to replace the larger social networks, Shumete told Reuters, “The rationale behind developing technology with local capacity is clear … Why do you think China is using WeChat?”
WeChat is a social messaging app often called the “Chinese WhatsApp,” which is owned by China’s Tencent Holdings. The app is widely used in the country and is considered to be a strong tool by Chinese authorities for the monitoring of the population. The app has often featured amongst controversial headlines. In 2020, an analysis allegedly revealed that WeChat was censoring keywords about the coronavirus at the very onset of the global pandemic.
Shumete’s comments are surprisingly transparent, if not open to interpretation. He also said Ethiopia had the local expertise to develop the platforms and would not hire outsiders to help.
The Horn of Africa country would not be the first in the continent to move away from social media that has undermined state communications. The Nigerian Federal Government issued a rapid blanket ban on Twitter in the country following the deletion of a controversial post by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand,” Buhari wrote in the now-deleted tweet
The president had been referring to the bloody two-year-long Nigeria-Biafra war. A conflict that saw the deaths of an estimated one to three million people, mostly of the Igbo ethnic group that lived in the eastern part of the country between 1967 and 1970.
Twitter deleted the tweet after it was flagged as offensive by users. The company was criticized by Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed for having “double standards” after deleting the tweet.