Last month the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU) latest report released said that information and communications technology in Ethiopia is among the least developed and most expensive in the world.
The report placed Ethiopia 151st in ICT development, out of 157 countries, and 152nd out 169 countries in the price of fixed broadband connection. During the past couple of years Addis Ababans have been slowly increasing their presence on the internet, particularly on social media. And among netizens are the tech savvy officials, including Dr Tedros Adhanom, foreign affairs minister; Dr Kesetebirhan Admasu, health minister; Alemayehu Tegenu, water and energy minister; Zenebu Tadesse women, children and youth affairs minister. Still, there is a long way to go, writes Bruh Yihunbelay.
What is the first thing you do after opening your computer? Do you check you email or log into Facebook and scroll down the news feed? Do you check sports updates or watch your favorite clips on YouTube? According to Alexa (a website that provides web ranking information), the top three websites in Ethiopia are Facebook, You Tube and Google whereas the top three Ethiopian websites are Dire Tube, Ethio Tube and Ethio Jobs. Alexa ranks the Top 100 list by calculating a combination of average daily visitors and pageviews over the past month. The site with the highest combination of visitors and pageviews is ranked number 1.
A study conducted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which was released a little over a month ago, reveals that internet usage in Ethiopia is one of the lowest in the world. One tool used for the measurements is the ICT Development Index (IDI). It measures the level of ICT advancement in 157 countries by combining 11 indicators that focus on three areas - ICT access, ICT use and ICT skills.
The ICT Price Basket (IPB), the second tool, combines and measures the consumer price for fixed and mobile telephone along with internet broadband services in 161 countries.
The report is based on data from Digital TV Research, Eurostat, the International Monetary fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and three United Nations (UN) organizations - the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Population Division.
These days, it is common to see people on their smartphones or tablet computers updating their Facebook statuses, tweeting or replying to emails. Likewise, the various internet cafes in town cater to customers from all walks of life. People also use the Wi-Fi connections at the shopping malls hotels and restaurants. And it is not just the general public that was making use of the digital world. Some members of the ruling elite are visible on Facebook and Twitter.
For instance, President Barack Obama of the US has more than 40 million followers, the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has more than 4 million followers and Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain has more than half a million followers.
Arguably, the first tech-savvy Ethiopian official is the late Meles Zenawi. He had more than 21,000 followers on the second most popular social networking site, Twitter. In April 2009 he tweeted, "Just had some of my favorite Shiro. Thank you Chef." In his tweets he revealed that he uses an iPhone and he welcomed his then deputy, the current PM, Hailemariam Desalegn to Twitter.
However, by far the most active netizen is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Tedros Adhanom. He currently has more that 16,000 followers on Twitter and over 33,000 likes on Facebook.
It is not just government officials; members of the opposition including former president of the Ethiopian Democratic Party (EDP), Mushe Semu and lone opposition Member of Parliament, Girma Seifu, are all active on Facebook. Apart from individuals, ministries are also active on social media with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development taking the lead.
Tedros, told an Addis Ababa-based blog, danielberhane.com that at a recent high-level meeting, attended by the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was commended as a good example for its online activity both at organizational level and by its officials.
Still, various indexes show that Ethiopia has a long way to go when it comes to utilizing the cyber world. On top of that a constant grievance that is being heard in Addis Ababa has been the persistent problems experienced with internet connectivity. Customers of the sole internet provider Ethio Telecom often complain about various elements of internet service in the country, including the slow speed of the connection, constant breaks in service, and ineffective customer service.
In the midst of an increasing network failure that comes as a huge disappointment to its customers, Ethio Telecom back in August signed a USD 1.6 billion 4G and 3G deal with the two Chinese giant telecom companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE.
According to the deal, Huawei and ZTE will assist in expanding mobile phone infrastructure and introduce 4G broadband network in the capital Addis Ababa and 3G service throughout the country over the next two years. The deal is said to boost the number of mobile subscribers to 50 million when completed, and will increase the network coverage to 85 percent.
Ethiopia has aimed to reach 40 million mobile phone subscribers by the end of the government's flagship growth plan dubbed the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), which is by 2015. "Though our target is 40 million, now including the 3G, it will be 56 million by 2015," Dr Debretsion Gebremichael, a deputy Prime Minister and minister of Communications and Technology, said.
Dial-up internet, let alone broadband, was a luxury 10 years ago. Only organizations like the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the then Organization for African Unity (OAU), and a few non-governmetnal organizations (NGOs) with their own satellites had access to the web.
It was in January 1997 that Ethiopia, through the state monopoly of the then Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC), joined the digital world of the internet. Since then, a batch of customers, albeit slowly at first, have subscribed to the 56kbs dial-up connection, and gradually broadband. Even this was limited to people who had businesses and owned computers, which at the time was considered to be a luxury.
Eventually, in 2002, when the former ETC started allowing the establishment of internet cafÉs, there were only 10,000 internet users in the country and access to the Internet has been made available to the public from 10 cents per minute of use, depending on the establishment. After a decade, in 2012, the internet penetration rate in Ethiopia was a mere 1.1 percent, or 960,331 users and out of this 902,440 are Facebook users. Neighboring Kenya, however, reached a 41 percent penetration rate, with 16.2 million users.
The number of Internet users in Kenya increased in the period between October 1 and December 2012. The number of Internet subscribers increased by 75.5 percent compared to the same period in the previous year. The internet usage in South Africa has also been growing significantly, up until last year, already involving 14 million people. These countries are also cited as the most successful countries in Sub-Saharan Africa for reliable internet infrastructures.
With all the issues hanging, the ITU has recognized growth in internet coverage. It said that Ethiopia ranks second in Africa, next to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in this respect, registering a 36.6 percent increase in coverage, compared to 41.6 percent by the latter.